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Almost everyone has them – difficult people in life. He or she could be from any segment of life: a family member, a coworker, a neighbor, a church member, a teacher, a student, a friend, or you name your own. They come in and out of life in seasons. Describing the person as “difficult” covers a multitude of peculiarities and/or potentially sinful behaviors.

So how do you respond to these “difficult” people?

First, recognize that there are more things you have in common than you have different.

  • You both are made in image of God, which needs renewal as you become more like Christ (Genesis 1:26-27; Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 3:18). In the greatest sense then, you share far more in common as fellow image-bearers than what you have in contrast.
  • You both are in a spiritual battle; that is, both of you fight the presence of indwelling sin. Would it not be nice if you did not have to fight the desire of the flesh, of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17)?
  • You both need to daily walk in the Spirit and by love serve each other (Galatians 5:13-25). God’s moral will for each of you is to live each day with a God-consciousness.
  • You both share the same purpose of life – to become more like Jesus Christ through the circumstances of life (Romans 8:28-29). Whatever the circumstance, whatever the difficulty, whatever the problem, God’s design in the problem is to help you grow (James 1: 2-5).
  • You both are to have the mind of Christ which prefers the other as more important than self (Philippians 2:1-11). The real potential is that you want your way in this circumstance more than to prefer the other person.

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

Third, what are your best options for response?

Generally, these responses should be typical no matter what the difficulty is. 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. Further, remember that 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? Is it a desire for restoration and reconciliation? Is it a desire for revenge? Is it a desire for getting my own way?

Specifically, your response should reflect the type of issue it is.

  • Sin. If it is an issue of sin, what is the attitude of the person to whom you will talk (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 either what the Bible says about his or her actions and words or there are issues of fear and timidity. If this is the case, then approach the person as an encourager. Furthermore, the person may have a sense of inability and although he or she understands what they should do, they do not believe they can do it.
  • Preference. If it is an issue of preference, you should consider at least two different kinds of questions. First, can I in love put up with this? Is there any reason that 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 that 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 them toward the glories of the gospel.

In sum: sit down and think about it before you respond. Then, respond in a way that is honoring to the Lord and represents the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Join the Conversation:

In what biblical and loving ways have you found it helpful to respond to a “difficult” person?