Loving difficult people.
Of all the traits that are to be associated with believers, perhaps the hardest (at least for me) is remaining patient and kind with difficult people. I’m sure you’re familiar with these sorts of individuals — co-workers, classmates, associates, even friends in your circle that, for whatever reason, just irritate and aggravate you to no end. When the apostle Paul says that love is patient and kind (1 Cor 13:4), that doesn’t mean for only those people you get along with — those friends you really click with. That’s everyone: friends, enemies, acquaintances, superiors, subordinates, and yes, those difficult people.
The mark of a true Christian is that of unbounded love, without reservations or restrictions or regulations, even for those that grate on your nerves and your patience. And this type of love isn’t something you can accomplish or demonstrate on your own volition — it’s only inspired by continual reflection upon the One who is love itself. The most important and vital habit we can practice is a daily remembrance and reflection upon God’s gospel, his Word of “free unbidden love — love to the lost, love as amazing and immeasurable as that of the Son of God.”1
God’s Word is really a revelation of himself. All of its pages, all of its lines seek to disclose for you the very mind of the Triune God and his thoughts towards you. Thoughts of love and grace, mercy and redemption, deliverance and forgiveness. These thoughts are bound up in the gospel, in the Person of Christ, who is the express image of the mind of God. (Col 1:15; Heb 1:3) Throughout the Scripture, God is desiring to show you that his love is free and that his grace meets you right where you are. This reality should hit home for us the fact that even when we don’t deserve it — actually, especially then — God gives us mercy anyway, love anyway, grace anyway. He gives and gives, without any thoughts of reciprocity or payback.
Such should our love for others be. Love that isn’t concerned with the character of the other person or the chemistry we may or may not have with them. Love that doesn’t shy away from the difficult but actually goes out in search of them. Love that doesn’t ignore the desperate but earnestly seeks to relieve them. We’re not told who to love — we’re just told to love.
Sure, Jesus says in the Gospels to “love your neighbor” (Mk 12:31; Lk 10:25–28), but the inference of this command is “love everyone” — everyone’s your neighbor, whether you like them or not. In Luke’s Gospel account, Jesus follows this up by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a Samaritan gives medical, physical, and financial aid to a Jew — a scandalous display of mercy if there ever was one.
Loving difficult people is hard, it’s, well, difficult. But, perhaps, no person you’re surrounded with daily should receive your love more than these people. This is the exact type of love Jesus has for you! Love for sinners, love for rebels, love for the wrecks — “love to the lost, the guilty, the wanderer, the backslider, the rebel — love without measure and without change — love that is not regulated according to the worthiness of the object loved, or the amount of love expected in return, but love that embraces the unworthy.”2 As you navigate this life and meet new, perhaps, difficult people, never forget the free love God has for you — which will motivate the love you give to others.
Horatius Bonar, “No. 24—The Love of the Spirit,” Kelso Tracts (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1851), 2.