I’d like to suggest that God may well have purposefully put the difficult person in your life to help you grow. The first step? Is you need to bear with them, not grudgingly, how? But with humility. But it goes on. After that it’s with gentleness.
We have looked at this word before. It means “power under control.” Remember last week? The wild stallion? A picture of all that power under control. See, it’s the idea of instead of using your power to control, you use your power to love. That’s what Jesus did. He said, “I’m meek.” He had all power. He speaks, it comes into existence.
But instead of using His power to make people obey, Jesus was so strong that He could be meek, or gentle, and extend love because He was secure. And we tend to be harsh, if not in our words and our actions, at least in our mind, don’t we, with difficult people.
They are a hassle. We have this picture of a difficult person and I don’t know about you, I just want to get… It’s kind of like dandruff. I just want to get it off my shoulder! But He says, “No, not only with humility but with gentleness.”
I put a sentence together from my study to try and capture it. I think “with gentleness” means “to extend undeserved acts of kindness and acceptance that are foreign to you with this person.” That’s what it means to be gentle. Extend undeserved acts, of course they don’t deserve it, toward this person and that is foreign to you.
See, here’s the power I had in the situation. And almost every day, for nine months, I negotiated with God over this. See, it was my apartment, right? It’s my floor, right? They are my dishes and it’s my sink and it’s my daybed. So, I held the chips.
And what I knew in my heart of hearts was, “Bob, you got twenty-four hours. You are out.” And almost every day I went through the conversation of, “God, please let me say that. Please, just please, let, please. I gave him two weeks. It’s been two months. I gave him two months, it’s been four months. God, please!”
But, see, gentleness is extending an act of kindness. And, by the way, you don’t have to be emotionally excited about extending an act of kindness. The greatest acts of love, often, are loving someone when you least feel like it, not when… If you’re waiting for an ooey-gooey feeling to really love someone who is difficult, you’ll wait a long time.
And from the mouth of Jesus, He had no ooey-gooey feeling when He went to the cross. In fact, we hear Him say just the opposite. “If there’s any way not to do this, I’d like to sign up for that. Nevertheless, Father, we agreed to the game plan.”
How do you do with your difficult person? Do you bear with them in humility first? Then with gentleness? Do you use the power that you have to serve them or to get them out of your life?
Third, He goes on to say, “with patience.” It’s an interesting word, let me give it to you, it’s one of those words that when you hear it, it will bring a word picture that will help you.
In Greek it’s “macro,” like, big, and “thumos,” heat. With patience means to be macrothumos, literally, to have a long fuse in order to have a big, big, long, long time where your heat builds up to the point where you blow up. That’s what it means to be longsuffering or patient.
He says, “With these difficult people, you bear up, you tolerate, you hang in there, you look beyond.” How do you do it? You do it with humility. You’re not better than them. You do it with gentleness, use your power to serve instead of to kick them out.
And then finally you do it with patience. I Corinthians 13:4, “Love is…” Have you got… Thank you. I was concerned about the rest of you. I Corinthians 13, the definition of love! We all want to be more loving. Do you think that word order is by chance? Love is macrothumos. It is - take a long time. You know what it means? It means you put up with a lot. It means you endure a lot. It means you tolerate a lot. Who has been the most patient with us? Christ! And He says, “Model that.”
Now, by the way, a quick word, especially for those teaching boundary classes. Does this mean that you let difficult people run your life? No. Does this mean that with this EGR person in your life, that makes you nuts and can destroy a whole group, you just say, “Oh, gosh, well, we are supposed to put up with difficult people,” and you let them run roughshod, and don’t set boundaries? Absolutely not.
It means you set appropriate boundaries. I made Bob make his bed, I made Bob do the dishes, and I made him get that engine off of my floor. Those are boundaries. And I set it lovingly, firmly, and forcefully. I wasn’t going to let Bob ruin my life. That’s not loving him. That’s nuts.
But once you set appropriate boundaries, you hang in there and you are patient with them in the same way that God is patient with you.
In a sentence, it’s refuse to allow your irritation and frustration to erupt into negative thoughts and feelings and comments to or about them. That’s what it means to be patient.
By the way, by word of application, that means you need to break the habit of gossiping about them. See, in my Bob days, when I went and got a cup of coffee with a close friend, guess what we talked about? You bet. “How’s it going, Chip?” “Well, I mean, considering. There are not many Christians as noble, committed, loving, unconditional, you know, like me. This poor guy came off the streets, he’s living with me. It’s destroying my life.” Martyr, martyr, martyr, feel sorry for me, stroke, good, mm-hm, okay.
And what about it? “Well, let me tell you about what it’s like to live with Bob so you’ll understand just how loving and caring I really am.” And so, I laced Bob, you know?
See, it’s amazing, isn’t it, how we are? How we have opportunity to share things about difficult people we’d never want anyone to share with us. But it goes back to our mental view, doesn’t it? We can do this because we are a little superior and they are inferior, right?
We can do this because instead of being gentle we are in the position of power. Most difficult people, unless they are your boss, you can get rid of them. But, see, God says there needs to be patience.
And all these things, it’s interesting, the exact word order and the same words are going to happen in Colossians 3, and let me remind you, I’ll tell you something, the reason that this shows up in us, and let me tell you how it would show up, here’s my hypothetical.
If we could get a little mini camera on the back of your car with a wide angle lens, and then a second lens that would look at the speedometer, alright? And then we could put it on the back of your car, and watched you drive over 17 in traffic and watch you cut in and out of people and honk over here and over here and slam on the brake, “Ah! Get out of here, man!” And watch you go zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom. You know why you drive that way, or some of you do? Because where you’re going is so much more important than everybody else.
Why you’re frustrated when the bank lines are this way and you get the longer line, “What in the world is going on here? I’m the most important person here! Don’t they understand that?” You don’t think that way, but that’s what you communicate.
And when you are short with clerks during the Christmas holiday, “Come on, get with the program,” you know why? Because where you’re going and what you’re doing is so important. You know why? Because you’re arrogant. That’s why. Because you’re proud. That’s why. Because you think the world and the universe centers around you. That’s why. And you’re saying, “Chip, that’s very strong. And I feel mildly offended.” You should!
Now, how do I know this? Been there, done that! Now, here’s what you need to understand, see, in Christian circles, we don’t see any problem with that. That’s just the way I am. What? Proud? Impatient? Not gentle? Call it something else: Unloving.
About five or six years ago, I started a journey called “slowing.” I’m not there but I just decided. I knew how many seconds I could save when I come through the fishhook, which time, which back road to take, get in the left hand lane, go so far to Soquel, and then get in the right hand lane, then get off at Soquel, use the…right? Why? To save thirty-four seconds? Let me think, how can I get my blood pressure up? Oh, let me try, let me try. Stomach acids. I really want them to go, you know?
You know what I realized? This was a deal about Chip Ingram being at the center of Chip Ingram’s life and thinking he is more important than everyone else. And so the only way you change is by practice. Knowing the truth and putting it into practice.
So I have little things that I do periodically and for about a year or two I did them every day. Like, I’m going to drive over 17 in the right hand lane, not change lanes except for one of those big trucks, the whole way. I’m not going to pass anybody. I’m willfully going to look at all the lines and go to the longest line and wait in it. And then do a little analysis about what’s going on in my heart and why am I so frustrated standing here?
Maybe even look at my watch, wow, two minutes and fifty-four seconds longer. My heart rate is down, I’m thinking about other people. And so I began the practice of slowing, slowing, slowing. And then it moved toward leaving ten minutes early to get to some place and relaxing. And then it got to carrying a good book and a tape that I could meander when I drive and enjoy it.
My enjoyment level has gone way up. My stress level has gone way down. And you know what? I’m not hacked off at all those people cutting me off. You know? Go ahead, you get there first. I’ll send you money for blood pressure medicine. You know? Go ahead. And what kind of person arrives where it’s so important to get to?
See, here God is teaching us, those difficult people have a purpose. What He wants to develop in us is this tolerance with appropriate boundaries, born out of humility, gentleness, and patience. But that’s not all.
Notice the parallel passage. Colossians 3? It’s going to teach us that there is something else that goes with it: Forgiveness.
Forgiveness is releasing these people from your internal desire to pay them back for the frustration, difficulty, and wounds they inflict upon you. The word “forgiveness,” literally, means “to loose.” All lack of forgiveness is rooted in one thing. You know what it is? Vengeance. Vengeance.
You say, “I can’t let go, I can’t forgive them because they deserve to get paid back!” And God says, “Right! So, do you want Me to treat you that way?” “No, no, oh no, just kidding about that one.” He says, “Well, Romans 12 - what? I’m just. I’ll tell you what, you take care of forgiving people and I’ll take care of justice.” See, that’s what He promises.
I had a lady after the service last night who said, “Boy, you know that forgiveness part? That really hit home.” She said, “For ten years I burned in anger because of how my mother treated me all the years growing up.” And she said, “You know, oh man, I went into therapy and I really got help. And after ten years, I made a choice that I would forgive her. I went to her and explained to her how angry I had been, I owned my side of it, and she turned to me and she said, ‘You know something? I want you to know that any problem you have had with me, ever in your childhood, was your fault because I never made a mistake ever as your mother.’”
And she said it was the most liberating thing that ever happened. She says she heard that and she thought, “No wonder I have had problems. Is this a person that I want to spend the next ten years of my life churning in anger over?” She said, “For the first time, I felt sorry for her.”
You see, a lot of you will make no progress, you can get a new lease on life today, I mean, if you only apply one out of these four modifiers, you can get a whole new lease on life today by forgiving the person that makes you nuts.
Release them from the payback that they… “You don’t understand! They frustrate, they ruin every holiday! They make work crazy! They ruin relationships with other people! You don’t understand!” Okay, okay, great. Just you keep going to bed with the anger fantasies, you keep your stomach acids rolling, fine. Or you can do it God’s way.
Notice what it says here, “Therefore as God’s chosen people,” Colossians 3:12, “holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness,” then notice our word order, “humility, gentleness, and patience, bear with each other and forgive,” how broad is this? “whatever grievances you may have against one another.”
The reference here is in the body of Christ. How should you forgive them? “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” How was that? Unconditional. Not because you deserved it. “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect harmony.”
Those six to nine months with Bob were some of the most difficult in my life. I was angry every day. Not some days. I was angry every day. I had to forgive Bob every day. I had to be compassionate and patient, or choose to be, every day. I had to choose gentleness over the power to kick him out every day.
I had to learn daily that humility is the beauty of holiness, and that I struggle with pride, a self-inflated ego, and my ideas of my demands, my way, my apartment, done this way because of me, me, me, me, me was the very reason that God brought Bob into my life.
Bob was one of the greatest answers to prayer in my life and it took me twenty years to figure it out. Because you know something? It was like a crash course. You know the greenhouse effect? You know, get all the environment just right and the right amount of sun and water and nutrients and plants can really grow in a greenhouse. God put me in a spiritual greenhouse. He saw a guy who was struggling with pride, control, anger, and power and He thought, “Bob! I can handle this!”
Now… you’re enjoying that way too much. Before you enjoy that way too much, where is God working in your life? What are your issues? And could it be that the difficult person, coworker, ministry partner, in-law, child, parent, uncle, brother, sister, that’s your difficult person, could it be that God has placed them in your life to answer some of the very prayers you have been praying for years?
But if you don’t cooperate with that, you just have this wall. Or you could bear with them. How? With humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness.
In fact, let me tell you why it’s so important that we bear with difficult people. Let me give you four quick reasons. The first reason is that it increases my appreciation of God’s love toward me.
You know what I realized? I realized in my unholiness, in my arrogance, in my struggles, God had to show great forbearance with me! How I thought I was really trying to work this out with Bob, I realized, “Ooh. How short do you fall, Chip, of God’s standard?” Ooh.
In fact, the apostle Paul says that is his motivation. You might jot down I Timothy 1:15 to 17, it would be a good verse to put under your belt. It says, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom,” he says, “I am the worst. But for this very reason, I was shown mercy,” why? “so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.”
Do you hear what he’s saying? He said, “The way God has treated me, His unlimited patience, is an example for others.” Do you ever think of yourself as a difficult person before God? He has shown some patience to you, hasn’t He?
The second is it demonstrates God’s love toward them. I said there was a good ending to the story. It was a long journey. And, after nine months or so, some different things worked out and some other people moved in to Bob’s life. After a period of years, Bob got married. Unbelievable. I mean, he really wanted to and [dating] didn’t go well for a long time.
And then Bob got married. He was very technical. He had a very keen mind. But his social skills were so lacking, he turned everyone off. Well, God began to change him. And then he started using that keen mind and that technological skill, all of a sudden, he found a niche and began to use it in the body of Christ.
You know what? God redeemed Bob. God rescued a “difficult person.” God is using Bob. Bob is now secure. You know why? He is secure because some people, not so willingly, and others a lot more willingly, loved Bob where he was and didn’t push him out of the community, but instead spoke the truth in love, set appropriate boundaries, but wouldn’t give up on him.
And now Bob is a healthy, functioning person in the body of Christ because he got to taste the love of Jesus through the lives of people just like you.
The third reason it’s so important, it changes me where I need it most. I have alluded to this. God wanted to deal with Ingram’s pride, Ingram’s power, Ingram’s anger. He will use the person to change you.
And fourth, it communicates the reality and the authenticity of Christ to the world. The magnetic power of the early Church centered around this. How do those people that we know can’t even like each other, love each other? Slaves? Masters? And the slave is an elder in the church? And the master just goes to that church? What? Scythian and Greek? They hate each other’s guts! You gotta be kidding me! Romans and Jews? No way! Male and female? Wow.
See, when we love like this, it is the greatest apologetic. It is powerful. Therefore, it’s nonnegotiable. We have to treat difficult people around here in a way that will reveal that Christ is real. That’s why, I was so excited when I heard about the Angel Tree. I mean, you all just gobbled up all those.
Last night there were so many presents, they put them on the table and then they put them on the other table, then they put them under the table, you had to walk around to get out of here. The people who are picking these things up this year, it’s unbelievable.
Our Growth group is doing one of these. They give you a name, how many kids, what’s going on, and we’re putting together a food basket, we’re buying two presents for every person in the family. What a wonderful opportunity. The people blessed are going to be us, not them. And we hope we make their Christmas.
When I see what we do in Divorce Recovery, those are people that are hurting, they can be difficult. Reach out. When I see what we do in Celebrate Recovery, I mean, people are struggling, they are on drugs, they have been through hard times. You know what? They get love here and they get nurtured here.
When I see what we do in benevolence, we gave thirty thousand dollars more out this year, it was, like, two and a half times what we ever gave. And Joe’s Dream is two hundred thousand dollars that we give to the hurting of the hurtiest. [Laughter] You know what I mean. Hurting of the…you fill it in. Most hurting. Thank you. Kathy, if I could get you every service I could improve here.
But that’s the dream! Our dream too is we understand there are people that are homeless, that no matter what you do, you put them in the Taj Mahal, the place would be a mess in three weeks. Okay? You can’t help them no matter what you do.
But there are a lot of people, when a mom comes with three kids, no money, no gas, and they are living in their station wagon, you can do something about that. And we don’t want to believe how big that percentage is. And they all didn’t get there because they are irresponsible either, okay?
Life is hard. People get laid off. Electric bills need to be paid. We need a house or two where we could, on a regular basis, put people in them. Maybe God will move some of you. Got an extra house? Donate it to the church, we’ll set it up for homeless people and run it well.
See, how we treat these kind of people is the hallmark, the acid test, of how genuinely Christ-like we are.
Now, flip the page as we go home because here’s what I want you to do. Very simple, I have given you a very specific game plan. And here’s the game plan. Number one, you don’t need much time on this. Identify the most difficult person in your life. They may be in your family. Maybe someone you work with. Don’t write their name down. Put a pseudonym or something, alright? “Hey, honey, I didn’t realize, what…” Oh no, okay?
Second, begin praying every day for this person for the next two weeks. Anger and honest prayer can’t coexist together. Anger and lack of forgiveness can’t coexist long. Pray for them every day. And don’t pray, “Oh, God, fix them. Oh, God, change them.” Just try, “Oh, God, bless them.” Okay?
Third, stop consciously avoiding them and start seeing them like Christ does. Now, appropriate boundaries. That doesn’t mean you open your home or you open your group and you let them run roughshod and ruin what God is doing.
But with appropriate boundaries, stop avoiding them, strategically determine to look at them the way Christ does, as holy, chosen, and dearly loved.
Fourth, serve them in some specific way this week. Jot them a note. Instead of gossiping, tell a third party that knows them, say something good about them. They’ll hear about it. Get them something small and appropriate that would really help them, whether you feel like it or not.
What did Jesus say? Love one another. Even the hard to love. Why? Because sometimes the person I most want God to remove from my life is the very person I need the most, and the very person you need the most.