I remember exactly where I was standing. Looking around at the beautiful decorations. Listening to the laughter and chatter. The delicious smells coming from the buffet and the cheerful music playing in the background. I had been looking forward to this day for weeks, and I couldn’t wait for the party to get started. Until I saw her approaching me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a figure heading straight toward me. I wasn’t in conversation with anyone at the moment, so maybe that’s why she chose that moment to head my way. She walked right up to me and backed me into an actual corner. She then proceeded to unload, detailing a list of things I had done wrong, how I had messed up, offended her and others. I was flabbergasted. I had no way to escape, no words of defense or to diffuse the situation. I just stood there in shock until she finished and walked away.
I had no idea she was so upset. I had no way of fixing the situation. And honestly, much of what she was upset about were things I had no control over or would never happen again. But that’s what she was like. That is what it meant to be in relationship with her. I knew it was inevitable that she would be bothered or offended by something I did at some point, and I would never really be able to avoid it. Because she was just… difficult.
How Children of God Deal with Difficult People
I’m sure you could share your own difficult person story. We all have them. Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t give us a free pass to be rude when others are rude to us, or difficult in response to difficult behavior. In face the Bible sets a pretty high bar
In Matthew 5:9, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called Children of God.”
I’m not sure how your family of origin dealt with things. Maybe you, like me, came from a less than peaceful home. But it doesn’t matter what our experience has been or how we were raised. Once we become Christ-follower, we are adopted into the family of God. We are His children, and in THIS family, we are peacemakers.
But what does that look like? Jesus goes on to explain later in Matthew 5: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”
As children of God, we are to be peacemakers. We are to love and pray for the difficult people in our lives. For if we love those who love us, who are pleasant and easy to love, what credit is that to us?
How We Misunderstand Peacemaking
But I know what you are going to say. “Wait. You don’t know my situation. You don’t know how hard it is. You don’t know what this person is like. What they have done. What they continue to do.”
You’re right, I don’t. I only know what God has said in His Word. I also know at first glance, the commands in Matthew 5 seem impossible. So let’s take a step back for a moment and make sure we understand what is really being asked of us.
I think when we read these verses many of us envision something more like “keeping the peace” than making peace. We think we are supposed to stuff and swallow all our feelings, all our hurt, all our pain, and just pretend to feel differently than we feel. Pretend to be like Jesus. We are never allowed to get upset. We need to make sure everyone is happy and comfortable and avoid conflict at all costs. After all, good Christians don’t flip tables at Thanksgiving. Good Christians bite their tongues and take the hits in Jesus Name.
That is not what it means to be a peacemaker. And that is not what we see as an example in Jesus.
What we see over and over in the Gospels is someone who graciously, calmly, wisely spoke truth. He didn’t shrink away from hard topics. But he also wasn’t purposely offensive. The Gospel is offensive enough. The truth is offensive enough. We do not need to deliver our message in an offensive way.
What we see in Jesus is someone who was good, loving, patient, gentle, kind, self-controlled, wise, and truthful. He said what needed to be said, when it needed to be said, in the best possible way to say it. That is what we should strive for when we are aiming for peacemaking. Speaking the right words, at the right time, in the right way. But how do we know what the right words, the right time, and the right way are?
Who Will Help Us Deal with Difficult People?
God knows this is impossible for us to do on our own. It is incredibly hard for us to not be offensive when we have been offended. It is incredibly hard for us to be peacemakers when we are in pain. Luckily, God does not expect us to do it on our own.
He wants us to be peacemakers with the Holy Spirit.
When we become Christians, we become filled with the Spirit. He works in us and through us. He fills us with the peace of God, but He also transforms us into peacemakers. Remember, PEACE COMES FROM GOD, NOT PEOPLE. That means other people can’t be our peace, but that also means, we cannot manufacture peace within ourselves. We cannot become peaceful or find inner peace. PEACE COMES FROM GOD, NOT PEOPLE like us.
I have to admit I lived too much of my Christian life trying to act like Christ without asking Christ for help. For years, I would across the table from difficult people, trying so hard to be a “good Christian”, while every fiber of my being is vibrating with effort. I got really good at keeping the peace, but I never experienced peace. I was filled with inner conflict and turmoil, all while I had access to the Holy Spirit as my Helper and my Peace. I wasn’t relying on Him to grow the fruit of the Spirit in me.
God graciously gives us the Spirit to assist us in making peace because He knows our natural inclination. In Galatians 5 it says our old ways were “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, and factions.” But in Christ we are made new. The Spirit develops His fruit in us “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
These are all the traits we need to be peacemakers. Being a peacemaker is IMPOSSIBLE on our own. I know, I tried for something like 20 years. I tried to be a nice Christian lady, stuffing my feelings, slapping on a happy face, but filled with rage, hatred, discord, and all that stuff from Galatians 5. Not until I began asking the Lord for help in peacemaking did I begin to find freedom.
I finally realized “love your enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you” were not commands God gave us to figure out how to do on our own. These are commands He gave to us that require dependence upon Him and partnership with the Spirit.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to pretend to be like Jesus. I want to actually be like Jesus. I want my character to be like Christ, so I don’t have to work so hard pretending to be patient, good, gentle, and self-controlled. It doesn’t happen overnight, but once we receive peace from God through Jesus, the Holy Spirit can do His work in us. PEACE COMES FROM GOD, NOT PEOPLE. We only can become peacemakers WITH the holy spirit.
So the next time you get cornered by a difficult person, I hope this encourages you. God never expected you to respond like Christ without any help. The Helper is with you, in you, transforming you, so that you can make peace even with difficult people.