I don’t like labels and generalities, but here I go. Shortly into the ministry I began experiencing people problems. I admit that as a young pastor I was sometimes brash, bold and not always sensitive. However, while most people were willing to work through a problem, a few certain people seemed to resist everything and everyone, every time. Here’s what I believe. I think there are two types of people: Problem people and people with problems. Moreover, at times, we can be one or the other. Often we allow our circumstances, the demands on our time and energy, family matters, or even finances to move us into the problem people category; sometimes it’s just a certain trigger point that we can’t seem to get past. The good news is that most of us come to the point of realizing that we are people with problems, needing God’s help.
So what are people with problems like? In Scripture, a good example is the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well. The story shows Jesus interacting with two types of people: the sinful woman and the Pharisees. In this case, the woman, though admittedly flawed, is the person with problems. The Pharisees, self-proclaimed keepers of the law and holiness, were the problem people. As with many examples from scripture, Jesus shows compassion and understanding to the woman but little patience for the Pharisees. In fact he had some harsh words for them because they did not allow God to change them from the inside out.
The Pharisees were experts in the law. They had knowledge but they certainly did not show love. They were more concerned that people follow their long list of man-made regulations than they were with obeying God’s word. They wanted to show people how much knowledge they had but only pretended to keep the law themselves. Jesus exposed them as hypocrites. Their concern was with image and reputation. They were offended with Jesus. The Messiah that they were looking for was right there in front of their noses, but they rejected Him. Jesus wanted true love and worship, not their hypocritical sin. They studied, heard and listened to the Law, but all along missed their own need for a Savior.
On the other hand, Jesus accepted the woman at the well. When Jesus exposed her sin, she responded to him with repentance, she was not hypocritical or defensive like the Pharisees. She accepted Jesus as The Messiah and shared the good news with others. The Samaritan woman did not look perfect with her outward actions, but she allowed Jesus to wash her from the inside out. Unlike the Pharisees, she realized that she had the problem that only God could change her.
Another example in Luke 11 tells us that a Pharisee invited Jesus to dinner but was astonished that Jesus did not wash ceremonially before the meal. Jesus lashed out at him for cleaning the outside but being full of greed and wickedness on the inside. People like this think that others are the problem, not themselves. While kindness and mercy soften the heart of person with a problem, they can actually embolden the problem person’s bad behavior and embitter their heart.
Here are some telling behaviors of problem people and people with problems:Finally, I believe there are tests to discern between these two types of people. One is found in Matthew 18 and the other in Titus 3.
The Matthew 18 Test
Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew18:15-17)
The person who “refuses to listen” is a problem person who refuses to change. The person who does listen is person with a problem that now is willing to change.
The Titus 3 Test
Paul instructed Titus, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.” (Titus 3:10)
Problem people do not respond to warnings. They fight them. Paul knew how dangerous they were and said that we should separate ourselves from them.
BEFORE YOU GO…
There is no doubt that today’s blog could be misused. Where do you think the balance is between problem people and people with problems? Do we sometimes get them confused? What are your thoughts?
6 Comments Add yours
Hi Randy, I enjoyed your thoughts. I’m wondering how to lead a “problem” person to see their “problem”; an unteachable person to be teachable? I have recently become in a relationship with a woman who has serious problems (homeless and co-dependant) I want to help her but find her to be unteachable, hardhearted and and a “teller” not a listener. I need help helping her.
I’m not that optimistic. We waste time and resources on people who show themselves as problem people. It’s only when we realize we have a problem, that any change can happen.
Great post. Too often the Titus passage/test is forgotten. It is important to remember those times where boundaries are to be in place even though, in being like Christ, we wait expectantly for the moment we can breach a boundary to help pull someone to safety
To me, the Titus passage seems extreme, but it was clearly given as a response to divisive people.
Great article Super Randy. One of the things I need to guard against is allowing the attitude of a problem person to cause me to step into the realm of being a problem person/leader. In Galatians 6:1 it talks about restoring someone with a gentleness and that carries with it humility. The warning also comes, “But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” I have found that if I seek humility and gentleness I can guard against becoming the next problem person. Tom
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Just a thought. Sometimes problem people, even though unwilling to admit or face into their problems, can be given opportunities suited to their abilities. And sometimes, that is one way to help them be useful to the kingdom, almost in spite of themselves. However this can be pretty labor intensive in a larger setting. In the smaller settings, they may be the only ones capable of certain tasks which take them off the particularly thorny problem issues and put them where they fill a role and feel a part of the larger picture. Some come with problems too deep for a pastor to actually help, but can still find satisfaction in ways which redirect some of their energies to something more spiritually satisfactory. One of my friends, a severe bipolar and difficult to deal with in Sunday School or Bible Study, discovered he was a great lawn mower guy for the couple of acres of his home church. He was less in the argumentative situations because he did his service on that riding lawnmower. And the church looked pretty good, too.