Sam Crabtree’s Practicing Affirmation was a helpful and much needed book for me. Encouraging people, expressing affirmation – these things do not come naturally or easily for me. Often I just assume that people know that they are gifted, valued, important, etc and don’t see the need for expressing affirmation. Other times, I don’t want to say something to ‘puff up someone’s ego’ or make them boast. Unfortunately, trying to make sure no one around me gets a big head has led to people around me having shriveled and discouraged hearts. And perhaps worst of all, by nature my eyes have 20-20 vision when it comes to flaws, imperfections, sins, and such. Yet I’m virtually blind to evidences of grace in the lives of people around me – particularly those closest to me. God is working on me and Crabtree’s book was a helpful guide on this trek to becoming a more encouraging person.
One of Crabtree’s observations that stood out was how Paul affirmed and encouraged churches throughout the New Testament, particularly the church at Corinth. Paul writes in his opening words to the Corinthians,
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Cor. 1:4-9)
Just a cursory glance at this section and you see Paul affirming the gifts of the Corinthian church, stating that they don’t lack any gift, and giving genuine thanks to God for them. Here’s why that’s noteworthy. The church in Corinth was probably the most dysfunctional church in the entire New Testament. When you read the letter to the Corinthians, it’s amazing that Paul had anything nice to say about them at all. Their problems included:
- deep divisions, factions, and teams within the church
- church members bringing one another to court with lawsuits
- using Communion as a time for gluttony and drunkenness
- men sleeping with prostitutes
- other sexual immorality so perverse it was gross even to the pagans outside the church
- doctrinal errors
- misuse of spiritual gifts
- broad opposition to Paul’s ministry and leadership
And yet as deeply flawed as they were, it did not keep Paul from having eyes to see God’s grace to the Corinthians or a mouth to affirm it. He was well aware of their flaws and would certainly address them, but their flaws did not stop him from affirming the evidences of grace in their lives.
What a model this is to us? To parents who see with perfect vision the failures and flaws of their children. For husbands and wives who see the shortcomings and sins of their spouse with greater clarity, regularity, and intensity than anyone else in the world. For pastors who long for spiritual maturity for their people but see immaturity everywhere. In all our spheres of relationships, this is a good word for us all.
And if Paul is an example for us, consider even more that one day, Jesus Himself will say to us, “Well done good and faithful servant.” As imperfect as we are, the Lord will praise us. If it is not beneath the Lord to do this for us, it certainly must not be beneath us to do this for one another.