Question: "Dealing with negative people—what does the Bible say?"
Answer: We all have occasions that require dealing with negative people. There are two categories of negative people: those who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior and those who do not. These two types of negative people require different approaches. The Bible offers insight and wisdom on how to handle both kinds.
First, though, what do we mean by “negative people”? Negative people tend to focus on others’ faults (or their own faults). They may regularly point out shortcomings with their comments, attitudes, and frowns. Negative people will approach situations from a pessimistic viewpoint, assuming the worst in any given situation. Sometimes negative people disguise their negativity by using humor or sarcasm, but it still ultimately results in someone being or feeling put down.
In dealing with negative people, one serious consideration is whether or not there is a church structure in place in which to handle them. If the negative person is a member of your church or someone at work who has expressed a desire to walk in a Christian manner with you, then he or she should be treated as a believer. For dealing with negative people in the believer’s category, we turn to Matthew 18:15–17. That passage clearly lays out the progression of how fellow Christians should deal with each other in regard to sin. A negative, fault-finding, bitter attitude is a sin; Israel sinned against God in the wilderness by complaining about their circumstances (Numbers 11:1). You have a responsibility as a brother or sister in Christ to lovingly “point out their fault just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15). Again, this is a responsibility all believers have to each other.
For non-believers, it’s different, since they do not fall under the rules of church discipline detailed in Matthew 18. How you approach negative unbelievers must be decided on a case-by-case basis. To reemphasize, you do not have a responsibility to “show them their fault” according to the Bible. But there are still some godly tools that can help you proceed in the best manner.
Humility, prayer, wise counsel, and tact are great assets in successfully handling a negative person. Not proceeding with wisdom can be dangerous. The apostle Paul said, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
First, humility is crucial, and your perspective is critical to handling the person how Jesus desires. Try not to view the person as a “negative person” but rather as a creation of God who is caught in a sinful habit. He still deserves your respect, attention, and love. Do not violate his dignity—no matter how aggravating he is or has been. Before approaching the person, try to determine, through prayer and counsel, if you have a “plank in your own eye” (see Matthew 7:3–5). This will help you walk in love toward the negative person and handle the issue in a loving fashion. Confronting someone will be much easier once your “eye” is clear. Additionally, there may be something in you—an attitude, an assumption, etc.—making it harder for you to deal with negative people. Once you have given that to God, dealing with negativity may become easier.
Next, it’s important to pray for the negative person in question. Also, pray for wisdom and for God to reveal to you what to do next. It’s always smart to get wise counsel from a pastor or a trusted believer who will also pray about how to proceed. Just be careful not to turn “getting counsel” into a time to complain and gossip. Then, once you have a clear plan of action, be tactful in your approach. Meekness is part of wisdom (James 3:13).
Be aware that the best way to deal with a negative person may simply be to limit your contact with him, if possible. However, God gives wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5), so hearing from Him and other trusted, godly people in your life is the best place to start.