Both emails arrived the same day from two different pastors. The pastors were both dealing with problematic people in their congregations. They hoped I might offer advice for how to deal with the issue. Though they were dealing with the same problem, I gave each of them opposite advice from the other. I told one to meet with the problematic person and try to answer their questions and work the problem out. I told the other one to invoke the church discipline clause in their church constitution and vote the problematic person out of the body. Why would I give opposite advice to two pastors facing the same issue?
It has a lot to do with what I learned in my own ministry as I sought to put Proverbs 26:4-5 into practice. These two verses tell us opposite ways of dealing with foolish people. One verse says to answer such a person, the other verse says not to. Though these verses may sound contradictory, they actually fit perfectly together.
When we encounter difficult personalities in life, our first response should be to try to work out the difficulties. Often words or actions have simply been misunderstood and when we talk them out with the other person, the issue is quickly resolved. That is always a positive outcome and worth the time and energy invested even if it is awkward to initiate.
But sometimes the other party is not interested in resolution. In some twisted way certain people thrive on controversy. They seem to enjoy having an enemy to fight or a person or organization to blame all their problems on. In those situations the more energy and time we invest trying to resolve the situation, the worse it gets. When we find ourselves in such a scenario, it is time to withdraw from the relationship. We should do it graciously and in a way that honors Christ. But we must accept that there comes a point when further efforts will produce no positive results. All it does is frustrate us and we might be tempted to stoop to the level of the problematic person. That will not produce the positive results we hoped for.
God understood this reality long before modern psychology discovered it. That is why He gave us the wisdom of these two verses of scripture back to back. He knew one verse would apply in one situation and the other in other situations. Part of being a mature believer is knowing which situation is which and applying the correct scripture teaching at the right time. Through prayer, and with helpful advice from others, the Holy Spirit can give us that discernment.
Lord, give us wisdom to know when to keep trying to resolve challenging situations and when to walk away from them. Amen.
Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He has written a book about the spirit of offense that prevails in our current society. You can find all of his books at: