The Israelites were a difficult lot, full of grumbling and complaining. When they complained about being hungry, the Lord provided manna (Exodus 16:1-4). They then complained that they were sick of manna and they yearned for the luxury of meat, fish and cucumbers that they had in Egypt (Numbers 11). The Israelites also complained that they were thirsty, and the Lord provided them with water (Exodus 17:1-4). And the list goes on. They were indeed hard to please.
Like the Israelites and the people Jesus encountered in Matthew 11:16-19, we too encounter people who are difficult. We cannot control how other people behave, but we can control how we respond. We ask for the Holy Spirit’s empowerment for us to respond with love and grace, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). It is challenging to turn the other cheek or to love our enemies, and I struggle with this. I find it helpful to remind myself of two fundamental truths. First, God forgave me of my sins, was merciful to me and did not give me what I deserved. Second, God is a just God and vengeance is His, not mine. Because of these truths, we can be an instrument of God’s love and grace to others. Proverbs gives us practical tips on how we can navigate such encounters with difficult people:
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) “It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarrelling.” (Proverbs 20:3)
“Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” (Proverbs 22:24 -25)
In addition, Titus 3:9 exhorts us to “avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless”. We are also called to live peaceably with others as much as reasonably possible (Romans 12:8).
However, this does not mean that Christians are doormats. Turning the other cheek does not mean letting everyone walk all over us or putting up with all sorts of injustice or falsehoods. Sometimes, we will need to confront a difficult person or to point out certain problematic behaviors. Christians are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). In fact, the scripture provides guidance on how we can address those who have sinned against us so that there can be reconciliation (Matthew 18:15-17).
Reflecting on how to handle difficult people would not be complete without a recognition that we ourselves can be difficult people too. As fallen people, we can be rude, mean, uncaring, angry, and quarrelsome (Galatians 5:19-21). In Matthew 7:3-4, Jesus reminds us: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?“
By Rebecca Ang (YCKC Bulletin 24 November 2019)