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Loving Difficult People

"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” -John 13:35

Is there anyone in your life that you would describe as being “difficult?” In working with teenage girls at church, I often tell them that high school is hard because they cannot control who they spend their time with; they are thrust into the classroom, onto sports teams, and into many other school or community activities with all types of people, some of them not so pleasant. I’ve told the girls that once they graduate from high school, things get easier because they have much more say as to the people they are surrounded by, and have a choice on whether or not they have to spend time and energy on people who are difficult or toxic. 

But are these statements really even true? Does moving into adulthood ensure that we never have to deal with people who are difficult to love? Are our homes, workplaces, or even our churches immune to the problems that result from dealing with difficult people? I think the answer is very obviously no! We all deal with difficult people and many of us have very personal experience with this in family members that are simply hard to get along with.  Our church family is no exception. Can we really be expected in all circumstances to love those difficult people?”  According to God’s holy word, the answer is a resounding yes! 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." -John 13:34

I like to think of myself as a pretty peaceful person.  I very much dislike conflict and really cannot think of anything more stressful to me than being upset at or in disagreement with another person. In spite of this, I still find myself in conflict.  Not always publicly, but definitely in my head and heart as I wrestle with emotions of irritation and frustration.  Sometimes, people are simply hard to love.  Sometimes, Christians are hard to love.  I know that sometimes, I am hard to love.  

It’s often easier to extend grace to those outside the church. After all, shouldn’t us “church people” know better? Well yes, we should, but we also have to remember that even those who are followers of Christ, who love God and do our best to live lives worthy of His calling, are still sinful humans.  It doesn’t matter if you are a blatant lawbreaker or a faithful follower, all are sinful and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Our personalities, past traumas and experiences, upbringing, and so many other factors play a part in how well we live and love, but the bottom line is that we are all, to some degree, broken people living in a broken world. So how do we, as broken and sinful people, love other broken and sinful people? The answer lies in Jesus:  In being imitators of Him and allowing His transforming love to guide and compel us.  

“To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” -Ephesians 4:22-24

In John chapter 13, we have yet another example set by Jesus as to how we are to love others. The last supper was attended by some seriously flawed and difficult people. Matthew was a tax collector with a tainted past. James and John struggled with jealousy and pride. Peter proclaimed himself as a trustworthy friend to Jesus, only to deny Him a few short hours later. And Judas….well, I would think he would make the top of the list as far as bad humans go. But how did Jesus respond to this mix of imperfect and often unfaithful followers, these difficult people? 

He served them by washing their feet.  

And only hours later He laid down His life for them. 

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. -1 John 3:16

Following Jesus’ example, we must never think of ourselves too highly, but must humble ourselves to servant status.  We must view others as God views them; as damaged and broken vessels in need of a Savior.  We must consider our own flaws and failings and the grace and love that was undeservedly given to us as we purposefully choose to extend that grace and love to others.  We must love the James who may be arrogant and prideful, the John who may be competitive or jealous, the Peter who isn’t always loyal to us, and even the Judas who may mean us harm.  And we must be keenly aware that sometimes we ourselves are the James, the John, the Peter…..and even the Judas. 

We are all going to encounter conflict.  We may not always feel like loving the difficult people in our lives. But we must remember who we represent. We are His ambassadors, His workmanship, the light in this present darkness.  And we must always consider His words when interacting with our brothers and sisters: 

“Everyone will know you are my disciples if you love one another.” (v. 35)

The world is watching, Church.  Let’s represent Him well.

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