No matter who you are or what stage of life you’re in, there are people in your life who are just difficult. People who take more than they give. People who endlessly repeat the same poor decisions that affect your life negatively. People whose personalities are drastically different than your own.
They’re in your life, they annoy you and you struggle to respond to them either outwardly or inwardly without sinning.
It can be hard to be kind to people who annoy us because we see them as a problem; an irritation that causes us to sin. But the truth is, difficult people are never the obstacle between ourselves and godliness . . . our hearts are.
Phil Ryken rightly observes, “In every one of us there are attitudes and actions that are bound to irritate someone. But that does not mean that we have to respond in anger. If we do get angry, then what needs to change is our own hearts, which needs to be filled again with the peaceable love of Jesus.”*
Failing to be kind is ultimately a failure to love (1 Cor 13).
The good news is, Jesus can help us honor him through (not just in spite of!) how we respond to the difficult people in our lives.
I can’t love people well on my own. I need Jesus.
I need to look to his life and death, to the gospel where his love was shown, to be transformed into his image (2 Cor 3:18). I need to stop seeing what everyone else is doing wrong and, by his grace, correct my heart’s sinful response to the people in my life (Matt 7:5).
Jesus’ humility is the key to my ability to love others (even the difficult others) well.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:3-8
I need to look to Jesus to remember that I’m the difficult person Jesus has loved. When I think on his humility I see my own sin more clearly. While there are many ways sin creeps into my heart when people annoy, hurt, or inconvenience me, two pervasive attitudes seem to rule the day for me: self-centeredness and pride.
When I fail to be kind, I’m being self-centered. I want my preferences to rule and I want to get my way (James 4). I want what I want when I want it. Also, I want you to love giving it to me.
I want my kids to get along, obey and be flexible. I want my husband’s attention. I want someone’s personality to suit my preferences. I want to be served, prioritized and catered to. I want you to agree with me and think the same way I do.
When these things don’t happen, I’m annoyed. I lose my patience. I’m not kind. I pridefully consider in my mind why I’m right and you’re wrong. I fight for my preference. This isn’t love (1 Cor 13:4-5).
Jesus says there’s a better way.
For the love of Christ controls us, therefore we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died, and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15
Christ’s love transforms and empowers me to turn from living for myself to living for him. His sacrificial love sets the example for me to give up my comfort and my preferences for the sake of loving those around me, especially when I feel as though they’re not loving me in return.
Because of the perfect, selfless love Jesus has for me, I can think of others and their desires when I believe them to be thoughtless of my own. It makes it possible for me to repent, turn from my frustration and live for Jesus who paid for all of my unloving behavior and loved me before I loved him (1 Jn 4:19).
My lack of kindness towards others almost always flows from a prideful heart. I consider myself more highly than I ought (Rom 12:3). I think my personality is more winsome, my way is better, my needs are more important.
Paul Tripp writes, “you need to remember that God is above all. . .it’s so simple for us to remove God from His throne and seat ourselves above others. When we think we are more important than the people God has placed in our lives, our words and actions will disrespect and demean them.”
When I exalt myself, I degrade others in my heart, which materializes in the way I treat them. This lack of humility will eventually diminish the closeness in my relationships with both other people and God.
When I seek to honor Christ in humility rather than let my pride prevail I can see others as more significant than myself (the way Jesus did) and consider their interests, not just my own (the way Jesus did) (Phil 2:3-4). I can prefer them—their wants and needs—rather than sinning when I don't get my own way.
Remembering I’m Difficult
When I realize my irritation with others dishonors Jesus, it helps me repent of my self-centeredness, pride and unkind responses. Only Jesus’ gracious humility toward me can fuel my humility toward God and others. I need the daily reminder that Jesus loved me when I was unlovable and saved me not because of the what I did, but because of who he is.
But we were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy . . . Titus 3:3-5
The selfless, humble sacrificial love that saved me empowers me to extend kindness and grace to others when it’s hard. Jesus loves me when I don’t deserve it; Jesus loves me when I’m self-centered and unkind; Jesus loves me when I insist on my own way. And because Jesus has loved me in the midst of my shortcomings, I can love others who are just as unlovable as I am.
Lauren Lambert is a pastor's wife to Heath and mom of three children. She lives in Jacksonville, FL where Heath serves as Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church and is the Executive Director for ACBC.
* Ryken, Loving the Way Jesus Loves. p. 58