…not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9)
What if you could be God for a day? Would you put up with the people he puts up with? I would find it difficult to put up with me! Yet, He does—every day! He loves me and He loves you—not for who we are and what we do, but despite it! One of the attributes of God that I am most thankful for is His longsuffering. Psalm 86:15 says, “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.” When the Son of God walked among the sons of men, He displayed this character quality of His Father. He was so longsuffering with His disciples. What thick skulls they had! Yet, the Bible says that Jesus loved them and He loved them to the end. How are you going to deal with difficult people, for it is certain that you will meet them: in your family, on your job, even in the church—especially in the church!
Maybe you have been reading this and thinking about a brother-in-law, a sales manager, a neighbor, or a church member. The real issue isn’t whether we’ll encounter such people, but how does God want us to deal with them? He demands longsuffering—just like He does with us.
In chapter three of his first epistle Peter presents some practical pointers on how to deal with difficult people.
- Don’t be blind-sided (v.8). God is going to put you in the middle of situations that will challenge you to cultivate the fruit of longsuffering, which is what is being described here. To develop the fruit of love, God will plant you in the middle of the hateful. To bear the fruit of joy, He will plant you in the middle of a bunch of joy-suckers. To bear the fruit of peace, He will plant you in the middle of strife. To bear the fruit of longsuffering, He will plant you among difficult people (see 4:12). Expect it!
- Don’t retaliate (v.9). It brings you down to their level when you do. When you fight fire with fire, you’ll burn the bridges to possible reconciliation. It doesn’t require the supernatural power of God to behave like the world, but to be like Jesus takes a miracle! He wants to shape you into His image—and problem people are the hammer and chisel God uses to shape us.
- Pursue peace (v.10-11). Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” You won’t always be able to get along with people, but you can try—even Jesus couldn’t please everybody. So accept that you certainly can’t! Still, God calls us to seek peace from our end.
- Pray (v.12-13). Prayer changes things. The first thing it does is change you. Jesus told us to pray for our enemies. You can’t pray for someone and despise them at the same time.
- Be honest (v.14-15). We don’t desire peace at any price—certainly not at the cost of compromising truth. There comes a time to “speak the truth in love.” Sometimes you must tell people their behavior is wrong and must stop.
- Trust God (v.16-17). You can have a clear conscience when you do the right thing and leave it with God.