How To Get Along With Difficult People

Title: How To Get Along With Difficult People

Bible Book: Matthew 5 : 43-47

Author: J. Gerald Harris

Subject: Love; Grace; Kindness; Friendliness



Is there anybody in this world that makes life difficult for you? Unfortunately we must contend almost daily with cantankerous, obstreperous people. People can make life absolutely glorious, but unfortunately the reverse of that is also true. People can make life absolutely miserable. And so we need to know how to get along with difficult people.


I have encountered some difficult people in my day. The first recollection I have of such a "hard-to-get-along-with" person takes me back to my junior high school days. In the seventh grade there was a fellow in my class by the name of Freddy Taylor. Freddy Taylor was a problem to everybody. He was obnoxious. He was loud. He was a troublemaker. He was always pushing and shoving in the halls. We played softball and when he caught the ball he never tried to throw the runner out. He would always throw the ball at the runner. I've seen Freddy Taylor get a ground ball and throw the ball at the runner and hit the runner in the back of the head. He was always tripping people; knocking schoolbooks out of the hands of classmates.

I want you to know, we got together and we gave Freddy Taylor a nickname. Do you know what it was? "Whiplash." Do you want to know why we gave him that name? Because he was such a pain in the neck.

Maybe you know folks like that. They're just difficult people. They're hard to get along with. They are a pain in the neck. But you know, I made up my mind a long time ago that I was not going to let people like that bother me. You just can't let folks like that get your dander up. It has been said "anyone who angers you, conquers you." And it has also been said that "an angry man is seldom reasonable, and a reasonable man is seldom angry." You see, folks, life is too short and life is too precious for us to allow people to mess it up.

There are a lot of people who have difficulty in getting along with other members of the family. I heard about this husband and wife who were having trouble, Herman and Henrietta. They were going through their brand new house. It was a house that Henrietta had paid for with her money. Henrietta was constantly reminding Herman that it was her money that had paid for the house. In each room as they toured the house she said to her husband, "Herman, if it were not for my money we wouldn't be here." Poor old Herman didn't say a word.

That afternoon a truck delivered to the house a load of furniture, furniture which Henrietta paid for with her money. After the furniture was in place, the couple toured the house again. As they observed each room, beautifully appointed and magnificently decorated, Henrietta reminded her husband, "Herman, if it were not for my money this furniture - would not be here." Poor old Herman stood there in silence.

Late in the afternoon a truck came with a special piece of furniture which was to be the focal point of the den, a combination stereo - television – computer all wrapped into one gorgeous piece of furniture, which Henrietta paid for with her money. When it was in place Henrietta again addressed her beleaguered husband and said, "If it were not for my money that piece of furniture would not be here."

Finally Herman spoke. He said, "Honey, I don't want to make you feel bad, but if it were not for your money I wouldn't be here either." I guess Herman saw Henrietta as a person who was difficult to live with. The only thing that kept him around was her money. So sometimes that difficult person is in the home.

Mary was a senior in high school. She was having a tough day and had stretched herself out on the couch to do a bit of what she thought to be well deserved complaining and self-pitying. She did it quite often and it had become a considerable annoyance. She moaned to her mom and brother, "Nobody loves me...nobody cares anything about me...the whole world hates me!" Her brother, busily occupied playing a game, hardly looked up at her and passed on this encouraging word: "That's not true, Mary. Some people don't even know you." What a lift.

But some time that person who is difficult to get along with may be your child. Or your child, your teenager, may consider you the difficult person to get along with. But sometimes just getting along with folks in the home is a challenge.

Then in some cases there is difficulty in getting along with people at work. Is there anybody at your place of employment that is really taxing your good nature?

As I thought about grouches at work, I immediately thought of one of the main characters in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I thought of none other than Ebenezer Scrooge. Someone said “some bosses are so mean, if they pay you a compliment they expect to get a receipt.”

Listen to how Charles Dickens describes Ebenezer Scrooge. “Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as a flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.

"Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say with gladsome looks, 'My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?' No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle. No children asked him what it was o'clock. No man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place of Scrooge. Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him and when they saw him coming would tug their owners into doorways and up courts and then would wag their tails as though they said 'no eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!'" This Ebenezer Scrooge is the man for whom Bob Cratchit had to work.

So sometimes there are difficult people at home. Sometimes there are difficult people with whom you must deal at work.

And then sometimes there are difficult people that you encounter out on the highways. I bought a book recently entitled Don’t Let Jerks Get The Best Of You by Paul Meier. He is the co-founder of the Minirth-Meier Clinics. In this book Paul Meier tells about driving home from a vacation with his wife Jan and his four kids in the family van. He said, “We were on divided highway with two lanes on our side, a rather wide island in the middle and two lanes for oncoming traffic. “The speed limit was 55 and a big truck was in the slow lane going about 45. Up ahead four girls in a Volkswagen convertible with the top down had decided to play their own little passive-aggressive game and began going exactly 45 mph right next to the truck. Soon the girls had a line of about twenty cars behind them, which began tooting with frustration because girls wouldn't speed up and get ahead of the truck or slow down behind the truck to let others pass them.”

Meier says, "I came up behind this parade of vehicles and after being patient for maybe two or three minutes, began to get angry. Finally I noticed a long stretch ahead where the shoulder was wide enough to pass and I took off on the shoulder passing all twenty or so cars and the truck. I should have driven on satisfied to have gotten around the snarl. But then I decided, I'm going to teach those girls a lesson.

"I had been drinking a huge soda which I had placed on the dashboard caddie. While I made my maneuver around the twenty cars and the truck, taking the almost full cup of soda out of the caddie, I slowed down to about 35 mph, which meant the truck had to slow down as well. Unaware of my strategy, the girls pulled up beside me for a few seconds, which was all the time I needed.

"Reaching out the open window I threw the huge cup of soda all over them and then took off. Our children who were all rather young at the time" cheered, but Jan just groaned. Obviously, the girls "deserved" some kind of comeuppance, but what I did was certainly jerky, not to mention stupid."

Have you ever done anything like that? Have you ever had any motorists do that kind of thing to you? Somebody said some automobiles have fluid drives, others just have a drip at the wheel.

Dr. Robert Schuller, who is pastor of the Crystal Cathedral out in California, told about a man with whom he had shared an automobile accident. The man used all kind of foul and abusive language. Dr. Schuller looked at him straight in the eye and said, "Mister, God loves you and I'm trying." There are a lot of people that God is capable of loving, but they make it hard for us to love them. There's this problem of difficult people - in the home - at work - on the highway - and some even in the church.

Several years ago we went to Boston, Massachusetts, for our vacation. On Sunday morning I went to two church services. I went to an early church and then the family joined me for worship at the eleven o'clock hour at the Tremont Temple there in Boston. But I went to another church earlier. It was a very historic church, but it was a church that was very formal in its style of worship. The pastor got up and he said, "I have been on vacation. Last week I went to a church that impressed me as being a very friendly, warm fellowship.

One of the things that I really appreciated about the church was the practice of everyone turning around and shaking hands with and greeting the other worshippers seated nearby." And the pastor says, "I think that we could use a bit of that friendliness in our own church. I don't want us to be so formal and so liturgical that we fail to speak to one another and to our guests." He said, "Now next Sunday we're going to initiate this custom."

At the close of that service I turned around to the lady behind me and I said, "Good morning." She looked at me with shock at my boldness and said, "I beg your pardon, sir. This friendliness business doesn't start until next Sunday."

Have you ever met anybody like that in church? Well, there is the problem of difficult people.


You know, I like to operate under the assumption that even difficult people can be loved, and that once they are loved they can even become lovable. I think that's their potential. As Christians we can't wait for difficult people to become lovable before we love them. We've got to love them and trust that our love for them will demand a response.

We have already cited Ebenezer Scrooge as the epitome of a difficult person. But do you remember what happened to him? He changed. By the time you get to the last pages of A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens says this of Scrooge. "Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all and infinitely more. And to Tiny Tim who did not die he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master and as good a man as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town or borough in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration m him, but he let them laugh and little heeded them, for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe for good at which some people did not have their fill of laughter... and it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well."

When I was a pastor in Raleigh, North Carolina, we had a man in our church there who was a very unique individual. This man was a miser. He was unfriendly. He was cold. He was a loner. I mean, if you offered to buy him a coke he'd say, "No, I don't want the coke but I'll take the money."

He had a nice car but he would walk four miles to buy a loaf of bread because he wanted to preserve his car. I mean, he was so stingy that he would squeeze a penny so hard that he would give Lincoln an Excedrin headache.

Have you ever seen this sign in a church? “Church notice: the Lord loveth a cheerful giver. He also accepteth from a grouch.” I wanted to put that sign up just for the sake of this man. He was an interesting fellow. No one ever saw him smile. He worked all day and then sat at home all night.

But then something amazing happened. Somehow in the providence of God he became acquainted with a woman at work. She had never been married before either. They fell in love and you’ve never seen such a dramatic change in all of your life. His scowl turned into a smile. There was a spring in his step. There was a song in his heart. He whistled just about everywhere he went. He developed a winsome personality. He asked this woman to marry him. She accepted his proposal and he asked me to perform the ceremony. This love relationship had changed his life. I want you to know that when I performed the wedding ceremony, the old skinflint gave me a hundred dollars.

Now, I just give you that illustration to point out the potential of difficult people. Those who are unlovely, even those who are sour and cynical, can become agreeable, lovable people. And, of course, we know that Jesus Christ can make the difference.

In the second chapter of John's Gospel we have the story of Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. In the Bible wine represents gladness and joy. I believe that miracle that Jesus performed - the first recorded miracle of Jesus Christ - illustrates the fact that Jesus brings joy to life. Indeed, Jesus is the life of the party. Jesus came not only to give life, but to give an abundant life. Jesus can take the cynicism out of life. He can take the sorrow out of life. He can take the sadness out of life. So in Jesus Christ we see potential for even the most difficult "hard-to-get-along-with -" people."

But now having considered the problem of difficult people and the potential of difficult people, let me say a word about


While Charles Spurgeon was still a boy preacher he was warned about a certain quarrelsome woman and told that she intended to give him a tongue-lashing. "All right," he replied, "but that's a game that two can play. Not long afterward she met him and assailed him with a flood of abuse. He smiled and said, "Yes, thank you, I'm quite well. I hope you are the same." Then came another burst of vituperation pitched in a higher key to which he replied, still smiling, "Yes, it does look rather as if it might rain. I think I had better be getting on."

"Bless the man," she exclaimed, "he's as deaf as a post. What's the use of storming at him." And so her railings ceased and were never again attempted.

Now, that's one way to deal with a difficult person. Al Smith was a presidential candidate in 1928 and he was making a speech when a heckler yelled, "Tell 'em what's on your mind, Al. It won't take long." Smith grinned, pointed at the man and shouted, "Stand up partner and I'll tell 'em what's on both our minds. It won't take any longer."

Now, that's another way to handle a difficult person. But I believe we have the proper procedure for dealing with difficult people in our text. Please look once again in Matthew 5:43-47. Actually there are four things which are suggested in this passage of Scripture. There are four steps in the procedure that Jesus gives for dealing with difficult people. The first thing that Jesus says is "love them."

Now, I will just be honest with you. I do not have it within me to love difficult people. I think it is virtually impossible for a person to conjure up human love for his enemies. In fact, I'm quite sure that God never expected an unbeliever to love his enemies. There is something within the human spirit that wants to strike out at difficult people. We just want to retaliate. We want to get even.

But, you see, with the Christian it is different, or at least it should be, because the Bible tells us that God has placed within our hearts a deposit of His divine love. It is this kind of love that Jesus says we are to extend to our enemies. In other words, it's not human love that we are to extend to our enemies, but it's divine love.

In other words, since we are incapable of loving as God loves in the flesh, the Jesus within us is to do the loving. We are simply to be the vehicle, the channel, through which the love of Jesus flows to those who are difficult to love.

A schoolteacher was telling me about a little boy in her second grade class who habitually stole things from the other children and hid them in his desk. The teacher reasoned with him, but to no avail. The principal reasoned with him, but to no avail. The teacher tried several different kinds of discipline, but nothing worked. The child continued to steal things from the other students. And then the teacher said to the principal, "Possibly the child takes things that do not belong to him to compensate for the lack of parental love. Let's just lavish love on him."

So in different ways the teacher and the principal and other officials in the school demonstrated to the child that they had genuine love for him. Within a short while a wonderful change was observed. He no longer took things from the other children. In I Corinthians 13 the Bible says “love never faileth.”

Try it. It is the first step in the procedure for dealing with difficult people.

But then there's a second step. Not only are we to love them, but Jesus says that we are to “bless them.” When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to Titus he said, “Speak evil of no one but be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.”

You may run into a difficult person who verbally abuses you. They may curse you. But instead of cursing them in return, your speech is to demonstrate gentleness and humility and compassion and love.

Someone said you may get in a fight with a skunk and win, but you won't ever smell the same. Sowhen someone curses you, you bless them in return.

Encourage them. Compliment them. Build them up. Someone has said that the best way to destroy your enemy is to make him your friend. You may be able to do that with a kind word. You may be able to do that by blessing them when they curse you.

A callous word may kindle strife,

A cruel word may wreck a life,

A bitter word may hate instill,

A brutal word may smite and kill.

A gracious word may smooth the way,

A joyous word may light the day,

A kindly word may lessen stress,

A loving word may heal and bless.

But as we think about the procedure for dealing with difficult people, Jesus suggests that we not only love them and bless them, but He suggests that we "do good to them." In fact. He says "do good to those who hate you."

The Apostle Paul in writing to the church at Rome said, "If it is possible as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath, for it is written: 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay saith the Lord.' Therefore, if your enemy is hungry, feed him.

If he is thirsty, give him a drink, for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

I heard about a woman who was having great difficulty with her neighbor. The pastor said, "Have you tried heaping coals of fire upon her head?"

The lady said, "Well, no. I've not tried that, but one day I tried boiling water." That is not what this verse means. It simply means that if you feed your enemy when he is hungry and clothe him when he is naked and do good to him, it will move him to a burning shame. He will be ashamed of how inconsiderate and unlovely he has become.

I remember when I was a boy I would cut a shine. I would get in some kind of trouble. I'd do some kind of shenanigan. I remember one time I was in the living room of our house swinging a baseball bat. And we had one of those lava lamps on the television set. Remember those lamps? I hit that lamp with the bat and knocked it off the television and broke it to smithereens.

My mother came in there and said, "Son, I told you not to swing the bat and play ball in the living room. Instead of punishing you, I want to do something nice for you. I'm getting ready to fix supper and I want you to tell me what you'd like to have for supper."

Well, I didn't want to tell my mother what I wanted for supper because I knew that I didn't deserve having what I wanted for supper. So I said, "No, mother, don't do that. I probably ought to go to my room and not even have supper." So I just couldn't bring myself to tell her anything.

My mother knew what I liked. She made an apple pie. For dessert that night I had apple pie and ice cream. As I ate that apple pie and ice cream I felt so ashamed of disobeying my mother and knocking that lava lamp off the television. My mother returned good for evil. And that's the way we're to treat difficult people. Jesus says that “we’re to do good to them.”

Then you notice the last thing He says in verse 44. He says “pray for them - pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you.”

Somebody said, I wonder why Jesus put the matter of prayer last in this four-step procedure for dealing with difficult people. It looks like He would have put it first.

No. I think Jesus put it last because there are some people for whom you can only pray. They're so cantankerous, they're so unlovely, they're so despiteful that you can love them and bless them and do good to them and they don't respond to any of that. The only thing that you can do is just pray for them.


When Charles Stanley became pastor of the First Baptist Church here in Atlanta there were some people who were very much opposed to him being the pastor. In fact, I believe in one of the services a man came up to the pulpit and tried to punch Charles Stanley in the mouth.

But I have heard Charles Stanley say that he responded to those people in three ways. He said, "I've responded to their threats, their criticism, their, opposition with number one, silence; number two, love; number three, prayer."

I believe that there are some people that you pray for and just stay out of their way. The Apostle Paul says, Now I urge you, brethren. Note those who because divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them" (Romans 16:17). That is sad to say. But there are some people that you just need to isolate, you need to avoid them because to come in contact with them produces certain conflict and strife.

Booker Washington said, "I will not allow any man to make me lower myself by hating him." May God give you the grace to eliminate those difficult people by making them your friends.

By the way, that's exactly what Jesus Christ did for us. In Romans chapter five we're described as enemies of the cross of Christ. We are described as opponents of Jesus Christ. But the Bible says that "God commended His love toward us in that while if we were yet sinners Christ died for us." By His character, by His love and by His prayers He has made those of us who were his enemies his friends.

You see, about the best thing that I can do is to try to practice what I preach. But Jesus preached what He practiced. He loved all those who had set themselves against Him. And by His love we can do the same.


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