Jesus is different from us. The Pharisees did “all their deeds to be seen by others” (Matthew 23:5). Not Jesus; he looked for the praise from only One. And God was more than willing to grant it to him. Two times are recorded in the Scriptures in which God spoke out affirmation from heaven. The first was at his baptism, when God said, “You are my beloved Son. In you I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17). It must have proved deeply satisfying to the Son. He had lived in fellowship with the Father from eternity but had chosen to willingly go to earth and serve as the sacrificial lamb. Now for perhaps the first time, he heard the audible voice of his Father commending him as he prepared to launch his public ministry.
The second time came when Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration with three of his disciples. They would play leading roles in the New Testament church. Peter was blessed by the experience, in which Moses and Elijah showed up to meet with Jesus. Peter identified Jesus with these great men of the past, thinking he was giving Christ a notable place. Then a cloud hid them from view, and the Father spoke, not to Jesus but about him, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5). Peter got the point. Jesus was not a great man among great men. HE is singularly great, and unlike anyone else receives the verbal affirmation of his Father at the commencement of his ministry and again near the climax of it. Peter later referred to this glorious experience, remembering when “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).
When a pastor friend, Jeff, said at a monthly mentoring meeting that he wrongly sought the approval of others too much, we agreed with him. We all struggled with an over-the-top need for affirmation. But then Dan asked, “Isn’t it right and even necessary to have the affirmation of others?” It was a balancing question to offset our weakness. So what do you think?
The affirmation of a father helps his children to rightly believe in themselves. A lack thereof may create a skewed image in a child struggling to discover a true identity. The affirmation of an employer can help a worker know how well the job is being done and even provide motivation for greater work. The praise of a pastor can help the sanctification process along, when it feels like we aren’t getting it. The commendation of a teacher helps a student stick with the geometry until it is mastered.
The value of affirmation can hardly be overestimated. We need to be affirming, not flattering but diligent to “encourage one another and build one another up” (I Thessalonians 5:11) and especially “the fainthearted” (14). At the same time our ultimate, if not immediate, need is to find comfort and strength from the Father, the all-sufficient One. Then when others withhold words, we don’t fall into discouragement. We go to a Father who affirms his children like he did his only begotten Son.