Summary: Dealing with difficult people requires special skills. Sermon uses biblical examples to discuss how to deal with (1)Aggressive Controllers (2) Indirect Manipulators (3)Emotional Leaches.

Surviving Unhealthy Relationships

Series: Cultivating Healthy Relationships #3

1 Samuel 25:14-25[1]



The subject of our message this morning is How to deal with difficult people (while taking roll of duct tape and baseball bat out of bag)[2].

For the last couple of weeks we have talked about how to nurture healthy relationships.

We have talked about the importance of mutual respect and humility in our relationships. We have talked about how to be a true friend. We have talked about how to not be a difficult person ourselves. Those two sermons lay an essential foundation for what I will be sharing this morning. Without those sermons it would be easy to misunderstand today’s message. Today we will not talk about relationships in general. Today we want to talk about how to handle unhealthy relationships. What do you do about people whose issues run so deep that it is virtually impossible to carry on healthy relationships with them?

I. When I say difficult people I mean people who are difficult most of the time. We all have bad days. We are all a bit difficult from time to time. That’s why love must cover a multitude of faults for our relationships to work. But some people are just plain toxic. They are bad news for everybody that interacts with them. And their interaction with other people is very dysfunctional. Clinical psychologist, Kenneth Haugk offers some very sound advice on this subject in his book, Antagonists in the Church. He defines antagonists as “individuals who on the basis of nonsubstantive evidence, go out of their way to make insatiable demands, usually attacking the person or performance of others.”[3] Some people have so many psychological problems (not to mention the spiritual dynamics involved) that it requires special skills in dealing with them.

In the text that was read at the beginning of the service (1 Samuel 25) we find such a person. His name is Nabal. You have probably at some time heard a sermon about his wife ,Abigail, but I doubt you have ever heard a sermon about Nabal. He’s not the kind of person we like to preach about. But unfortunately the world still has its Nabals and we have to know how to deal with them.

David tried to be a friend to Nabal. He took the initiative and provided a great service to the man. At the risk of his own life and the investment of his own resources David protected Nabal’s shepherds and flocks from the bandits in that area (1 Samuel 25:16,21).

But when David had a need this man not only refused to help but added insult to insult. Listen to his reply to David’s request in 1 Sam 25:10-11, “Nabal answered David’s servants, ‘Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. 11 Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?’” Bottom line, he called David a no-good rebel and refused to lift a finger to help him.

The first lesson we learn from this is what not to do. Don’t do what David almost did. Don’t use the ball bat! David became so angry at the man that he decided to attack him. Fortunately Abigail intervened and David didn’t follow through with the attack. Romans 12:19 “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Of course, it was not long until that happened to Nabal[4]. Nobody gets away with anything. Never forget that. “...God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows that will he also reap.”(Gal. 6:7).

What kind of man was Nabal? It’s obvious from the way he responded to David’s kindness that he was a man with no sense of justice. Most people would feel appreciation for what David had done and be looking for a way to respond in like kind. But Nabal was not most people. Nabal was a selfish, inconsiderate—I’ve got to choose my words carefully—son of Belial (KJV-vs 17). He had no appreciation for what David had done for him. Everybody that interacted with Nabal came to the same conclusion. He is a worthless, vile, stubborn man. This is one way you can tell you’re dealing with an antagonistic, difficult person: everybody that interacts with him comes to that conclusion. If you’re the only one who is in conflict with a person, you are probably not dealing with a Nabal type personality. Nabal had become infamous for being difficult. In verse 17 his servants added the fact that “nobody can (even) talk to him.”[5] It was impossible to reason with the man. That’s what I would call a difficult person.

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