Not everyone is easy to live with. If any of you have children, if any of you have ever been married, if any of you have had a roommate, if any of you have brothers and sisters, then you know what I mean.
Not everyone is easy to live with.
I brought an example with me this morning. I’d like you to consider the case of a salesman on the road, trying to get home to his wife for Thanksgiving. But his flight is re-routed and grounded, so he’s forced to share the last available hotel room with a stranger—another traveling salesman—and he discovers the problem of living with difficult people.
[show clip from “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”]
Today we’re beginning a new series on “Living With Difficult People”. As it turns out, because I live with my wife, Julie, I know a lot about living with difficult people…because she has told me everything that she’s learned about it from living so long with me!
If anybody would know about living with difficult people, though, it would have to be Jesus. When you’re perfect, let’s face it, living with anyone else would be difficult. So, as you might imagine, Jesus had something to say about how to live with difficult people. His words on the subject are found in Matthew 7. It’s part of the Sermon on the Mount that we’ve been studying all year.
Over the next three weeks, we’re going to look at three biblical principles—three secrets for successfully living with difficult people. And since none of us is perfect, let’s face it, all of us are difficult to live with. So, hopefully, this is some truth that you’ll be able to use in your life right away. Today, we begin with the first principle:
It has to do with the importance of guarding my thoughts.
One of the things that makes it difficult to live with difficult people is what we think about them. We think they’re difficult! And so it’s difficult to live with them. Jesus tells us that the first thing we can do to be successful in getting along with each other is to guard our thoughts. Specifically, we need to be careful about making judgments of other people.
Matthew 7:1-6 Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
 How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?
 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
 Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.
Proverbs 9:7-8 Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse.  Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you.
1. Condemning Judgment vs. Discerning Judgment
2. Quick vs. Careful
3. Focused on Others’ Faults vs. Examining Self
4. Generalizations vs. Individual
5. Gossip / Assumptions / Appearances
vs. Benefit of the Doubt / Observations / Questions
6. Legalistic vs. Gracious
7. Motives vs. Actions
When we went through the 40 Days of Purpose, I noticed two kinds of responses. A few people went through the program asking, “What’s wrong with this book? What are the problems? What don’t I like about it?” Most people went through asking, “What can I learn from this book?”
When a new pastor or staff member comes to our church there are two kinds of responses. Some will look to discover what’s wrong with them. Others will look to discover how God has gifted them and what they contribute to our body.
When a new person walks in the door of our church, you can focus on what’s wrong with them or you can focus on what’s right with them.
When we implement a change in our ministry, there are two ways to respond. Some people make it their responsibility to identify what’s wrong with the plan. Others are excited to discover the new benefits and opportunities that change offers us as a church.
People who tend to find fault often act like they have helped everybody out by uncovering a faulty program, a faulty person, a faulty pastor, or a faulty plan. But you know what the truth is? You can always find something wrong with anything—any program, any person, any pastor, any plan. But if “finding out what’s wrong” is the focus of your approach, then you cheat yourself and everyone else out of the opportunity to learn and grow and benefit from what God has brought into your life or into your church.
Are you one that always tends to search for “what’s wrong with it?”
If you are, then stop it! Stop judging!
Thank God for people who can see the potential pitfalls in a plan. Discernment is a helpful skill and a positive contribution. Good judgment is a valuable quality. But some people miss the distinction between discernment and condemnation. They elevate fault finding to a ministry—as if they were doing the church a favor, or doing society a favor, or doing their spouse a favor—by making it their goal to find out what’s wrong.
It’s very legit to ask questions like, “Can we do this?” “Should we do it?” “How will we do it?” or “What problems need to be solved in order to do it?” But all that is different than searching for faults and focusing on weaknesses, intentionally championing problems instead of solutions. One is the gift of discernment, good judgment. The other is the bane of condemnation, the kind of judgment that Jesus says does not belong in the church and does not belong in our lives.
1 Copyright © 2004 by Lewis B. Bell III. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 1 in the Kingdom Relationships series delivered by Chip Bell at Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho in Dallas, TX on October 17, 2004. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with credit.