Dealing with Difficult People

“But Jesus did not trust Himself to them . . . for He Himself knew what was in man.” John 2:24-25

These words come after Jesus’ first visit to Jerusalem for the Passover. After performing some signs (John’s word for miracles) some people believed in Jesus, but apparently their faith was based solely on the signs and not on the person. In return for this shallow faith, Jesus literally did not have faith (this is the Greek word behind the translation “trust”) in them. In other words, Jesus knew people could be shallow and fickle. He was not surprised when they acted according to their nature.

But He never gave up on anyone. Though He knew “what was in man” He never stopped working to bring out the best in man. He told the parable of a father’s love for a prodigal son. He accepted Peter after his denials. He called Paul to be an apostle even after he persecuted the church. Jesus went to a cross because in addition to knowing how bad our fallen nature could be, He also knew how sublime our redeemed nature could be. He died to make that possible, and lives to bring it to the surface of our lives. Repeatedly.

You also “know what is in man.” Think about it. You have been around many people who have not conducted themselves honorably. They have disappointed you. They have not returned your love. In fact, they may have returned curses for your love! Here is the point: you cannot be surprised when people act according to their lower instincts. We all do it regularly. It is in our nature at times to be irritable, dishonest, arrogant, etc. What is your response?

The passage above teaches us that while Jesus was never surprised by what we are capable of, He was also never disillusioned by people, and that is your goal. You must not trust everyone. Even Jesus did not do that! However, you are expected to love everyone, and you can do that through the power of Christ in you. Disillusionment leads to despair, and that is not a Christian quality.

As in all matters, your response to challenging and difficult people is far more important than changing the challenging and difficult person. Your mission is not to change anyone, but simply be an agent of God’s grace.

The Paradoxical Commandments were originally written by Kent Keith and several versions circulate today. They outline very nicely your response when dealing with difficult people:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Don't be disillusioned! The residue of our fallen human nature can make for very prickly relationships. But the nature of grace means that faith, hope, and love always abide, and the greatest of these is love.


Dr. Terry Ellis

February 5, 2012