So often we get caught up in our emotions and opinions, which is not always bad, but is very self-centered. We forget about others, and COVID hasn’t helped with that. As we adjust back to meeting together in social settings, we need to readjust our focus back on meeting the needs of others. One of those needs, which can counter the selfishness and critical spirit we often have, is affirmation.
A brief word on receiving affirmation must be acknowledged. When we are given affirmation, from the Bible (which has lots) or from people, we must receive it graciously. Whether or not you are feeling insecure, we must not seek it out from people, as that builds up pride. Rather, seek out the affirmation God has for you in His Word, and then humbly seek to transfer it to others. In building up others, you are better built up.
The Bible gives much affirmation to those who have been confirmed as children of God, those who have submitted to God through Christ, receiving His forgiveness. Ephesians 1 is a prime example of affirmation, telling you that you are blessed (v3), accepted (v6), forgiven (v7), sealed (v13), and much more. Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Corinthians explain that you are a new creation in Christ, no longer bound by your old nature (although tormented by it in this lifetime).
We are instructed in the Bible to ‘encourage one another, and build one another up.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:11) Even Proverbs (16:24) gets into the mix of instructional verses on affirmation, saying ‘gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul, and health to the body.’ So, we see that affirmation affects not only the mental and emotional state of a person, it increases their faith, and it heals their body! The best way that we can affirm someone, is by sharing with them the affirmations of God given in scripture. Proverbs 4:20-22 explains that ‘they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.’
Affirmation is not about denying the weaknesses or failures of a person, but by pointing out the strengths and successes in order to help a person positively deal with the weaknesses or failures. It is interesting to note that the affirmations of scripture are more about who you are than about what you can do! Your identity is not (or at least should not be) about what you do or feel, but about who God made you to be. A classic example is Gideon. The angel of the Lord came to him, calling him ‘mighty man of valour.’ Most of us recognize that this did not describe Gideon at this point, yet we know that angels do not lie. God was affirming Gideon, strengthening his faith, by telling him who God had made him to be, and who he would be when he relied on God for strength to accomplish the task of defeating the enemy.
Affirmation is about getting your mind, and the mind of the person you are talking with, off of failures and on to what God is doing through that person. This is true humility, acknowledging our dependence on God. Affirmation is most needed when someone is focussed on their burdens, some of which they are not meant to carry. We can then fulfill the command in Galatians (6:2) to ‘bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.’ We must remember that we are all on equal standing before Christ (not equal in abilities, but definitely equal in value), of one spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). When we affirm someone in humility, especially using Scripture, it is truth from God that will build them up.
When affirming others, one thing I must caution you is to stick to the truth. Affirmation is meant to build up, but it must never deny truth, nor may it say something untrue about the person. Sin is to be pointed out in other believers and never covered up, but a person who is discouraged by their sin does not need to be condemned, they need to be affirmed. The way they can be affirmed is by acknowledging the sin, but then acknowledging also the power and forgiveness of our Great God.
So, let us get out there and affirm others, especially other believers in Christ. God has given us many tools and much discernment to enable us to fulfill this command. Affirmation has many benefits, as listed above. What I have experienced is that when I give affirmation to others, I feel better about myself. Next time you find yourself criticizing someone, ask yourself two questions: ‘Is this a matter of opinion that makes me offended?’ and ‘What is something good that this person has done that I can affirm?’ If it is an opinion of yours that caused the offense, then stop being offended! If you get past the things you did not like, and see a good attitude or motivation, then affirm that. After you have affirmed the person, then you can help them improve in areas they may need help with ... but do it in love!
Let us build each other up in love for the sake and glory of Christ.