There are at least two dimensions to understand regarding affirmation or encouragement: passive and active. We’ve discussed the passive side by saying that if I need to receive affirmation from a peer, at best, I have a very limited and immature understanding of who I am in Christ. At worst, I don’t have a meaningful relationship with Christ at all! These comments are not saying it’s bad or unwise to receive encouragement – no! The key word here is “need.” We shouldn’t need it…
But do we need to give it to others? If by “it” we’re referring to a biblical (and non-manipulative) expression of appreciation, absolutely! If by “it” we mean a biblical encouragement to continue in the faith and pressing on to the mark of our high calling, most definitely. I think Paul makes this very clear in his first letter to the Thessalonian church: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” (1 Thessalonians 5.12-14/ESV) In this passage, Paul reveals that “Kingdom culture” is one that values and “esteems” those among us who are actively laboring and leading “in the Lord.” And this esteem is “in love” not in jealousy or an attempt to get in their good graces, hoping that they might show us some sort of reciprocal favor. “In love” makes it clear to me that we should be appreciating others selflessly and in a manner that enhances their apprenticeship to Christ, not hinders it.
So WHY do we need to give others esteem when we’re not allowed to need it for ourselves? I believe that at the very least, practicing the “art of appreciation” consistently serves to remind us of essential truths we are prone to forget (ignore?):
1.) other people are good at things I’m lousy at
2.) other people are great at things I’m merely good at
3.) God intends us to celebrate his gifts (in others), not covet them
4.) God intends to bless the world in partnership with people
5.) God intends to establish a community, not a collection of individuals
In essence, I need to be appreciating and encouraging those around me because I need to remember that life doesn’t revolve around me. I need to practice this physical and social act because as I do, it reinforces the mind of Christ deep within me – others matter (that is the 2nd commandment after all).
I guess these ideas are somewhat analogous to praising God. I don’t praise God because he needs to hear how highly I think of him; I need to praise God because the act itself makes me more like Jesus. In the same way, I don’t appreciate or encourage others because their ego or life’s direction will be rescued by doing so (who do I think I am?); I step out and express my esteem or encouragement because I’m far too selfish, and this act of surrendered attacks this unfortunate reality head-on.