Q. How do I handle “difficult” people in life?

by Kevin Carson

A. Almost everyone has “difficult” people in life — a family member, coworker, neighbor, church member, teacher, student, or friend — with a multitude of peculiarities and/or potentially sinful behaviors. So how do you respond to these “difficult” people?

First, recognize what you have in common:

  • You both are made in the image of God, which needs renewal as you become more like Christ (Genesis 1:26-27; Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 3:18). As a result, you share far more in common as fellow image-bearers than what you have in contrast.
  • You both are in a spiritual battle fighting with indwelling sin (1 John 2:15-17).
  • You both need to walk in the Spirit and by love serve each other (Galatians 5:13-25). God wants each of you to live daily with a God-consciousness.
  • You both share the same purpose — to become more like Jesus Christ through life’s circumstances (Romans 8:28-29). God’s design is to help you grow in any situation, difficulty, or problem (James 1: 2-5).
  • You both are to prefer the other as more important than self (Philippians 2:1-11). Do you want your way in this circumstance rather than thinking of the other person?

Second, consider the nature of difficulty. You want to ask several questions in this step. Consider the person’s conduct; what is he or she saying and doing? You evaluate only what you can see or hear, not what you assume is the motive. If you are concerned about the person’s motives, ask questions from your observations; do not make accusations. Place what you can hear or see into three categories: 1) Is it sinful? 2) Is it an issue of preference? 3) Is it a response to suffering?

When determining your options for response, begin with prayer for you and the person with whom you are concerned. Pray for wisdom, discernment, a sensitive heart toward the Gospel, a willingness to examine motives, self-control, gentleness, and clarity. Remember you are an ambassador of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). Your goals, values, words, and actions should faithfully represent the one you serve. Consider your timing as you go to discuss the issue. Is this the best timing? Do I need to exercise patience? Does anything force this conversation now or does wisdom look like waiting until a better time? You also need to consider your motive. What motivates me saying something? Do I want restoration and reconciliation? Am I seeking revenge? Am I trying to get my own way?

Your response should reflect the type of issue it is.

  • Sin. If it is a sin issue, what is the person’s attitude (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15)? If it is willful sin, approach humbly seeking to introduce truth into the situation to challenge the person’s will. Potentially the person is sinning but does not understand what the Bible says about his or her actions and words or there are issues of fear and timidity. If this is the case, approach the person as an encourager. Furthermore, the person may have a sense of inability and although he or she understands what to do, they do not believe they can do it.
  • Preference. If it is an issue of preference, you should consider a few different questions. First, can I in love put up with this? Is there any reason I cannot be patient? What keeps me from choosing to allow love to cover this and respond in kindness? Second, am I preferring the other person over myself? Am I being reasonable? Do I desire for his or her pleasure as much as my own?
  • Response to suffering. Have I considered the circumstances of this other person? His or her response may have nothing to do with you. You may be the receiver of an uncomfortable circumstance, but it may not be against you specifically.
  • Is this person a believer? If this person is an unbeliever, then you may want to recognize what you are receiving is typical to his or her sin nature. Furthermore, the best thing you can do is suffer through it while pointing him or her toward the glories of the Gospel.

In sum: think before you respond. Then, respond in a way that honors the Lord and represents the Gospel of Jesus Christ.