We all know people whom we find “difficult” in one way or another, and we’re all called upon to deal with difficult people at some time or another. A difficult person may be one who is condescending, argumentative, belligerent, selfish, flippant, obtuse, or simply rude. Difficult people seem to know just how to “push one’s buttons” and stir up trouble. Dealing with difficult people becomes an exercise in patience, love, and grace.
Our response to difficult people should model the examples provided by Jesus, for He surely dealt with many difficult people during His time here on earth. In His interactions with difficult people Jesus never displayed an attitude of harsh superiority or dismissive pride; rather, He showed authority under control. He used rebuke when necessary (John 8:47), but He also dealt with difficult people by remaining silent (John 8:6), asking questions (Mark 11:28–29), pointing them to Scripture (Mark 10:2–3), and telling a story (Luke 7:40–42).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was quite specific about dealing with difficult people in love and humility: “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27–31). We must never give tit for tat: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).
In dealing with difficult people, we must guard against pride. It is important to recall the admonition given by the apostle Paul in Romans 12:3: “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (see also Philippians 2:3–4). So, when we know we must deal with a difficult person, we approach the situation in meekness. Love is also key: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14). We are to show God’s love to everyone—including difficult people.
The book of Proverbs provides much wisdom in dealing with difficult people. Proverbs 12:16 promotes patience in our relationships: “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.” Proverbs 20:3 commends peace-making: “It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.” Proverbs 10:12 encourages love: “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” Proverbs 17:14 values foresight and deference: “Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.” If possible, it might be best to avoid the situation altogether by choosing carefully whom we associate with: “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered” (Proverbs 22:24).
Dealing with difficult people is unavoidable. When we deal with difficult people, it’s easy to respond in the flesh. But that just brings out the worst in us. How much better to allow our dealings with difficult people to bring out the fruit of the Spirit in us (Galatians 5:22–23)! By the grace of God, may we deal with difficult people in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and—to top it all off—self-control. May we extend the same love, grace, and mercy that God extended to us. And may we be careful not to become the “difficult people” ourselves!