COMES TO TOWN
DEALING WITH VDP’s
by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
August 18, 2019
TEXT: I Corinthians 13:4 and II Timothy 2:23-24
(Sermon begins with a children’s sermon similar to the one written here, found at www.sermon4kids.com, “Friends and Enemies”)
I brought two pieces of cloth today. Look at this one, it is called burlap. Most of you have seen it before, it is a cloth that is often used to make bags. Feel of it. It is rough, rugged, and tough. If you rub it against your face, you will discover that it is scratchy. This other piece of cloth is called flannel. Some children may have a flannel blanket that they like to carry around with them because it is so soft and smooth.
These two pieces of cloth remind me of different kinds of people we may meet each day. Some are rough, irritating, and unkind. They may rub us the wrong way and we probably don't like to be around them. Others are gentle and kind and it is very easy to get along with them. We enjoy being around people like that, don't we?
Jesus had a lot to say about how to treat other people. He said we should love others and that means even loving those who are unkind as well as our friends. Just because they are not as easy to love doesn’t mean we shouldn’t love them. In fact, Jesus said we show that we are God’s children by loving those who do not love us.
Can you think of a time when someone was nice to you even though you had not been nice to them? How did that make you feel? When someone is nice to us, it usually makes us want to be nice in return. If we are nice to those who are unkind to us, we might just turn an enemy into a friend!
Jesus set the example for us to follow. He was rejected, ridiculed, and crucified. But when he was on the cross, he prayed for his enemies. "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Wow! That is a huge amount of love and forgiveness and that is the kind of love that Jesus wants you and me to have for others—friends and enemies alike.
Dear Father, help us to follow the example that Jesus set for us. Help us to love everyone, friends and enemies alike, so that they will know that we are true children of God. In Jesus' name we pray, amen.
When love has come to town! That’s the theme of our sermon series we are in and we are looking at how we can improve our relationships by showing love to our friends and family and to our neighbors, near and far. You know, when we show love to the people we like – people who are similar to us, that we enjoy being around – it really seems a lot easier. But then there are those VDP’s. You know who they are, don’t you? Very Difficult People! There are all sorts of VDP’s in our lives – they come in all shapes and sizes. Some are
Very Demanding People, or Very Destructive People, or Very Disappointing or Draining People.1 Some of them might be your critical co-workers or your negative next-door neighbors. It might be a domineering in-law or complaining friend. It might even be a spouse or a child or even a church member. VDP’s often are pessimistic, or argumentative, or they just know how to push people’s buttons. They just get on your nerves or annoy you – and downright frustrate you. They are just Very Difficult People. Do you know any one like that? Is there anyone in your life who you struggle to get along with? How do you respond to people like that?
We have a choice on how to react. We could choose to curse them. That is certainly what we see portrayed on television and in Hollywood, isn’t it? When we curse them, we attack back at that critical and demanding behavior. We become difficult ourselves – a kind of “tit for tat”, if you will. It’s kind of like saying, “I’ll do to you as you have done to me.” And we become just as irritable as they are…which never solves anything!
Another way we could respond is to nurse our frustration and irritation with the VDP. We could hold on to what irritates us and become bitter about how you’ve been treated. Some folks nurse their frustrations and pain about a difficult person their entire life and become very bitter. The VDP becomes like a thorn in their side - a great burden weighing heavily on their shoulders.
Or we could rehearse our pain and irritation. We keep remembering the deep hurt we have had with a VDP; we just keep repeating a video in our minds of what the person said or did. That rehearsing sometimes consumes us and that’s all we can think about. And we often don’t just keep it to ourselves; we rehearse it to others, telling them everything bad about the other person – gossiping and tearing the person down.
If we choose any of those three options, how do you end up feeling? Do you feel better or worse? Do you live in freedom from pain and frustration or do we just allow that VDP to have power over us, making us miserable? And most importantly, when we choose any of these options, do we shine the light and love of Christ – or do we hide that light and make it impossible for others to feel that love of God?
Our Scripture readings for today tell us very clearly what choice we should make in dealing with VDPs. I Corinthians 13:4 tells us that: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.”
The original Greek word for patience is Makrothumia. Makros means "Long or far" and Thumos means "anger or wrath". Putting it together, we come up with "long-anger." You've heard the expression "short-tempered"? Well, an expression for patience is "long-tempered or long-suffering". Patience is being slow to anger.... having a spirit that could take revenge if it liked, but utterly refusing to do so. Patience is self-restraint – deciding not to retaliate against a wrong. Or said another way, “Patience is the ability to put up with people you’d like to put down.”
Our second Scripture reading is II Timothy 2:23-24. Paul is giving some final instructions to his son in the faith, Timothy, about how to live as a good worker for the Lord. He knew that it would be easy for Timothy to be caught up by disagreeable and argumentative people who would try to change the message of the gospel. So, his advice was this:
“Don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach and be patient with difficult people.” (II Timothy 2:23-24)
If we are to be a servant of God that shares the love of God, even to those VDPs in our lives, we are called to live differently than the world does. We have to decide to treat people differently. Tom Holladay says:
Our relationship with others is molded not merely by what I want, but by the examples Jesus provides. I’m not only going to think about how I want to be treated (the golden rule), I am going to look at how Jesus treats people. If I am going to live out of sacrificial love, it’s not going to happen accidentally. It’s going to take a step – a conscious decision to act towards others the way Jesus acts towards me.3
It is going to have to be a change in attitude and perspective. And trusting in God to help you do what seems impossible: to respond in love to those very difficult people.
First, we will need a humble spirit. We will not be able to act with great pride, thinking we are better than the other person, or that we know all the answers. It may be that we are just as difficult a person to get-along with as the one you are struggling with. In humility, we need to reflect on ourselves and be aware of what we are doing to contribute to the problem in the relationship.
And then we need to be non-judgmental. It is very hard to do that because our gut reaction is to judge and label the person as “difficult” or “negative” or as someone we don’t like. But we must not judge and look for the speck in the other person’s eyes, when we have a log in our own eyes. We have to look at our own assumptions and attitudes instead of judging others. Once we have confessed our sins and cleared our hearts, then we can confront if we need to and better work out differences and problems.
And then it is so important to find out their story. There may be a clear reason they are acting the way they are. Many difficult people are just the result of being mistreated, neglected, and put down by so many for so long that they have become defensive. Hurt people hurt people. Others may just be going through a difficult time and are reacting with anxiety and anger at their situation -- and what they need is grace and love and understanding more than condemnation and hatred.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better”. And he did that by sitting down and listening to the arguments of people who were critical of him – and then shared his perspective. He saw it as an opportunity to learn, as well as work together for a common cause. 4
Changing our attitudes and getting to know our VDPs is just part of what it takes to relate better. To show them the love of Christ, we must follow the teachings and example of Jesus in showing love to our neighbor.
We are called to bless them instead of cursing them. I Peter 3:9 says, “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and He will grant you His blessings.” In our world, it seems acceptable to tear people down and insult them. Words are used that are cruel and hateful…that causes hate and anger, and bitterness. But God calls us to turn the other cheek and use words that uplift and encourage - give hope and peace.
We are also called to pray for those VDPs. Jesus says, in the Sermon on the Mount, that we are to “…love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you. In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44) Jesus gave us a great example in this when He prayed for his enemies while on the cross and asked for their forgiveness. When we pray for our enemies, we are asking God to work in them and heal whatever it is in them that is causing such brokenness. And what is amazing, when we pray for those VDPs, we find that God will work in our hearts, changing us – even if our enemy doesn’t change. Through prayer, the Holy Spirit softens our hardened hearts. Hatred is turned to love … bitterness is turned to sweet. And we begin to see our enemies through God’s eyes. And we find the Spirit controlling our thoughts and actions – rather than allowing other people to have that power over us.
We bless and pray for our VDPs and then do good to them. The Apostle Paul says in Romans, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads. Don’t let evil conquer you but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:20-21)
When we respond to VDP’s with anger or revenge, it just continues the same bitter and angry cycle and hurts you just as much as it hurts your enemy. But doing good to your enemy and forgiving them might break that cycle – and just might make your enemy feel ashamed and change their ways. Look for ways that can bring healing through doing good things for that person.
Now it is possible that these VDPs in your life are so unhealthy and toxic that reconciliation will never be accomplished. All your efforts at working through your differences – and following the steps of praying for them and blessing them – are not changing the unhealthy relationship. That is when you have to have “tough love” and say “enough!” Tough love says, “I care about you, but I care about me too, and I will not allow you to hurt me or those I love.” Set healthy boundaries on what that relationship will be and limit your contact with him/her. And definitely, if you find yourself in an abusive or dangerous relationship, protect yourself and get away and seek help and counsel.
Most importantly, surrender your heart to Christ. We really aren’t able to love those VDPs in our life on our own. We don’t have the power and sometimes it seems absolutely impossible. But as we surrender our lives to Christ, God can transform us from the inside out. We come to God and say, “God, I don’t have any forgiveness and patience and kindness in me. I need you to funnel Your love into me. Give me the power to forgive, the power to love difficult people, to be patient and kind when we don’t want to be.” You cannot will yourself to be more loving, especially with those very difficult people. Your human effort will always fall short. The key is to invite Jesus Christ to live His life through yours! Give Christ full access to your heart and trust God to help you with those Very Difficult People.
Lord, I pray for peace and strength in working out relationships.
We ask that where there is a wound you would bring healing.
Where there is impatience, you would bring your peace and calm.
Where there is frustration and anger, I pray that there would be a
flooding of your Holy Spirit so that they would know your grace and
As You have been loving and forgiving of us, empower us God to be loving and forgiving of others. This we pray in the precious name of Jesus, AMEN
Christ stands here today reaching out to us and wanting to walk closer to us. Once we take his hand, amazing things will happen in our lives. Truly we will be filled with the Holy Spirit and will be able to show God’s love and patience to others.
Won't you come
now and give your heart to Jesus? Won't
you come and make a decision for Christ and place your membership in this
church family? We will rejoice with you
as you come. Let us all recommit
ourselves to walking closer to Christ as we stand and sing.
1 Nithin Thompson, “Love Comes to Town – Love Actually”, October 8, 2017. https://liquidchurch.com/messages/love-comes-to-town-series/love-actually/
2Jeff Strite, “What Love Is”, February 14, 2011.
3Nithin Thompson, “Love Comes to Town – Love Actually”.
4Abraham Lincoln quote in article by Cory Galbraith, “How to Handle Criticism the Lincoln Way.” https://corygalbraith.com/2018/04/01/how-to-handle-criticism-the-lincoln-way-a-message-for-our-time/