Saturday, October 17, 2009

How to Deal with Difficult People

"Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself." -- Proverbs 26:4

Just about everyone has heard of the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys. What they might not know is how it all started. In 1878 they had a dispute over the ownership of a hog. That led to a twelve-year war which resulted in the deaths of three Hatfields, seven McCoys, and two outsiders. Disagreement over that one hog stole twelve years and twelve lives.

Many of our conflicts are just as unnecessary. But some people are difficult to deal with. How do you handle them? Proverbs is full of wisdom about how to deal with difficult people in your life. Notice these principles:

I. Avoid them when you can (14:7; 20:19)

7 Stay away from a foolish man,
for you will not find knowledge on his lips.

Prov 14:7 (NIV)

19 A gossip betrays a confidence;
so avoid a man who talks too much.

Prov 20:19 (NIV)

II. Answer them gently (15:1; 19:11; 26:4)

1 A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Prov 15:1 (NIV)

11 A man's wisdom gives him patience;
it is to his glory to overlook an offense.

Prov 19:11 (NIV)

4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you will be like him yourself.

Prov 26:4 (NIV)

III. Control your temper (25:28; 29:11)

28 Like a city whose walls are broken down
is a man who lacks self-control.

Prov 25:28 (NIV)

11 A fool gives full vent to his anger,
but a wise man keeps himself under control.

Prov 29:11 (NIV)

IV. Settle disputes quickly (17:14; 26:17)

14 Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam;
so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.

Prov 17:14 (NIV)

17 Like one who seizes a dog by the ears
is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own.

Prov 26:17 (NIV)

V. Let them learn from their mistakes (19:19)

19 A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty;
if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.

Prov 19:19 (NIV)

VI. Kill them with kindness (24:29; 25:21-22)

29 Do not say, "I'll do to him as he has done to me;
I'll pay that man back for what he did."

Prov 24:29 (NIV)

21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the LORD will reward you.

Prov 25:21-22 (NIV)

CONCLUSION: In Walt Whitman's diary of the Civil War, he records visiting a hospital and meeting two wounded soldiers: W.S. Prentiss, who served in the 2nd Maryland, Confederate, and Col. Clifton K. Prentiss, who served in the 6th Maryland, Union. They were two brothers from Baltimore who served on opposite sides but wounded at the same battle at Petersburg, and both died in the same hospital.

I think what strikes us as particularly sad about this story, is that we all feel like brothers should not have to die in war like that. But you know, if your difficult person is a fellow believer, he or she is your brother or sister in Christ. So we need to find a way to make live at peace, as much as possible, and the best way is the way of Jesus, returning anger with calmness and evil with kindness. Isn’t that what the cross of Jesus is all about—returning evil with love?

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