Dealing with Difficult People

1st Peter 3:8-18

Sermon by Rev. Dr. Charley Reeb

Senior Pastor, Pasadena Community Church (UMC)


Today I want to talk about something all of us can relate to – dealing with difficult people. By difficult people I mean all categories – the gossips, the bullies, the manipulators, the intimidators, the blamers, the criticizers, the complainers, the whiners, etc. Just fill in the blank. Today we are going to discover the biblical way to handle difficult people.


By a show of hands how many of you know a difficult person?  How many of have worked or work with a difficult person?  How many of you live with a difficult person – never mind, don’t raise your hand on that one. You may be sitting next to them!  For those of you who didn’t raise your hands you are probably not getting out enough. You may want to beef up your social calendar!


The truth is all of us have to deal with difficult people. Some of you work with difficult people. Some of you have neighbors that are difficult people. Some of you will have Thanksgiving dinner this week with difficult people! Some of you have family members that are difficult. Some of you live with difficult people.


(Personal Tension)


I must confess to you that being a minister is not all robes, Bibles, leather chairs and the Hallelujah chorus. When you are a spiritual leader for a large community of faith you are going to have to deal with some difficult people. And I have had to deal with some real doozies! The problem is there was no class in seminary on how to deal with difficult people. I wish there had been!  Along the way I have made mistakes when and through those mistakes I have gained some life changing wisdom about dealing with difficult people.


(Universal Tension)


I have a hunch that many of you would like to hear this wisdom I have learned. For some of you are dreading Thanksgiving dinner because you will have to suffer through that overbearing family member who belittles everyone. Some of you work with someone in the office who gossips about everyone and she is driving you crazy! Some of you may have an in-law who criticizes everything you do. No matter what you do it is never good enough! Some of you have a neighbor or friend that you see from time to time who talks behind your back and seems to sabotage you. Some of you live with folks who are always blaming you or someone else for their problems and they never take responsibility for themselves.

What do you do with people like that? How do you respond to people like that?


(Dead End)


Maybe you are tired of feeling awkward or angry or nervous around that person, but you don’t know what to do about it? Is there a way to respond to difficult people that you won’t live to regret? Is there an effective way to respond to difficult people that won’t get you fired, ruin your own reputation or get you arrested? Is there a way to deal with difficult people that will not compromise your faith?




There was a time in my life when I was struggling with a difficult person and I was asking those same questions. At that time I came across a passage of scripture that changed everything for me. The passage liberated me and enabled me to respond to difficult people effectively and appropriately. But not only that! The new insight I gained actually helps me receive a blessing whenever I deal with difficult people. That’s right. You heard me correct. This passage helps me receive a blessing when I deal with difficult people. I want to share this passage with you today because I believe if you apply the wisdom of the text you can also be liberated and receive a blessing when dealing with difficult people.




So, let’s jump right in. The text can be found in 1st Peter chapter 3. 1st Peter is a great book to read when dealing with difficult people because it was written to persecuted Christians who were being pounced on by all kinds of difficult people. Christians had been thrown out of Jerusalem and were spread out all over Asia Minor. They were being persecuted by the Roman government because they would only claim Jesus as Lord, not Caesar. So the writer of 1st Peter shared how they should respond to those who were against them.


1st Peter 3:9a: Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but on the contrary, repay with a blessing.


Wow!  This was an epic idea then and it is an epic idea today.  When these words were written it was lawful to retaliate, to get even with someone who went against you. Today, that seems like acceptable behavior too.  Yet 1st Peter says, “As followers of Christ that is not an option for you.  We don’t retaliate. In fact, we go one step further. We respond to insults and evil with goodness and love.”


1st Peter 3:9b: It is for this you were called – that you might inherit a blessing.


So as followers of Christ we are called to respond this way – to respond to evil with goodness. It is not a suggestion, or an idea, or an option.  It is a command from Christ.  We are called! If the idea seems difficult or impossible, you need to know you will receive a blessing by responding this way. What is the blessing?  Let’s keep reading:


“For whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.” -1st Peter 3:10-11


The writer of 1st Peter is quoting Psalm 34. It seems like a tall task to always seek peace, especially when you are faced with a difficult person. How can you do it?  Well, read what 1st Peter says next.

1st Peter 3:12a: For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.

How do we repay evil with a blessing? By understanding that God is watching us, cheering for us, pulling for us, sending power to us. How? Through prayer! God is attentive to our prayers. Now there is a concept! Have you prayed for a person who is difficult? Have you ever prayed for God to help you with a person who is difficult?  It works!  Let’s keep reading.

 1st Peter 3:15: Do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.

1st Peter reinforces the fact that we do not act on our own power.  We should not be afraid or intimidated by difficult people. When we allow our hearts to draw closer to Christ and his love, he will give us the power to respond to insult with a blessing. When we do something extraordinary happens. Take a look:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  -1st Peter 3:15-16

These verses are amazing. When we choose to respond to evil with a blessing it is going to turn heads. It is going to get attention because no one acts this way. In fact, it may embarrass the difficult person. When we rise above the crowd and respond to insults and criticism with love and goodness people are going to notice and there is a good chance they are going to wonder what is different about us. Therefore we must be prepared to tell them why we act the way we do. So, what do we tell them?  1st Peter answers that in verse 18.

1st Peter 3:18: For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.

That’s what you tell them. For, you see, all of us can be difficult.  All of us can be abrasive and insensitive. All of us can be impossible to deal with. And how did Christ respond to us? With unbelievable love, grace and mercy!  We repay evil and insults with a blessing because that is what Christ has done for us. So often we forget this. When we are dealing with a difficult person we forget we can be difficult too! We are not as hard on ourselves as we are on others. But as we draw closer to Christ and his love we remember what Christ has done for us.




Here is the message for today: We are never more like Christ than when we love the unlovely. (Point)




We are never more like Christ than when we respond to evil with goodness – when we return insult with a blessing. Your response to difficult people will either betray your faith in Christ or reveal it. Responding to difficult people is perhaps your greatest opportunity to witness to the power of God’s love in Jesus Christ. If you don’t respond the right way you may miss the best opportunity to share the love of Christ.  Your life is your message. How you respond to difficult people is your sermon! Remember, “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.”


(“Handle” and Making it Concrete)


Let me get down to how this works. In a few days you may be around the Thanksgiving table with difficult people. You may have to travel with a difficult person over the Christmas holidays.  You may have to face a difficult person at work tomorrow. Here is what you do first: Pray Persistently. Today, start praying for that person and ask God to help you respond lovingly to that person. It is amazing what can happen when we pray for difficult people. God will help us. Praying for a difficult people also helps us humanize them. For the truth is “Hurt people hurt people.” When we, through prayer, are able to recognize that often times people are difficult because they are hurting inside it helps us gain understanding and sensitivity.


Recently I read that if someone hates you it is usually for one of three reasons: “They see you as a threat, they hate themselves or they want to be you.” Remember that. Reflect on that. How does it apply to you?


Respond Respectfully. Now I want to give you a few guaranteed responses to difficult people that will disarm them in a respectful way. Not possible? It certainly is. Next time you are faced with a difficult person who begins speaking in a hurtful manner or says some inappropriate things try these out:


That’s interesting. Tell me more.”

“That’s interesting. Why would you say that?” 

“That’s interesting. Why would you ask that?”

“I want to hear everything you have to say, just not in that manner.” 


These responses have the potential to deflate the negative emotion in the room and draw attention to the unkindness, but in a respectful manner. 9 times out of 10 these responses will help get you out of a jam.

On Thanksgiving if someone brings up politics and this past election, remember it is not a winnable fight and shift the conversation. If they keep pushing simply say, “If it is okay with you I would rather not discuss this topic today.”


Compliment Courageously. Okay, this may seem impossible to do, but it can work wonders. Next time you are faced with a difficult person try to find something about them you appreciate and tell them. Why? Sometimes people are difficult because they do not feel appreciated or valued. When they feel appreciated, often times they release whatever anger they are holding on to.




I remember a man in another church I served who caused much turmoil for me. It seemed he was against me from the start. If I voted yes, he voted no. If I voted no, he voted yes. He made things very difficult for me. I prayed, “Lord, help me deal with this man. What should I do?”


Shortly after I began praying for this man there was a fall festival at the church. I walked around to the different booths, looking at the arts and crafts created by those in the congregation. The man I was praying for had a booth full of paintings he had done. They were portraits. I had no idea he was a painter and a good one at that!  I asked him to show me his paintings and tell me about them, and he did with great enthusiasm.


The next day I sent him a note, thanking him for showing me his paintings. I also told him how much I appreciated his gift for painting. I couldn’t believe what happened next! He told everyone about the note and never gave me anymore trouble. In fact, he became my biggest supporter!


That was a huge blessing to me! This is what the Bible promises us. We will inherit a blessing when we love the unlovely. The blessing may be a renewed or repaired relationship. The blessing may be the opportunity to share our faith in Christ. The blessing may be experiencing the power of God working through us in a difficult situation. There will always be a blessing when we choose to love the unlovely.


Imagine this world if every Christian decided to love the unlovely. Just imagine. We are never more like Christ than when we love the unlovely. Amen.