Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers.
Your child is wronged by another child, and when you try to talk to her parents, they tell you off. A friend gets angry with you and refuses to talk to you. A fellow worker never shows you respect, always going over your head. How do you deal with difficult people? My grandfather loved to answer this dilemma with Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
This verse recognizes two important facts about dealing with difficult people: 1) we should live at peace with people, and 2) it’s not always possible. In fact, Romans 12 gives us four ways to deal with difficult people when peace is possible, and four ways to deal with them when peace is not possible.
When peace is possible
Romans 12:14-16 gives us some practical ways to live at peace with difficult people.
1. Be a blessing (v. 14)
Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” This statement, like several others here, refer back to Jesus’ word in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus told us, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Paul must have remembered his own past with this statement, for many years before, Paul was the young Pharisee named Saul who held the coats of those who stoned to death the first Christian martyr, Stephen. Acts 7:60 records that as he died, Stephen said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
2. Be empathetic (v. 15)
In verse 15 he adds, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” This is more than sympathy; it is empathy. It is identifying with those who hurt. This is a critical response to a difficult person, because when we can identify with them and understand why they act the way they do, then we will be much better at relating to them.
3. Be agreeable (v. 16a)
Verse 16 begins, “Live in harmony with one another.” Literally, the Greek means to “have the same mind toward one another.” We can disagree in substance and still be agreeable in spirit.
4. Be humble (v. 16b)
Sometimes the reason that the other person is so difficult to deal with us because the problem is within ourselves! Thus Paul reminds us, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” As Proverbs 3:7 says, “Do not be wise in your own eyes.”
When peace is impossible
Paul said in verse 18 to live at peace “if it is possible” and if “it depends on you.” He was recognizing that there are times when it is impossible for us to bring about peace in our own power. So what do you do when there is no peace? What do you do when it’s out of your hands?
1. Do not seek personal revenge (v. 17a, 19a)
Although I have listed this under the category of “when peace is impossible,” it probably fits under both categories. This is a principle that goes both ways.
Verse 17 says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…” Verse 19 says, “Do not take revenge, my friends…” Jesus also taught the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:39, 41). Jesus was not talking about social injustice; He was making reference to personal insults. As Proverbs 12:16 says, it is wise to ignore an insult.
2. Do what is right (v. 17b)
We do not need to let the meanness of another person drag us down to their level. Thus verse 17 continues, “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” We must decide that even when the other person refuses to do what is right, that we will do what is right. Even when we cannot keep the peace, we can keep our integrity.
3. Let God avenge (v. 19b)
Verse 19 begins by saying, “Do not take revenge” but the verse goes on to say, “leave room for God’s wrath.” That is, we do not take revenge for personal insults and injuries, but we do make room for God to work his vengeance, particularly against social injustice.
When the Hebrews fled across the Red Sea and Pharaoh chased them, God allowed the Egyptians to drown in the sea, and Exodus 15 records the song of rejoicing that Moses sang at their defeat. Proverbs 11:10 says that “when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.” While it is a virtue to overlook a personal insult, it is not a virtue to overlook a social injustice. The former is gracious; the latter is gross negligence.
4. Overcome evil with good (v. 20-21)
Paul says, “’If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ [A quotation of Proverbs 25:21-22.] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
We can read Romans 12:20-21 on two levels: On a personal level, “kill him with kindness.” If your enemy is hungry, feed him. Let his evil be in such contrast to your goodness, that evil will be conquered by good. You may change his heart. On a social level, God will bring about the vengeance, often by using the judicial system, law enforcement and the military to bring about justice. In this way, you are leaving room for God’s wrath.
To sum up, how do you deal with difficult people? If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with them. If possible, be a blessing, be empathetic, be agreeable, be humble. Respond to their personal insults with personal kindness. And if none of those things are possible, you may just need to walk away and let God deal with them.
How does God want you to deal with your difficult person?
“God…rewards those who seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6b, HCSB
I like rewards.
I’m a member of the Holiday Inn Priority Club, and I like getting rewards for staying at the Holiday Inn. They give me a gift bag when I arrive. They let me check out late. I earn points and occasionally get to stay one night free.
But no rewards program can compare with God’s rewards program. Yes, we’re saved by grace, not by good deeds. The greatest reward is our salvation and eternal life in heaven. However, God also grants amazing rewards for serving Him. Here’s my top ten:
1. Reward for good deeds. First Corinthians 3:11-15 says that Jesus is the foundation of salvation, but if anybody builds on that foundation, “he will receive a reward” (v. 14).
2. Reward for giving up sin. Moses gave up “the fleeting pleasures of sin” for Christ, “for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26).
3. Reward for humility. Jesus repeatedly said that if we do our good deeds humbly and in secret, that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18).
4. Reward for generosity. Jesus said that if you invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind to dinner instead of your friends, family or rich neighbors, “you will be repaid at the resurrection” (Luke 14:12-14).
5. Reward for discipline. The apostle Paul said that athletes receive a temporary crown that fades away, but if we live a disciplined Christian life, we receive an “imperishable” crown (1 Corinthians 14:12-14).
6. Reward for service. Colossians 3:23-24 says that if you work heartily for the Lord, “you will receive the inheritance as your reward.”
7. Reward for enduring trials. The “crown of life” is mentioned twice in scripture (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10) for the one “who remains steadfast under trial.”
8. The prophet’s reward. The shepherd (pastor) of the flock of God is promised “the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:1-4). Jesus says this reward is also available to all, for “The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward” (Matthew 10:41).
9. Reward for looking forward to the Second Coming. “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord… will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
10. Reward for leaving a legacy. Abraham, the father of faith, was told, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Think of Abraham’s legacy of faith as Father of the Hebrew nation, ancestor of Jesus, and role model of faith for all people. There can be no greater reward than a legacy of faith that leads others to faith. There can be no greater reward than seeing others in heaven because we shared our faith with them on earth.
How about you? Are you in God’s reward program?
Five years ago I started riding a mountain bike a few miles in the morning to work out at the YMCA. I figured with gasoline at $4.00 a gallon, I could pay for the bicycle in gas saved and be exercising while riding. Soon I was addicted to cycling, and started riding longer distances on Saturdays for fun. When I got up to nearly 20 miles, serious cyclists told me I should upgrade to a road bike, and I was blessed to receive one on permanent loan from a friend. Soon I was riding 30 and 40 miles on the weekends on the road bike, which is a lot easier and more fun to ride, with its light weight and narrow tires.
Then my brother, who lives in Louisiana, got into cycling. We decided that we would ride the 41-mile Longleaf Trace (near our parent’s home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi) over the Christmas holidays. Since I had been cycling a lot longer than Todd, I was sharing my expertise with him and comparing notes on Facebook and in phone calls. Soon he was riding 40 miles each weekend. I got up to 52 miles on my longest ride.
A couple of months before the ride, it dawned on me that my brother was going that distance on a mountain bike, while I was riding a road bike. I decided to be fair to him, I should also ride the slower, heavier mountain bike, and I started training again on my mountain bike. I had never been farther than 22 miles on a mountain bike. A couple of weeks before our ride, I got up to 35 miles on my mountain bike, and I thought I was going to die.
I should have seen what was coming, but my pride got in the way. On December 31, our Dad dropped us off in Prentiss at the beginning of the Longleaf Trace, with our mountain bikes. (That’s a picture of the two of us on this page, with Todd on the left, and me on the right.)
The idea was to ride in each other’s draft, taking turns leading one another. I led the first seven miles, with Todd right behind me in my draft. It was largely uphill, and then we took a break. I felt fine, but Todd said my pace seemed slow. He led the next 12 miles. Forget about staying in his draft, after about 5 miles, it was killing me to keep up with him. I had to make a decision: was I going to be in pain trying to keep up his pace, or just enjoy the ride? I decided to enjoy the ride and soon he was half a football field ahead of me, constantly looking back. After the next stop, I was feeling humiliated. I had to put the bicycle in a low gear to handle the slightest uphill slopes, while Todd started meandering on the path, over to the left and then to the right, just to slow himself down and keep from going over the horizon out of my view. Then he started telling me that he needed to reset his music on his mp3 player, and told me to go on ahead and he would catch up. Soon he was flying past me. I felt like the little engine that could, but I wasn’t so sure that I could. The last 10 miles were pure pain and determination. I think I saw a turtle pass me. After five hours and 41 miles on the trail, I finally crossed the line, muttering that I HATE mountain bikes. My brother was circling around the parking lot waiting for me, saying he could go another 5 miles. But I couldn’t be mad at him, because he was trying to be nice about it the whole time, thanking me for riding with him and saying how much fun we had. That evening he went out to a movie. I took ibuprofen and rubbed my sore thighs and knees at home.
The experience reminds me of the way we often see ourselves spiritually. We think we are really good people. We compare ourselves with others, and we look pretty good. But the Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) When we compare ourselves with God, He runs circles around us, and leaves us in the dust. It’s an humbling realization, but an important lesson for us to learn.
That long ride on mountain bikes with my brother taught me that I’m not nearly as great a cyclist as I think I am, and also encouraged me to keep on training. Getting a glimpse of God’s glory should teach us a similar lesson: we aren’t nearly as holy and good as we think we are, but we have a loving God who is waiting on us up ahead, accepting us for who we are encouraging us to do better.
However, there is also a difference. My brother can do nothing to help me, except give encouragement. My God can give me power to do what I cannot do myself. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
I’m looking forward to the ride with God in 2013.
UPDATE: When I got back to Georgia, I noticed that my rear tire was lose and rubbing against the rim, so I took it to my bike repairman. He said the bearings were shot, and he said, “I don’t know how you even finished 41 miles with a wheel in that bad shape.” Soooooo…. maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t in as bad a shape as I thought! Looks like I need to challenge Todd to another ride on the Longleaf Trace!
A large church had a rather large guest preacher one Sunday who made a grand entrance like none other.
The congregation had just heard a concert by a gospel band. The big preacher had been sitting behind the stage, enjoying the music. The music was over, and it was time for him to preach.
Since he was sitting behind the stage, the preacher had to step over wires and chords running to the keyboard, electric guitars and speakers that were used by the band. Unfortunately, as he made his way to the pulpit, his foot caught in one of the wires.
As he lost his balance, the portly preacher stumbled, but did not fall. Almost in slow motion, the preacher prevailed and sailed across the stage, maintaining enough balance to keep from falling, but not enough balance to straighten up. With arms flailing, he finally made it to the edge of the stage, and landed his large frame with a thud upon the keyboard, arms hanging over the keys. A discordant sound of many notes played at once as he landed, sounding even louder against the hushed silence of the congregation.
Slowly raising his head, the preacher looked up at the two thousand worshipers and said, “I have fallen for this church.” By the time they had finished laughing, he had regained his dignity, gained their attention, and began his sermon.
Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.” However, it also says, “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12), and “Though he falls, he will not be overwhelmed, because the Lord holds his hand” (Psalm 37:24).
So like my fellow preacher who so conspicuously fell, don’t think it can’t happen to you or me. But if does happen to one of us, let’s learn from that preacher. Even if you are lying flat on your face in front of thousands of people, if you will humble yourself, God stands ready to lift you up.