Biblical affirmation isn’t what usually comes to mind when we think of speaking the truth in love. We tend to think of correction, teaching, exhortation, or rebuke. If someone is headed in the right direction, why would they need truth spoken to them? If they’re already on the right path, what is there to say? But Scripture models for us (and personal experience confirms) that affirmation is a powerful tool in helping others become more like Jesus.
I believe one of the main reasons affirmation gets a bad rap is because our culture has come to affirm everything, whether it’s true or not. We tell every kid that they were great on the baseball field. We tell every employee that they’re vital to the company. We tell every fan in the stands that they were instrumental to their team winning the game. The problem is that the kid, the employee, and the fan all know when it’s not actually true.
Biblical affirmation is not saying nice things to build someone’s self-esteem. Biblical affirmation is the recognition of gifts, strengths, and growth in a person’s life in order to promote God esteem.
The point of biblical affirmation is to recognize the unnatural, otherwise impossible, presence of Christlikeness in another person. When someone becomes more like Jesus, it is a Spirit-empowered miracle that ought to be recognized and celebrated. Christlikeness is the object of affirmation. And if Christlikeness is also the goal of gospel care, as we’ve discussed, then we should regularly be looking for evidence of it in the lives of those we’re ministering to so we can point it out and encourage them onward.
Sometimes our journey to become more like Jesus doesn’t require correction or turning in a different direction. Sometimes it simply requires continuing on in the direction we’re already headed. In fact, as we minister to people who are truly being transformed, we should expect that to be the case.
As we see the budding fruit of the Spirit appear in a person’s life, we should help them see it too. We should be “fruit-spotters” on the lookout for love, joy, peace, and patience just like an excited wildlife watcher who finally sees that elk, bear, or moose he has been looking for. There’s kindness! There’s goodness! I see self-control! I’ve never met a wildlife watcher who was content to leave the discovery to himself. He wants others to know what he’s seen. That’s exactly what we’re doing in biblical affirmation: pointing out what we’ve seen for the glory of God and the good of the person we’ve seen it in.
Excerpted from Loving Messy People: The Messy Art of Helping One Another Become More Like Jesus by Scott Mehl.