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?