Summary: The Practice of Affirmation in three easy steps.
The Practice of Affirmation (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10)
“A young man showed up a little early for his date. When his girlfriend answered the door, her hair was teased in a hundred different directions. To take the awkwardness out of the situation, she asked, “What do you think of my hair?” The boy hesitated and then said, “It looks like it’s about to become something wonderful!” (Lasting Legacy: Making a Difference with My Life, Life Connections, Leader guide, pg. 71) The point of this story is clear: Christians need to see beyond the mess people are in, to what they can become in Christ. This is where the practice of affirmation comes in. To affirm someone is to declare something positively or firmly about them; to support or uphold the validity of a person; to confirm them. Affirm comes from the root of a Latin word which means, “to strengthen.” With love as our motivator, we should be used of the Lord to strengthen our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus doesn’t look at our imperfection but our potential. And we should be in the habit of doing the same. After all, it is God that worketh in us to will and do his good pleasure. Therefore, there is much truth to the phrase: “Do not judge me, God is not through with me yet!” Don’t be critical be Christlike! See the potential not the imperfections! The Apostle Paul gives us the reason for this in Philippians 1:6: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Listen to these encouraging words of affirmation from 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 as if someone were saying them to you:
“2. We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; 3. Constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, 4. Knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; 5. For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6. You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7. So that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. 9. For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, 10. And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.”
Many people of my generation (the Boomers) were taught to say anything affirming about themselves was egotistical and saying anything affirming about someone else might give that person “the big head.” However, these attitudes are not biblical. In this text and every letter Paul writes, with the exception of Galatians, he starts the letter by affirming the people of the church to which he is writing (see Romans 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:4; Eph. 1:15-16; Phil. 1:3; Col. 1:3; 2 Thess. 1:3). Paul seemed to realize people work best when they feel good about themselves and what they have accomplished. And this belief still holds true today. People work best when they feel good about themselves. Do you feel good about yourself and what you have accomplished for the Lord?
George Barna, founder of a Christian marketing research company, has studied what he calls “turn-around churches” – churches that had been going downhill in ministry and attendance but turned things around and thrived. He found a variety of factors that helped these churches turn around. One principle that he drew from this study was, “When people perform true ministry, they should be applauded.” More specifically, he writes, “A successful ministry is one in which people are recognized for their accomplishments, not to place someone on a pedestal, but because human beings need to be recognized for their good works. Put in proper perspective, a bit of celebration and appreciations regarding true ministry can help maintain an active and happy congregations.” [George Barna, Turn-Around Churches (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1993), 104.] It is important we learn the practice of affirmation as outlined in Scripture and reclaim Paul’s ministry of affirmation and continually exercise it in our everyday life.