Summary: This sermon looks at how best to deal with difficult people by seeing how we should not be difficult ourselves.
My wife used to work at a Wal-mart in Hattiesburg, MS in the jewelry department. Now many of you know Wal-mart’s policy, that the customer is always right. There may be the case on paper, and it may be great for the overall business of the company, but what do you do when a customer takes full advantage of this slogan and is an obnoxious idiot who has had a bad day and has decided she wants to take out all of her frustration out on you. Now, I must say, my wife was good at this (the working with the difficult customer not being one); when a person came in screaming and yelling, she was always kind and caring and most of the time, the situation calmed down and the customer walked away happy and content.
But Denise had a co-worker named Gretchen who lets just say didn’t exactly agree with this policy. If someone came in yelling, Gretchen yelled back. Instead of getting better, things got worse. The result was normally either the manager getting called in or Gretchen relaying to the person what time she got off work and to meet her in the parking lot for a little rumble. Now almost every time Gretchen got upset with a customer, she had reason to. Yet, because she was a Wal-mart employee she was not her own, because she wore the nametag and got the paycheck and the benefits of a Wal-Mart employee, she was supposed to behave differently and react differently.
Now there is no doubt in my mind that you have come across a difficult person a time or two in your life. Maybe it’s a co-worker who tries to boss everyone else around to make himself look important. Perhaps it’s a relative who is so opinionated that he must share them with you and tell you just how wrong you are. Maybe it’s a fellow church member who likes to gossip and start trouble, whatever the reason, you have someone in your life who is hard to get along with.
Now the question we want to look at this morning is how do we get along with those people. Now the natural reaction is to be difficult right back to them. When I was a teenager I worked at Burger King and one day a fellow worker of mine who just happened to be on our cross county rival’s wrestling team played a trick on me and fixed it to where when I turned on the water facet, water would spray all over me. It worked, I got wet and they all laughed. Now, let me state this was before I became a Christian, but the next day, before he came to work, I went to where he would be working and I unscrewed all the lids to the ketchup and mustard bottles and then put them on very lightly and placed them back to look like they had never been touched. When he got to work that afternoon, someone had ordered about 3 Whoppers and he reached and went to squirt the ketchup on the burger, and splat, the lid went off and ketchup went everywhere. SO he grabbed a new bun and the next bottle, and Splat! This went on for a while…you get the point. I felt justified in what I had done, and I thought it was funny to. But that is how we think it ought to be, right, you are difficult to me, I’m difficult to you. Your mean to me, I’m mean to you.
That may be fine for the world, but just as with Gretchen, we are not our own. As Christians we are to be set apart and we are called to behave differently. Now as we come to this passage, Paul was dealing with an issue in the church. Not only was the church experiencing persecution from the outside, and many believe that when Paul wrote this letter, he himself was in jail, but the church itself was going at it. We are not told the specifics, but later on in chapter 4, Paul singles out two women by name and tells the church to get these women to stop fighting each other. It seems not everyone in the Philippian church was easy to get along with. So what are we supposed to do with difficult people, whether it be in our church or in our work or in our family. Let’s look at this together and see.
The first thing, and this is a big one…the best way for us to deal with difficult people is to first not be a difficult person our self. I don’t know if you follow football or not, but it was hard to ignore the story that came out this past off season in the Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Eagles have a wide receiver named Terrell Owens who after signing a 7 year deal, one year into the deal decided he wanted more money. Now that’s one thing, but then it got ugly. He started calling other players names and so on, until he eventually came to the preseason camp, but under the assumption that he wouldn’t talk to his offensive coordinator or his quarterback Donavon McNabb. Now it got to be down right funny, when in an interview, Donavon McNabb said, “If he doesn’t want to talk to me, I don’t want to talk to him.” Now this may sound okay if these were 4 or 5 year olds, but I bet you the coach was shaking his head saying, “C’mon guys, somebody here please be the grown up!” And I think that’s part of what Paul is writing this letter for, we have these Christians who are fighting, and from the context of the letter we get the idea that it wasn’t about some deep theological issue but about selfish attitudes. So Paul is writing saying, “C’mon people, somebody be the Christian here!” and he goes on to tell us some things about how to be this Christian, a Christian that fosters love, unity, and joy.