It’s hard to imagine Jesus having “trouble” with anyone, but we know from the gospels that there were plenty of people who tried to make trouble for Him. After all, He was publicly executed for claiming equality with God the Father. But the Scriptures also give us much insight into His strategy for dealing with difficult people on the regular. And don’t forget, Jesus told us to “love our enemies,” which implies that we have enemies in the first place. Here’s how we see Jesus handling His enemies:
- He questioned their questions. In Matthew 21:23-25, Jesus gets asked “By what authority do you do these things?” Getting to pull rank, name superiors, and flaunt authority was big with the Pharisees, but Jesus answered the question with a question: “I will also ask you one thing… the baptism of John, was it from men or from God?” Jesus knew that their question was really a trap. So He turned it on them, as He often did. If they admitted that John the Baptist was from God, Jesus would have asked them why they didn’t listen to him, because John the Baptist pointed everyone to Jesus! If they said he was only from men, the crowd listening in would get angry, because they regarded John as a prophet. So they didn’t answer Jesus. In counseling, this is called “Guided Self Discovery” It’s the tool used to question people’s thinking, and lead them to deeper self discovery. In Jesus’ case, He was revealing their true motives, and their lack of desire to actually understand.
- He ignored them. One of my favorite verses in the gospels is Mark 5:36. In some translations it words Jesus’ response to His critics as, “Ignoring them, Jesus continued…” I have to admit as a pastor I find it ironic. I was told most of my life growing up, don’t care about what others think, just trust what God tells you to do! But as a pastor, people often treat you as if you should listen to what everyone thinks! Good news, no matter what your vocation is – Jesus ignored those who didn’t actually love Him, so you can too. And, yes, we do need to listen to those who sincerely love us and care about us. We have to be willing to have and receive difficult conversations. But when a difficult person is trying to make your life more difficult, and distract you from what you know God has called you to do, be like Jesus, ignore them, and continue doing what God called you to do.
- He addressed them publicly. Notice that Jesus almost always dealt with the difficult people in His life in a very public setting. He was never afraid to answer their questions, but He only seemed willing to do so in a public context. It’s harder for difficult people to deny what they said, or how you responded when you choose to only deal with them where others are present.
- He showed them grace. There is at least one clear exception where Jesus showed incredible grace to one of the difficult people in His life: a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemas. Nicodemas came to Jesus in private, at night, likely to avoid the scrutiny of his fellow Pharisees. It becomes immediately clear by his approach to Jesus in John 3, that he was hungry to actually listen and learn from Jesus, in humility seeking to actually know this miracle worker who claimed to be from God. And as a result of his humility, and Jesus’ grace to allow him, we have some of the most memorable and spiritually significant verses in Scripture. Jesus allowed for anyone, even difficult people, to truly repent and have a change of heart. And humility is the key. It takes humility for someone who has been difficult to us to admit they’ve been hurtful and try to approach us in a repentant spirit. But it also requires humility on our part to extend grace to someone who may have hurt us in the past. I’m grateful God showed us such grace, and we must be willing – when possible and appropriate – to do the same.
- He never compromised Who He was. Over countless occasions in the gospels, we see Jesus, very firmly, calling the Pharisees out, asserting His identity as the Son of God, and demonstrating His power right in front of them… often directly to them protesting Him. Likewise, as followers of Jesus, our identity is in who we are in Christ. We should never compromise the person Jesus is transforming us into in order to placate critics. When we stand before God in Heaven one day, He won’t ask us why we were not like our critics or even our mentors… if anything, He’ll ask us, “why weren’t you more like My Son?” Sometimes, the best response to our enemies is to make room for God to show off in our life, and be who He made us to be.
As you reflect on this, may you and I respond to difficult people the ways that Jesus did. Don’t be distracted or discouraged by the people who are letting Satan use them. Overcome them. And in Christ, and like Christ, we must overcome evil, with good.