Seven Biblical Tips on Dealing with Difficult People

By Mark A. Kellner
Posted October 22, 2018

Difficult people seem to be everywhere, and not just at the freeway on-ramp or in the express line of the supermarket.

In fact, those kinds of hassles generally don’t last long—a few seconds or minutes at the most—and you can walk out with your groceries or get on the road to your destination soon enough.

But what can you do about people who are not only difficult but who show up in your life on a regular basis? Maybe it’s someone at work who doesn’t appreciate your Christian witness, or a family member who is "mad at the world," or even someone at church with whom you’re sharing an assignment, such as sitting on a committee or teaching a Bible class.

God made each one of us different. We each have unique personalities that may, on occasion, rub someone else the wrong way. Chronic issues, however, can make routine situations challenging. Even if it sometimes appears that the best thing to do is avoid the offending person, there are situations where that just can’t be done.

So how can we get along with those who just plain get on our nerves? The Bible offers a number of helpful ideas:

1. Keep things in perspective. Not every situation is a life-or-death crisis, and sometimes we just have to “grin and bear it.” The apostle Paul, in his message to the early Christian believers in Rome, put it this way: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).

Obviously, this does not apply to situations where you or another person are facing physical danger or emotional abuse from an offending individual. In those cases, it’s essential to get help from those in positions of responsibility, or even from law enforcement, if necessary.

But for non-critical situations, it’s always a good idea to first seek to “live peaceably.” Your example of kindness and cooperation might well reach the heart of that bothersome person, after all.

2. Know that there’s an answer. No matter how challenging the problem may seem, know that there is always a way out. That solution might well involve making everyone happy with the result. The Bible speaks of finding solutions to difficult situations: “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). There is an answer!

3. Ask questions—and listen to the responses. That answer might well come from asking questions of the other person in a given situation. The late Stephen R. Covey, in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, listed as habit number five: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Too often, especially in a tense situation, we might become defensive, or we might ignore the other person’s point of view. Asking questions, trying to understand the other person’s feelings, and listening to the answers can be key to defusing that disagreement. You can still raise your points, but after listening to the “other side,” you may modify your views.

4. Seek God’s wisdom. It’s easy to get stressed out in a tense situation—especially when the other person is bothersome. If you can, step away for a moment, take a deep breath, and ask God to help you know what to do. If stepping away is not possible, a quick prayer under your breath may suffice.

Know that God cares about you, the other person, and the situation. God really and truly knows you: “The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7). You are of great value to God, so feel free to ask Him to guide you.

5. Know when to walk away. In the fourth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, beginning in verse 16, we read about Jesus’ appearance at the synagogue in Nazareth. He reads from Isaiah and says the Scripture “is fulfilled in your hearing” that day; in other words, Jesus is the One of whom the ancient prophet spoke. Some Jewish leaders sought to punish Jesus for this alleged “blasphemy,” but He didn’t fall into their trap. The Bible tells us Jesus, “passing through the midst of them ... went His way” (Luke 4:30).

There would come other times when Jesus would contend with the Pharisees and other sectarian officials. But this was not one of those times, and Jesus exercised discretion and good sense by just leaving the scene.

Sometimes, when a difficult person wants to “make an issue” of something, the best thing you can do is walk away, let things cool off, and then try to resolve the matter at another time.

6. And know when—and how—to engage. In the first chapter of Isaiah’s prophetic book, God invites those who are being “difficult” to engage with Him: “ ‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the LORD” (v.18). Although God has the right to execute immediate judgment on transgressors, He holds out an olive branch and seeks peace.

In difficult situations, praying to know when, and how, to engage with others is essential. God doesn’t want to see conflict, especially among those who identify as His followers. Instead, God wants us to gently confront and resolve every matter: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

7. Put self aside, if only for the moment. Dale Carnegie, the famous observer of human nature, once recalled an epitaph seen in a cemetery: “Here lies the body of Peter Jay/Who died maintaining his right-of-way/He was right, dead right, as he sped along/But he’s just as dead now as if he’d been wrong.”

The point? You can be right, but lose the argument if you’re too assertive. A great Christian author put it this way: “If pride and selfishness were laid aside, five minutes would remove most difficulties" (Early Writings, p. 119). She was onto something!

As long as we are human and on this side of heaven, we will encounter problems and, yes, people who are difficult. But with patience, reflection, and a dose of humility, we can turn those challenging situations around—or at least make a sincere effort!

To learn more: Check out Pastor Doug's Bible study on Social Relationships. Although this program addresses broader societal issues, many of the principles found here can also apply to one-on-one situations.


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