Christians are sometimes difficult to work with … I should know. I am one of them

I must confess, I think Christians are sometimes difficult to work with. They can have really grating personalities; be cynical, even whiny! I should know. I am one of them: Looking at my own life, I cringe at my sharp tongue, reluctance to forgive, and lack of moral courage in handling heated situations well, despite calling myself a Christian.

If you have ever been surprised or disappointed by your fellow Christians, I think the apostle Paul would have empathised with you. He had his fair share of ‘difficult Christians’—especially at Corinth. He called them: jealous (1 Cor 3:3), arrogant (1 Cor 4:18), and quarrelsome (1 Cor 1:11). Some of the pastoral issues he was dealing with included a Christian sleeping with his father’s wife (1 Cor 5:1), lawsuits amongst Christians (1 Cor 6:1), and rowdy church services (1 Cor 14:27-28).

Christians were difficult then; and you can be certain we can be difficult to deal with now.

Every Christian is being sanctified, often in ways and according to timelines that are invisible to us.

Yet every Christian is being sanctified, often in ways and according to timelines that are invisible to us. It is unlikely that every Christian we ever encounter will be well-adjusted according the (often arbitrary) standards we set for them and ourselves. We also know maturity doesn’t come in a linear, straightforward manner; every Christian has some character or moral flaw they are fighting against; and sometimes, these flaws might feel like they’ve won out, affecting the relationships between those at church and home. Furthermore, overcoming difficult traits often take character, and character takes time to build. That’s why Paul tells us to persevere in the development of character (Romans 5:4).

Instead of stewing and ranting over these so-called difficult people, perhaps we should remind ourselves that in Christ, there is more that unites rather than divide us. In Christ you and I are inheritors of every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3) we have the same Father (John 14:23); and we will be spending eternity—an awfully long time—together.

Ground your Expectations in Christ

When our blood is boiling, or we are severely disappointed in ministry, this is a good opportunity to reflect on where we are placing our expectations. Is it in our children and their good behaviour? Or the pastor with whom we just cannot get along? No. God only promised that there was one perfect person who can ever live up to anyone’s expectations—the person of Jesus Christ. Whenever we despair at how slowly Christians, including ourselves, are being changed into someone that reflects Jesus, may we remember God’s promise to ‘sanctify us completely’, presenting us ‘holy and blameless’ before our Lord comes again. (1 Thess 5:23) ‘He who calls you is faithful; he will do it’ (1 Thess 5:24). Believe Him.

Service as a Response

Despite the ragtag, blemished church community at Corinth, Paul still regarded them as his brothers and sisters and cared for them like their father (2 Cor 6:11-13). He calls them saints (1 Cor 1:2), and even thanks God for them (1 Cor 1:4)! Every rebuke aimed at the Corinthians was to sharpen their character and remind them of the faith they hold on to; not to rant or bemoan their lack of pleasant traits.

He was following the example of Christ. Jesus’s disciples were continually arrogant and disbelieving, yet, as John says, he loved them until the end (John 13:10). Jesus was more right and deserving than we ever will be, and yet he humbled himself lower than many of us have ever been willing to.

Remember that Christ regards ‘that person’ as his bride, and shed his blood for them

It is almost instinctive to distance ourselves from people we cannot seem to get along with, perhaps especially within the church. It is also equally as easy to smile and pretend we do, and then complain about them afterwards. But if anywhere is a place to bear the shortfall of others and regard the other as more important than ourselves, it is within the Christian community. Remember that Christ regards ‘that person’ as his bride, and shed his blood for them. Some practical questions we could ask are:

  • Is there someone at church we think is a waste to share time and/or money with?
  • When you think ‘annoying’, ‘arrogant’, ‘difficult’, is there someone at church that comes to mind? Is this reflected in your conversations with other Christians?

May the Lord’s command to us—that everyone will know that [we] are [His] disciples by the way we love one another (John 13:35)—fuel us to greater compassion and love for the different, ‘difficult’ Christian in our lives.