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Dealing with Difficult People
By Barbara Y. Stuart, Ph.D.

It may seem incredible, but difficult people are in the local church. Usually, they are quick to point out another person’s faults (Matthew 7), but overlook their own condition. Difficult people in the church are among gossipers, talebearers, and slanderers, those who cause divisions, the unruly, and the disobedient. They spread discord and cause contentions and conflicts among church members.

What Threats Do Difficult People Pose to The Church?

Difficult people pose some of the greatest threats to the church because they will sabotage its mission. What many Christians fail to understand is that the church is always on public display, that is why Jesus told us, "You are the light of the world…let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-17).

Does the Bible Identify Difficult People?

In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus points out that we will know them by their fruits. He describes difficult people as false prophets, who come in sheep’s clothing, but in their heart, they are ravenous wolves. They undermine the work of others and criticize what they do not understand (Matthew 9:1-8).

There was another situation when Jesus was rebuked for not fasting "as did John’s disciples" (Matthew 9:14-17). Difficult people were seen as provocative and controversial as in the text found in Matthew 12:38-42; 16:1-4, with those who came to Jesus asking for a sign. They refused to believe unless they had seen for themselves.

Another example of difficult people identified in the Bible is the unforgiving person (Matthew 18:21-35). We also find in Matthew 22:34-40, the spiritual know-it-alls, or experts. Those were religious leaders, and a lawyer who tried to beguile Jesus with their questions. The Bible also identified those who are pretenders by calling them hypocrites (Read Mark 7:1-23; 12:13-17).

The self-righteous person is also in the rank of difficult people. In Luke 18:9-14, which is the story of the two men who went to the Temple. In addition, Jesus’ accusers questioned His authority because they could not understand the works that He did (Luke 20:1-8). In this same chapter we see the struggle for power (verses 24-30); and pride taking her place (verse 33), where Peter declared that he was ready to go with Christ to prison and to death.

Fourteen Steps for Dealing with Difficult People

  A Biblical Model

Step One

  The Bible tells us that God is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14:33). Each person must listen and respect the other.

Step Two

"Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). We will meet people who will do us wrongs. If we behave in a Christian manner, we will set a pattern for the offender to follow.

Step Three

"A soft answer turns away wrath" (Proverbs 15:1). The Bible teaches that when Jesus was "reviled, He reviled not again…" (I Peter 2:23a). Words do have force, but it is better to be silent when another person is railing rather than to respond with the same type of behavior.

Step Five

"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds" (II Corinthians 10:3-4). We cannot expect to meet hate with hate, malice with malice, etc. We are in a spiritual warfare and we need the spiritual weapons to fight in this war (Ephesians 6).

Step Six

"Do all things without murmurings" (Philippians 2:14) "…for that the Lord heareth your murmuring which you murmur against Him…" (Exodus 16:8b). There are times when we do have reason to complain, but we must not allow complaining to take over our lives. When we do this, we lose valuable lessons the Lord is teaching. He asks us to be "patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer" (Romans 12:12).

Step Seven

"The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way:" (Psalm 25:9). If we are going to deal with difficult people, God will show us how, when we humble ourselves to Him. Still, we must show willingness to be instructed with a teachable spirit (Psalm 32:8), before God will guide us.

Step Eight

"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it…" (Matthew 16:24-26). If we are more concerned about our rights, we will not be lifting up the name of Jesus.

Step Nine

"You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:43-44).

Step Ten

"Judge not, that you be not judged" (Matthew 7:1). In this passage, Jesus seemed to have been referring to projection. The Bible teaches, "First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye" (Matthew 7:5).

Step Eleven

"Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3-4). We should critically examine ourselves, and ensure that we are not guilty of pride before projecting our behaviors onto others.

Step Twelve

"Be angry and sin not…nor give place to the devil" (Ephesians 4:26-27). If someone is accusing you wrongly or hurling insults at you, do not conform to this type of behavior and grieve the Holy Spirit (v.30) by the use of corrupt language to prove your point.

Step Thirteen

Be patient with everyone (I Thessalonians 5:14). When someone is deliberately making life difficult for you, the best thing to do is to wait. While you are waiting, listen and look at the body language for incongruence, and respond accordingly.

Step Fourteen

"Warn those who are unruly" (I Thessalonians 5:14). These difficult people are the complainers; disobedient; those who cause divisions; the disgruntled; silent killers; and a host of other labels. In teaching difficult people, we have to use one-third measure of gentleness and two-third measures of patience. Our speech must also be with grace and seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6).

These fourteen steps give an example on how we can successfully deal with difficult people when the occasion arises. However, before an individual can forgive the wrong done by someone, the offender must be aware of the offense (Matthew 18:15), otherwise that person will continue in a state of self-deception. We cannot spend all our time straightening out difficult people who refuse to change. There are times when we will have to leave them at the foot of the Cross and move on to the winning of souls.
© October 2004
Dr. Barbara Stuart is a Counselor, Program Developer, Program Evaluator, and Conflict Management Consultant with a Ph.D. in Christian Counseling Psychology and a Doctorate in Conflict Management. Dr. Stuart’s new book, "Betrayal of Sacred Trust", is due to be released in late February or early March. Barbara can be contacted via the Letters page of this magazine. If you would like to read this article in its entirety, you can do so at http://www.faithwriters.com/article-details.php?id=19338
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