How to Deal with Difficult People – The Bible Way
2600 words, read time approx. 7-10 min.
As the holidays approach, it can mean more time spent around family and friends. While I hope for you that this is a positive experience, we all know that tensions can exist even within the closest of families. Nothing is more unfortunate and upsetting as when the joy and spirit of the season is overtaken by contention and strife. I truly believe it’s the devil’s ploy to see this type of disharmony. Or if it’s not at home, maybe you experience difficult relationships in your work environment or at school.
As Christians we are not immune to difficult relationship and people, but we are not without defense (and positive offense) that can give us the victory in even the most difficult of relationships. So here are some biblical tips in dealing with difficult people and mending broken relationships this year.
Remember, You Can Be Difficult Too
The natural tendency gravitates towards thinking how other people cause you difficulty or pain. But the truth of the matter is that you too can be difficult! Don’t forget, “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “there is no one righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10). You may not be the source of conflict (this time), but can you say that you have never been difficult to get along with yourself? Therefore, the first thing to do in overcoming difficult relationships is to start by examining yourself. Get the proverbial plank out of your own eye by asking yourself some of the following questions. (Matthew 7:1-5)
How might I be contributing to this problem?
Has the person really done something wrong (morally) or are they just on my nerves?
Have I ever made the same type of mistake that they are making?
Knowing we too can be difficult, and that we have also sinned, it is wise to be slow in judging others for their behavior or words even when it’s clearly sinful in our own eyes. “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but don’t consider the beam that is in your own eye? Or how will you tell your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye;’ and behold, the beam is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5
You Are Accountable to God for Your Own Behavior
You may not be able to control Uncle Ralph’s bad table manners or Aunt Gene’s critical nature, but you can control your own behavior (words, attitudes and actions). Furthermore, you are not accountable for anyone else’s behavior before you are your own. God is not going to hold you accountable for how others treated you, but will instead look upon your heart. “I the LORD search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jeremiah 17:10)
Since we are accountable before God for our own actions, we need to start by owning up to our own issues and contributions to the problem. You are 100% accountable for 100% of your issues. “He that covers his sins shall not prosper: but whosoever confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy. “ (Proverbs 28:13) Confessing our own faults to God means we avoid making excuses for our own bad behavior and sin. Instead of saying, “You are making me angry” we must stop and realize, “Although I may feel provoked to anger, I make the choice of whether or not I will get angry.”
The blame game is as old as human history. In the garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sinned, they both began shifting the blame. Adam said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” (Genesis 3:12) Eve then turned around and blamed the devil, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:13) Maturity in Christ requires us to stop shifting the blame upon others and no longer use the excuse, “The devil made me do it.”
God is the Perfect Judge, Human Judgment is Flawed
It is such a relief to allow God the responsibility of judging others and removing that obligation from ourselves. After all, God makes for a great judge. He is omniscient (He sees all) and therefore can judge rightly. He is omnipotent (all powerful) and therefore can punish as needed. He is merciful and therefore can forgive and make pardon. As humans however, we are shortsighted in our judgments and don’t see the whole picture, can be quick to judge based on bad data and unmerciful when offended.
When we judge ourselves and others, we often do so by our own standards and opinion not based on the incorruptible Word of God. Jesus said, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24) When we compare others against our own standard of what’s right instead of God’s righteousness, we can easily make another person look bad while exalting ourselves. This type of comparison is foolish. “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” (2 Corinthians 10:12)
God Wants to Forgive You
God loves to forgive us. The cross of Jesus Christ is proof of God’s unending love and grace. Our responsibility is to humbly come and ask God for forgiveness for our own faults and sins. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10)
There is no use in hiding from God for our sins are evident to Him. It’s better to “fess up and make up” quickly instead of being stubborn and proud. Just consider Cain who murdered his own brother and then tried playing dumb with God. “And the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ And he said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’ And God said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries unto me from the ground.’ “(Genesis 4:9-10)
God’s Forgiveness is Withheld From Those Who are Unwilling to Forgive
Jesus taught us to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 9:12) In teaching the disciples about forgiveness, Jesus told a story of a servant who was forgiven a great debt, but then went and demanded payment by force from one who owed him very little. (Matthew 18:22-35) In the same way, when we say, “Oh God, forgive me ALL my sins!” and then hold a grudge towards another, we are being hypocritical. For this reason the scriptures instruct us to, “forgive one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) In other words, we are to freely forgive others even when they don’t deserve it or ask for it because God was willing to allow Jesus to die even before we were willing to repent of our sins. “But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Use Discretion in Confronting Others
After we have reconciled with God ourselves, we need to ask ourselves whether we still need to approach the offender or whether we will graciously pass over their faults without confrontation. “The discretion of a man delays his anger; and it is his glory to overlook a transgression. “ (Proverbs 19:11) When necessary, we should speak to the person directly about the issue. “Moreover if your brother shall trespass against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone: if he shall hear you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15)
Instead of speaking directly to a difficult person, we often find it easier to go tell another person what the offender has done wrong. Gossip is ungodly and destructive. (Proverbs 18:8, 20:19, 26:20) We should therefore avoid gossip at all costs. The other problem with gossip is that when we tell someone our own rendition of the story, they will be more inclined to side with us without hearing the other person’s opinion. “He that speaks first in his own cause seems just; until his neighbor comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17)
Our Words are Powerful
You’ve heard the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Not true! In fact, our words are one of the most powerful resources we have for good or evil. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” (Proverbs 18:21) Just consider this scenario.
Imagine someone you know walks into a room and shouts at you, “You lazy %!?&S! Can’t you ever pick up after yourself? What’s wrong with you?” Now imagine instead, the same person saying, “Dear, next time, would please remember to pick your socks up off the floor? Thank you.” Now, would you respond more positively if you were addressed with the first or second statement?
It’s obvious when we put ourselves in the shoes of the recipient to know how we’d like to be addressed in a confrontation or any conversation for that matter. We therefore need to apply the same Golden Rule when speaking to others. Our heart must be right and our words need to be tender, (just in case we need to eat them!). “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself, lest you also be tempted. “ (Galatians 6:1)
It is also important to note that we should speak with restraint and not give others a “piece of our mind”. “He that has knowledge spares his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit. Even a fool, when he holds his peace, is counted wise: and he that shuts his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.” (Proverbs 17:27-28) “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking: but he that refrains his lips is wise. “ (Proverbs 10:19)
It is Just as Important to Listen
Our society emphasizes the rights we have to be heard and make our opinions known. While it is good and healthy to be able to freely express ourselves, it is just as important to listen to others. “A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart.” (Proverbs 18:2) It is foolish and prideful to be so enamored by our own opinion that we are unwilling or forgetful to hear another’s heart. If we are not in a place emotionally where we feel we can patiently and calmly listen to another person and only want to express our thoughts, it’s probably smart to take time and cool off before engaging in a conversation. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger: For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)
God Wants to Give You the Victory in Every Relationship
It is God’s will for His children to live in moral, spiritual and relational victory. “No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, says the LORD.” (Isaiah 54:17) To have relational victory means we live in peace with God and are not emotionally unstable and easily distraught. “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you are called in one body; and be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)While it is inevitable that challenging situations and people may come our way, God’s power and love is greater than them all. (Romans 8:37-39) Knowing God wants to give us victory, we must walk by faith and not by our feelings, knowing that God is working everything for our good. (1 John 5:4, Romans 8:28) Having this confidence, we can avoid seeking retaliation believing it is God who represents us and will defend us. (Romans 12:17-19)
Jesus Taught a Higher Way to Live – Unconditional Love
If we are to be true followers of Christ, we must learn to love even the most difficult of people. Listen to Jesus words on how we ought to treat others.
You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you; That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love them who love you, what reward have you? do not even the tax collectors the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you more than others? do not even the tax collectors so? Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
Living a life of unconditional love is not just difficult, it’s impossible on our own! But thank God that He has provided not only the path to walk, but the power to walk it. It is not by our own might, will power or strength that we are able to love others, but by God’s Spirit living within us. (Zechariah 4:6) “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. “ (1 John 4:4) We must remember to therefore handle our difficult relationships in a way that would honor God by choosing to walk in the Spirit’s power and not in the power of our flesh. (Galatians 5:15-17)
Dealing With the Difficult Person in Prayer
If in reading this article you feel convicted of your own sin and need to forgive any offenders, I invite you to pray this prayer offering yourself to God and seeking his forgiveness and reconciliation.
Dear God, I come before You humbly admitting my own need for forgiveness and grace. I know that I myself have sinned and fallen short of your standards. Thank you for Jesus’ death and resurrection. I receive his payment for my sins and the new life that comes from his resurrection. I now choose to forgive those who have offended me including, (list any names that come to mind). I forgive them freely as You have so graciously forgiven me. Help me to be a peacemaker, not a trouble maker. Help me to examine myself first before criticizing others for their faults. Fill me with the power, faith and love that I need to have your victory and to thrive even in the most difficult of relationships, in Jesus’ name. Amen.