Do you know someone who always knows the worst possible scenario? Do they focus on the flaws and shortcomings of themselves or others? Do they speak in absolutes, like, "I'm never gonna get a break," or "This always happens!"? Do they have a pessimistic attitude toward life? Do they sometimes use humor or sarcasm to cover up their negativity?
Negative behavior, bitterness, and harsh sarcasm can be found in both believers and unbelievers. No one has exclusive rights to sin—we ALL get that way sometimes (Romans 3:23). Regardless of what they believe, when we confront someone, our hearts should be motivated by love and concern for the person—never revenge, anger, or an intention to hurt or shame. We ought to focus our full attention on the conversation, listening to their side too, so they know they are valued.
The Bible says that we can approach negativity in a godly way, but there are different expectations and responsibilities depending on whether the negative person claims to be a Christian. But before we get on a mission to "correct" someone, the Bible tells us to do a heart-check on ourselves.
If you've been hurt in the past by a negative person, ask God to release you from that pain. If you're holding onto old bitterness, you cannot be effective in helping someone. Never forget that—saved or unsaved—a person with a negative attitude is still made in the image of God, thus worthy of respect, love, and compassion. Resist labeling them as a "downer" or a "hater," because that's not all that defines them as a person.
Ask God to reveal if you have any undisclosed sin to address before you start trying to help another. As Jesus illustrated so well, we must "remove the plank" from our own eye before we should even attempt to remove a splinter from another's eye (Matthew 7:3-5). If we're holding onto a negative attitude ourselves or have been guilty of feeding into the friend's negativity (Galatians 6:1), then we'll come across as hypocritical and unfairly judgmental.
Take care of your own heart so you can humbly and effectively care for others. Make sure that a friend's negative behavior does not turn you into a negative person too. Since mankind is prone to think about all the negative things in the world (we're looking at you, Grumpy Cat), we must carefully guard ourselves through God’s Word and regular prayer.
If the negative person is a Christian, meaning they have accepted Jesus as their Savior, then we can go to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:15-17.
First, respectfully (and privately) speak to them about their sin, between just the two of you (v. 15). If that doesn't work, then take a couple mutual friends with you to discuss it so you have witnesses to the conversation (v. 16). If that still doesn't work, encourage them to seek help from their pastor or other church members (v. 17). If they don't attend church, it's still important to get some "upper management" involved—like your own pastor, a trusted parent, or another family member.
The Israelites displayed a negative attitude in Numbers 11, and their pessimism made God incredibly angry. This type of bitterness is a sin; followers of Christ should not wallow in negativity. When a Christian friend practices habitual negativity, we have a responsibility to lovingly confront them about it, redirecting them to the restoring love of Jesus. The Bible tells us that “whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).
Let it be a discussion—not a lecture. Try to understand where their negativity is coming from, and you may uncover something deeper as the source of their negative behavior. You could also encourage them to get Christian counseling as a follow up to the conversation.
When helping an unbeliever who is overly negative, we need to take a different approach. Make sure your relationship with the person is one of honestly and kindness. They should see you as a trusted friend from whom they would take advice. You should know how to relay criticism to them in a loving manner. Also, keep in mind that what may work for one person may not work for another, and your advice (no matter how lovingly given) may be rejected.
Since a non-Christian doesn't necessarily abide by biblical morals or standards, we shouldn't spend time pointing out sin. If they aren't convicted that they're sinning, you won't be able to convince them of it. Appeal to other areas of their lives, such as their relationships (e.g. family, friends, romantic) or environments (e.g. school, work, etc.), and gently explain how their negativity is unhealthy in those areas. Again, let it be a discussion—not a lecture. Try to understand where their negativity is coming from, and you may uncover something deeper as the source of their negative behavior.
By exhibiting concern, care, and love, we can share the love of Jesus through our words and actions. If the moment is right, we may even be able to share the Gospel with them.
Ask God to give you strength and wisdom to help your friend with negative behavior (James 1:5). Ask Him to open their eyes to the truth. If you have a pastor, counselor, or another trusted Christian adult who could provide additional advice and support, ask them if they'd be willing to help establish a game plan to help you help your friend.
To be clear though, we're not suggesting a gossip or grumbling session. When we seek help from others about another person, we should do so with the right motives and with as much confidentiality as possible.
If your friend rejects you or your efforts to help, it's OK. You don't have control over how they respond to you; your responsibility is to speak and act in love. But if you feel personally threatened or attacked, the next best step may be to keep your distance from that person out of respect. Dealing with negative people can be hard, but God can help you help them overcome their negative attitude and behavior.
Negative behavior, bitterness, and harsh sarcasm can be found in both believers and unbelievers. Negativity may come in the form of imagining worst case scenarios, finding problems or failings in most situations, or being excessively pessimistic. A habitual negative mentality is sinful, and Christians should not participate in it. Help negative friends by following Jesus’ guide to conflict resolution (Matthew 18:15-17). Help non-Christian negative friends with grace, humility, and kindness. Pray for your loved ones practicing negativity. Don't be tempted to fall into a negative and bitter attitude yourself (Galatians 6:1). Dealing with negative people can be hard, but God provides strength and wisdom to help us help them overcome (James 1:5).
Vivian loves learning, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She is dedicated to helping people learn more about Jesus and is ready to help in any way she can. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, cooking, drawing, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, you can find her soaking up the sunshine or going on an adventure.