Commending what’s commendable in others refreshes them and honors God. This book helps readers strengthen communication and relationships through the practice of God-centered affirmation.
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About the Author
Sam Crabtreeis a pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he has served for over twenty years. He is a former public-school teacher and is chairman of the board of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He is the author ofPracticing Affirmation.Sam and his wife, Vicki, live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and have two daughters and six grandchildren.
John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of desiringGod.organd the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for thirty-three years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than fifty books, including Desiring God;Don’t Waste Your Life;This Momentary Marriage;A Peculiar Glory;andReading the Bible Supernaturally.
Read an Excerpt
God-Centered Affirmation of Those Who Are Not God
Affirmation is the purpose of the universe — specifically, affirmation of God.
Commending the praise of men could meet with justifiable criticism. Landmines are everywhere. Take, for instance, this warning: "The love of our own glory is the greatest competitor with God in our hearts. And sometimes we can cloak this idol in a pious disguise." If this is true, and I think it is, then how can I possibly advocate the praise of people? Am I not fueling idolatrous pride?
The Bible Commends God and People
Even with the Bible's emphasis on humble self-denial and its warnings against pride, the Bible praises people — to the glory of God, ultimately. The chief end of God is not to glorify man, as humanistic thought would have it; the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. Meanwhile, the praising of people does not necessarily preclude the praising of God, if the people are commended ultimately for his glory. God is glorified in us when we affirm the work he has done and is doing in others.
For example, the Bible commends the majesty of Solomon: "And the LORD made Solomon very great in the sight of all Israel and bestowed on him such royal majesty as had not been on any king before him in Israel" (1 Chron. 29:25). Note that it is the Lord who made Solomon so great and majestic. Solomon's greatness and majesty are to be recognized and commended, but at the root lay the greatness and majesty of the God who made Solomon so.
The Bible also commends Jabez as being more honorable than his brothers: "Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, 'Because I bore him in pain.' Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, 'Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!' And God granted what he asked" (1 Chron. 4:9–10). Note that Jabez's honorableness is a result of the grace of the God who grants his requests and enlarges his borders. Jabez, clearly the lesser of the two, makes requests of God, the one who has the power Jabez lacks to fulfill such requests. Jabez's honorableness should be recognized and commended, but it stems from the blessing of God in his life, and the one who is the source of the blessing is the one who deserves the honor for Jabez's honorableness.
The Bible commends the excellent wife of Proverbs 31. It is proper to recognize and commend her excellence. In fact, verse 30 explicitly says, "a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised." Is what? Is to be praised! What I think the Bible is saying there is that a good, proper, healthy, important, and necessary way to praise people is to the glory of God. In the case of the excellent woman, what is one thing that makes her so excellent? She fears the Lord. God is honored by pointing to the woman's excellence in fearing him, the One who defines and exemplifies excellence.
Isn't Praise of Man Idolatrous?
Praise of man and praise of God can be at odds, but not necessarily. And let me join James in raising the stakes: those who know they should do something — like commend commendable people — but don't do it, are sinning: "So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin" (James 4:17). So we can sin in two ways: by idolatrous commendation, or by failing to commend the commendable. The challenge for us is to not sin in either direction.
When Jesus says, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Luke 20:25), he is not forbidding that people pay tribute to Caesar. We must be on guard against either/or thinking, when the giving of praise can be both/and. When it is both/and, that is, when we are honoring a person and we are honoring God, it should not look like this:
Honor humans and honor God
Rather, it should look like this:
Honor God Honor humans
By acknowledging that it is God who put the governor in office and by thanking God for the governor when he governs well, we honor both the governor and God, and we honor God more than the governor because we give God the credit for establishing the governor. Also, there may come a day when in love we owe the governor an objection or criticism; we never owe God an objection.
Honoring humans is not necessarily idolatry. Consider the following.
Daniel is not dishonoring God when he praises Nebuchadnezzar, saying "You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all ..." (Dan. 2:37–38). The king is glorious, because he has been made so by the God who is more glorious than he. Daniel honors both the king and God by honoring the king in the way he does.
In a later episode, at the first light of dawn when king Darius hurries to the lion's den to see if God had rescued Daniel, Daniel is not diminishing God's honor by saying to king Darius, "Oh king, live forever!" (Dan. 6:21) — a very high blessing to seek on behalf of someone who gave him a death sentence less than twenty-four hours earlier. God is not dishonored, for if King Darius lives forever, it will be God who brings it to pass. God gets the credit for being the one able to do the work.
Gabriel is not stealing praise from God by singling out Mary for a commendation uttered to only one woman in all of human history, by saying, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). He affirms her by (1) greeting her (a simple practice overlooked in many homes to the detriment of many relationships); (2) describing her as favored — she has earned nothing, can boast in nothing, and has passively received this bestowal, yet it is an honor to be savored, to be sure; and (3) declaring that the Lord is with her, for her, proactive on her behalf. Again, Mary is distinguished from all other women as being "favored," and yet ultimately God gets the honor, for he is the one doing the favoring, the gracing, the bestowing.
The writer of Hebrews 11 violates nothing of God's honor by commending the faith of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses' parents, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets, and the martyrs. "For by it the people of old received their commendation" (Heb. 11:2). All of these were "commended through their faith ..." (v. 39). They are commended, yet their commendation steals nothing from the glory of God, because they are commended for faith that is from him and in him.
In addition to the above, there are other instances of people being affirmed in the Bible:
The Lord affirms Noah as righteous in his generation (Gen. 7:1).
Pharaoh affirms Joseph as remarkably discerning and wise (Gen. 41:39).
Boaz commends Ruth as a worthy (virtuous, strong, noble) woman (Ruth 3:11).
Saul commends David for being more righteous than he (1 Sam. 24:17).
Achish affirms David as blameless (1 Sam. 29:9).
The woman recognizes that Elijah is godly and truthful (1 Kings 17:24).
The centurion highly values his servant (Luke 7:2), and the elders affirm the centurion (Luke 7:4–5). Note that the centurion did not praise himself. Unsolicited praise from mouths other than the person's own is best, unless you are God, who may solicit all the praise he deserves.
Paul commends Phoebe for her servant ways (Rom. 16:1–2).
Paul commends the Corinthians for their faithful remembrance of traditions (1 Cor. 11:2).
Even to a bunch of scalawags, Paul affirms the work of God he sees in them:
Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge — even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you — so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Cor. 1:1–9)
Paul had much to correct in the Corinthians. They had:
serious doctrinal error
a form of immorality
lawsuits among themselves
problematic corporate gatherings
misunderstandings and misuses of gifts
broad opposition to Paul himself.
And yet, in his opening lines he tells them, "I give thanks to my God always for you." Why? "Because of the grace of God that was given you in Jesus Christ." Do you see the God-centered affirmation?
Jesus himself, the one to whom belongs all glory, affirms others:
He calls his disciples "salt" and "light" (Matt. 5:13–14).
He says his listeners are more valuable than many sparrows (Matt. 10:31).
He commends the woman of great faith (Matt. 15:28).
He commends the woman of ill repute for doing a beautiful thing (Mark 14:6).
He marvels at the faith of the centurion (Luke 7:9).
He praises John with superlatives (Luke 7:28).
He endorses the generosity of the widow (Luke 21:3–4).
He commends Nathanael for not being a hypocrite (John 1:47).
Obedience as Praise
Obedience is a way of praising. Obedience honors the one being obeyed.
Obviously, when the Bible teaches us to obey God rather than man, it is not saying we should never obey man, children should never obey parents, students should never obey teachers, and drivers should never obey traffic officers. Generally, we are to obey those in authority. However, we are to disobey man when he is commanding us to do something that turns us away from God. Obedience to God supersedes obedience to man, but does not forbid all obedience to man.
In the same way, we ought to praise God rather than man, while acknowledging that the praise of God does not forbid all praise of others. It only prohibits the praise of others in ways that diminish God's glory, such as approving of their wicked practices, or making excuses for their sin, or attributing to them honor as though it is intrinsic to them and not derived from him.
What's the Point?
Good affirmations are God-centered, pointing to the image of God in a person. The only commendable attributes in people were given to them. Everything is from God, through God, and to God so that in all things — including the commendable qualities in people — he might get the glory: "'Who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?' For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:35–36).
I remember being dismayed at the well-intended remarks of a seminary official at a large convocation who was about to thank a number of persons for their efforts. His intention and spirit were good. But he prefaced his thank-yous by saying, "The apostle Paul was always thanking people." Well, no, the apostle Paul wasn't. You will not find Paul doing such a thing in the Scriptures. He didn't thank people for things; he thanked God for people. Paul's practice is, "I thank God for you." Yes, the person is refreshed by the expression of gratitude, but God gets the glory. We are wise to give God-centered thank-yous and God-centered affirmations.
We've all heard of robbing Peter to pay Paul. We've also heard of robbing God by not paying tithes. I am suggesting that we rob God of praise by not pointing out his reflection in the people he has knit together in his image.
The best affirmation is rooted not only in the character of God, but in the gospel. The unspeakably good news of the gospel is that unworthy bankrupt sinners are invited to buy bread without money, to eat a banquet at no cost to them, purchased by Christ crucified who is himself their living bread. The good news is that cripples and invalids who cannot fight have a Champion who fights for them. The good news for law-breakers is that hearts of stone are replaced by hearts of flesh. The good news is that the sinner's justifying righteousness comes from outside him, from someone else. So does the source of his character. If a sinner develops good character, it comes from outside him. Common grace and saving grace abound. The goodness of gospel news is the magnificent beneficial overflow that comes from the God who is bountiful in mercy to sinners like me.
Salvation Is about the Person and Work of Christ — and So Is Character
Salvation is not in a code, but in a person. And so it is with character.
Just as salvation is not the keeping of an outward, superficial formula, or a recipe of good deeds, or a Religious Duty Checklist to be fulfilled by a person's exertion of will and effort, so character does not amount to an external set of guidelines to which one musters up conformity in his own strength and willpower. Rather, just as salvation is from Christ, through Christ, in Christ, and to Christ, so character is Christ's work emanating from within the believer and stemming from the vigorous life of the Spirit dwelling there. And in the case of the unbeliever, character is part of the common grace of God, as a gift to the individual.
Salvation is the work of Christ and character is the work of Christ. He does the work and he gets the glory.
God-centered affirmations point toward the echoes, shadows, and reality of a righteousness not intrinsic to the person being affirmed. These qualities are gifts, coming from outside people and being worked in them. Even without yet being fully complete, these qualities are nevertheless commendable, and are to be seen and highlighted. We can truthfully say to an unregenerate four-year-old, "God is helping you become more ..." and fill in the blank with qualities such as: careful with your things (as a steward), cheerful around the house as a singer, cautious around dangerous things like hot stoves, and so on. While the child's growth in character is commended, God is identified as the source.
Before being able to affirm people well, we need to learn to affirm God, the source of everything to be affirmed in people. He is the source, the template, the standard. In order to be on the lookout for what is commendable in people, we should see the commendable in God. And for what should God be praised? "Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!" (Ps. 150:2).
In simplified summary, we see here two things for which God is rightly to be commended: deeds that are mighty and greatness that is excellent.
First, while it would be idolatrous to erroneously praise people for being powerful if "powerful" is taken to mean an underived, self-generated potency, it is fitting to commend people for "mighty deeds," demonstrating God-given power to overcome things that should be overcome — things like bad habits, temptations, and falsehoods previously believed. It is a mighty deed to put to death sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Col. 3:5). Making progress in conquering such diabolical debilitations is commendable, a testimony to the grace and power of God in a person.
Second, praising people for excellent greatness is also fitting when we understand true greatness to be what Jesus explained it to be — serving in the strength God supplies and for which he gets the glory:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. 4:10–11)
We are stewards of grace. Those who steward well should be commended for it, and God should be praised for giving them the grace to steward the grace given. God is not given the praise he deserves when we ignore or deny the work he is doing in people.
Affirmation on the Way to Gospel Proclamation
Consider this: we risk damning others by not praising them. There are people around us in peril of hell unless we commend them. Isn't that kind of thinking idolatry? Is there anything to praise in the unregenerate person? Yes, the image of God. Our failure to praise them may unwittingly abandon them on their hell-bent path, even propel them on an accelerated descending trajectory, having alienated them from the very ones who possess the truth so crucial for them to hear.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Practicing Affirmation"
Copyright © 2011 Sam Crabtree.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by John Piper,
1. God-Centered Affirmation of Those Who Are Not God,
2. Key to Refreshing Relationships: The Simplicity,
3. Toward Greater Refreshment: The Complexity,
4. Important Assumptions,
5. Mistakes I Have Made,
6. Questions and Answers,
7. Sightings of Jesus,
8. Mixing Correction with Affirmation,
9. 100 Affirmation Ideas for Those Who Feel Stuck,
Appendix 1: Decision Grid,
Appendix 2: Tone of Voice,
What People are Saying About This
“Who needs a book about affirming others? For starters, I doand I suspect you do too. Too many of us use most of our words each day for criticizing and complaining. My friend Sam Crabtree, on the other hand, is a practitioner of affirmation. To meet him is to be encouraged. His words, both in person and in these pages, are thoughtful, intentional, and full of gratefulness. If you find that your communication lacks encouragement, if you want to grow in affirming others, if you plan to say any words at all todayplease read this book!”
C.J. Mahaney, Senior Pastor, Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville
“Sam lives what he preaches. I’ve never forgotten a short, hand-written note of God-centered affirmation he sent me years ago, having met only once briefly. His words not only encouraged me personally at the time, but have influenced our ministry in a significant way ever since. I am grateful for this bookif no one else needs it, I know I do!”
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author, Lies Women Believe and Adorned; Founder and Teacher, Revive Our Hearts
“When it comes to affirming and encouraging others, some people come by it naturally. For the Christian, we come by it supernaturally. However, even the most mature believer must hone and cultivate the act of affirmationthat’s why this new book by Sam Crabtree is such an invaluable resource to the church. How do we effectively ‘build each other up in the faith?’ You're holding the answer in your hands!”
Joni Eareckson Tada, Founder and CEO, Joni and Friends; author, Joni and A Place of Healing
“We all welcome words of affirmation. Sam tells us how the practice and power of affirmation will make a difference in the life of anyone, young or old. Practicing Affirmation will help you make a positive investment in your relationships with family members, co-workers, friends and neighbors, even the clerk at the storeeven when people are difficult.”
Bruce Johnson, President, SIM, Charlotte, North Carolina
“For over 30 years now I have watched my friend, Sam Crabtree, flesh out the truths he has written about in this book. My wife, children, and I have been blessed to taste firsthand the sweetness of the soul strengthening effects of Sam's God-centered affirmations.”
Ron Wickard, Pastor, Richland Church, Mina, South Dakota
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
For most of us it is probably easier to use our words to criticize rather than praise others. This book points the way to what the Bible has to say about affirmation as a way of being Christ-like and to show grace to others with our words. Affirmation, according to the author, works for everyone in every situation whether it be on the job, at home, or anyone we come into contact with. Some of the benefits of positive words include making others more willing to listen to us, lifting morale for ourselves and others, making us easier to live with, helping us see others in a positive light, making better use of our time than if we spend it complaining, and celebrates Christ-like behavior. I appreciated that this book is not preachy and gives advice on how to become a more affirming person in ways that are practical and make sense to me as they apply to everyday life. Giving more thought to how I approach a person, especially if controversy is involved, makes the difference between that person feeling attacked or affirmed and can be done in a way without backing down from personal convictions. One closes the door to dialog and the other opens it up. The author also addresses the important difference between praising someone in a way that fuels self-pride and using praise to encourage someone and affirm who they are in Christ. As Crabtree writes, "Affirmation should not be a self-esteem free-for-all. Don't affirm any old thing. Don't affirm empty trendiness. Don't stroke the ego. Commend the the commendable! Value the valuable! Supremely value the supremely valuable. Worship only Christ, then commend his image in people." This is a book that I believe addresses an important issue that most of us deal with and would be beneficial for every Christian to read so as to become an encourager to others. I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher but the opinion of it is my own and was not solicited, nor was a positive review required.
Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree is a wonderful and insightful book. In it, the author addresses the importance of affirming others and gives practical advice on how to do so. This is not a book on self esteem. Rather, as the subtitle says, it is about the God-centered praise of those who are not God. Affirmation is about recognizing the attributes and characteristics of God in people and then pointing them out in such a way that centers on and glorifies God.The author's style is awkward at times and some of the sentences are clumsy. If you use the Scriptural index, you will need to be aware that all of the references are off by four pages. It seems that the book could have used some extra time with the editor.