Radio Broadcast

How to Deal with Difficult People in Your Life, Part 1

Scripture: Ephesians 4:2

Do you have a difficult person in your life - a person who makes you nuts? Do you wonder, "Is there a Godly response to this person?" If you’re faced with that person right now, join Chip as he shares how to deal with the difficult people in your life.

Message Notes more broadcasts from this series


How many people here, question number one, have a difficult person in your life? Yes. Some people call these “sandpaper people” because they rub you the wrong way. Other people call these people “EGRs” – Extra Grace Required – to deal with them.

John Ortberg gives six characteristics of when you know you have a difficult person in your life. So, let me pass them on.

First, when they call, you get a sinking feeling and you don’t want to talk to them. Second, when you are with them, and after they leave, you feel like all the energy in your whole body just gets sucked right out of you, and you’re drained.

Third, when you’re in conversation with them, you feel artificial, awkward, and uncomfortable. And what you like best about the conversation is when it’s over. Fourth, you feel guilty about how you behave around them. You find yourself telling little white lies like, “I know I’m really here but I can’t tell them I’m not here but I really can’t come to the phone.” You find yourself seeing them and taking other corridors, you find yourself acting like you don’t see them when you do, and then you feel bad and guilty about how you treat them.

Fifth, after being with them, you eat more. This happens and you just need something to eat. And then sometimes after you’re with them, you begin to bite your fingernails. If it’s a really bad experience, you want to bite theirs.

And the final one is you have private, imaginary conversations because they build frustration and struggle and tension, and you can never get it quite right and so you have imaginary conversations with them because it never quite gets the way you want it to be and you have these conversations where finally you say it, you say it really clear, you get it all out, they get it, you’re the hero, and they are sort of the goat.

But in real life, it never works out that way.

I’d like to suggest, from Scripture and the very lips of Christ, that sometimes the person we most want God to remove from our lives is the person we need the most.

Now, I can hear your mind spinning, saying, “Wait, wait, wait, wait a minute, Chip, are you actually saying that God has allowed this person to come into my life?” I’m going to suggest that He not only allowed this difficult person in your life, but I’m going to go so far to say that in some cases, sometimes, He has actually placed them there purposefully in order to do some things in you and through you that can never happen without this difficult person.

Now, by the way, I said “sometimes.” There are some people that maybe God doesn’t want in your life. You say, “Well, why?” I mean, you’re thinking, you got this sinking feeling, there’s a picture of someone’s face in your mind for most of you and you’re thinking of this difficult person. They make you nuts, they make you crazy, your personalities don’t mesh. In fact, I’m sure I’m the difficult person in some people’s lives.

Why in the world would God allow these sandpaper people to be in our lives? Let me give you three reasons. First, because how we treat difficult people reveals the true condition of our heart. Second, difficult people cause us to grow in ways we couldn’t on our own.

And third, and I think most importantly, the most distinguishing mark of Jesus’ followers is their love for those they would not and could not love on their own.

Listen to the very words of Christ. He says, “But I tell you who hear Me, Love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and 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. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from who you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.

“But,” listen to this, “love your enemies, and do good to them, and lend to them, without expecting to get anything back, then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” And then He ends with a little command, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

You know, as you read through the gospels, Jesus does this uncanny thing. He makes His people nuts, doesn’t He? He loves Gentiles. Jews don’t like Gentiles. He loves Samaritans. Jews hated Samaritans. He treats women with respect, He treats slaves, He loves lepers, He reaches into the life of a Roman centurion.

He is purposefully moving through society – tax collectors, sinner, prostitutes – He just keeps doing what no one can understand. He loves the unlovable of His day.

And what He is teaching here, in Luke chapter 6, is that the most distinguishing mark of a genuine follower of Jesus is not how we love people that are easy to love. It’s how we love people that are hard to love. Basically what He says is, “When you’re in the mafia, you’re in the family, they love one another! So what?

He says, “The real issue is when you love someone who is outside of your circle, and you say to yourself, “Well, I don’t have any big enemies,” well that’s good because here’s my suggestion. You know your difficult person? They are not even an enemy, they are probably not persecuting you, I hope.

But here’s the deal, an enemy is someone you don’t want to be around, right? So, I think a difficult person qualifies. Here’s the question we want to deal with today: How do you love people that are hard to love? What’s the Scripture say? How do you treat people that you want to avoid? How does God want us, in the body, to respond to them and why?

And let me tell you the answer to that question. The little phrase in Scripture called, “Bear with one another,” it’s found only in two places in this form.

Ephesians chapter 4 verses 2 and 3, and Colossians 3:13. How are we to respond to these people? We are to “bear with” difficult people. In the context, Ephesians 4 verse 1 says, “I urge you therefore, as a prisoner of the Lord, to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” He said, “I want you to live up to how God made you, new in Christ.”

And then he tells us how in verse 2, “Being completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love, make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

The main thought is, “Walk in a manner worthy,” and then, “of your calling.” And then, literally, it’s just, “With humility, with gentleness, with patience,” and those are all modifiers of how, this participle, “bearing with one another in love, making every effort,” another participle, “to bring about unity in relationships.”

It’s hard to have unity when people make you crazy, isn’t it? But that’s what our calling is.

In fact, let’s do a little digging, let’s find out the meaning of the word “bearing with one another,” you ready? The literal meaning of that phrase is “to hold yourself back,” I thought that was interesting.

The difficult people in my life, I have to hold myself back from what I really want to say. I have to hold myself back from what I’d really like to do. I have to hold myself back from those cutting remarks that, and they sometimes are so funny, I just want to say them! They just zoom right from my brain right to my tongue and it would just slice them. But I just know, other than being cruel and ungodly, it’s not the right thing to do.

The idea means “to put up with people.” It has the concept of enduring that in other people that irritates you, frustrates you, and makes you not want to be around them.

This little phrase, “bearing up,” means tolerating and looking beyond the idiosyncrasies, the personalities, the weaknesses, the mannerisms, the differences, and the styles of others that bother you. Did I get it all in? Did your difficult person get in there somewhere?

I know, some of them, it’s just their personality. I understand, I think I know how I’m wired up, and then if I get someone a lot like me, I make them nuts. Or if I get around someone who is way, way different than me, I make them more nuts. And sometimes vice versa.

See, we all have difficult people in our life. Often, it’s not a moral issue. Sometimes it is. Sometimes, it’s just water and oil. It just doesn’t mix.

Well, what’s it look like? It’s one thing to say, “Okay, we need to endure, we need to put up with them, we need to look beyond those things, we need to be tolerant, we need to be loving,” but what does that look like?

Well, in both passages where this little word is used, there are these three modifiers. We’re to bear up, how? With humility, with gentleness, and with patience. Let’s take a look at what each one means. First, we need to bear with them in humility.

The word literally means “lowliness.” In the New Testament, it has the idea of having an accurate view of yourself. It’s not thinking too high, not thinking too low. In fact, genuine humility is not thinking of yourself at all. Philippians 2:3 and 4 it tells us, “Don’t do anything out of emptiness or vain glory or conceit but with humility of mind, treat other people as though they were as important,” but it goes on to say, not as important but “as though they were better than you, as though they have more importance.”

That difficult person, I want you to let the picture of them come to your mind. Do you know why you have to deal with them in humility? Because down deep you have this sense that they are inferior to you.

Often difficult people lack social skills, don’t they? Everyone has a feel in the group and everyone knows how it flows, and they just come into the conversation like that and you go, “Oh man.”

And so, down deep, you feel like you are here and they are here, right? If you were really honest you would say they have a personality defect. If you were really, really honest you would probably evaluate them on a sliding scale like they are just a little less intelligent than you. They have a little less savvy than you. They are probably a little less spiritual than you. And so you know what? Over time, you know how you start looking at a difficult person? You’re superior; they are inferior.

And so what you do then is your head is always tilted. You prejudge them. Whatever comes out of their mouth… you know it’s - what? “Well, what do you expect from them?”

And so we get in the habit of prejudging and we get in the habit of passing judgment on their opinions before they even open their mouth. And so, if we are going to bear with them, the first step is humility.

And I’ve translated this into a sentence that I thought would be helpful: See them and treat them as people of equal or superior value than yourself. Ooh. Now, think of your difficult person. And you’re thinking, “You’re kidding.” No.  I mean, no. See them, first, and then treat them as people of equal or superior value.

I have shared a story about a guy. And, by the way, every illustration I’m going to use, just to keep this a very safe one, will be of people at least twenty years ago and beyond.

It’s a story about a guy named Bob. And I was a Christian about four, four and half, five years and I was beginning to grow, I was leading a campus ministry, teaming up with a guy.

And this very, they would call him a dysfunctional person now, horrendous background, major rejection, broken home, rejected as a child, no social skills, I mean, a very difficult person. Everywhere he went he got rejected.

And, therefore, he developed the ways of communicating and acting towards people to make sure he kept getting rejected. You know what I’m saying?
And so he comes through town and he’s a believer, and we’re doing this college ministry.  He’s got no money, he doesn’t have anything that runs, could he stay in my apartment for two weeks, just until he gets on his feet? In a moment of weakness, insanity, or led by the Spirit, I said yes. Nine months later, this guy is still living in my house.

Now, here’s the deal, very interesting. And he wasn’t a difficult person. He was an impossible person. He made me nuts. This guy, I came home one day, and he had taken the engine of his car, because he wanted to fix it, he had the engine of his car completely taken apart on my living room floor. I’m not kidding. And that was my, “What!?”

I don’t think the idea of after you eat, cleaning the dishes, ever made it to the cranium area of his… I always came in and there’s the sink and all these dirty dishes. And if you know me well, I like things clean.

And then I had this daybed. And all I asked was, “Hey, Bob, I bring friends in, it’s my living room, make the bed! People come in and it looks like a hurricane went through here. This is my place, you know?” I had this conversation almost every day for nine months. And he, like, got it four times.

And so I have always told this and I usually use this illustration because I tried everything and I’m thinking, “I can motivate this guy. I can help this guy. Oh, God, help me.” You know, da, da, dat, da, da.

I couldn’t. And I’ve used this illustration about how not to pray because he was a guy who was so down on himself, he’d play these tapes, “Oh, God, I’m a terrible person. Oh, God, You know how rough it is. Oh, God, You know I’m from a broken home. Oh, God, You know I’m rejected.”

And I would say, “Hey, Bob, Bob, stop. That is not praying. That’s just whining. I’ve heard the same tapes for the last eight months. Try this, ‘God, help me change.’”

Now, here’s the interesting thing I want you to get. While I was preparing for this message I realized why God brought Bob into my life. See, I have always told that story, for over twenty years, and, by the way, I know Bob, I have a good relationship with Bob, it’s not like Bob hears this tape and goes, “That Ingram, boy, is he a difficult person.”

But I have always shared this illustration because there is a good ending to the story. And as I was preparing for this message and praying, I put my feet up, and once I get it clear and understand what the Scripture says, I put my feet up, I pray, and say, “God, give me some pictures that will help people grasp this so they will really understand this.”

And God, I mean, bang! A picture came to my mind. While Bob was living with me, I knew… you think I have problems now, I had major problems then with being arrogant.

And so I found a tiny, thin, little book. I don’t even know if it’s still in existence by Andrew Murray called, Humility: The Beauty of Holiness, and it had the picture of a shell with a pearl in it.

And I remember I got so excited about this thin, little book. I read it and marked it up and read it and marked it up. And I carried it with my Bible. I read it about three or four times because I realized I was arrogant, self-centered, controlling, demanding, my way was the way.

And so I began to pray, “Oh, God, work in my life. God, just like this pearl,” and he used the illustration, “through the difficulty, I want to learn to be a servant. I want to learn how to be humble.”

God answered my prayer. But it’s been over twenty years before I realized God allowed Bob to come into my life to teach me the very things I was praying for.

See, we sometimes think that we pray these prayers and there’s going to be this spiritual transaction. All of a sudden you get patient, you get gentle, how does it work? Whoo! I think I got patience coming on! You know? It doesn’t work like that!

God works these things in your heart, in your mind, and He changes you - how? By practicing the very thing you need to develop.