While many of us can be arrogant at times, I think more of us battle insecurity. Often, we need reassurance and encouragement more than we need pushback.
My birthday was this week and it was nice to have so many express their appreciation for me—from students to former students, friends, and a few that I barely know. Like for so many, particularly as I get older, doubt creeps in about my value to other people. It’s so crazy how the mind works. Though the evidence is often there that you are valued, doubts remain. That’s where reassurance and encouragement come in.
The Apostle Paul was so good at this. Even though his letters would address certain points of contention and difficulty, he always was careful to praise, encourage, and reassure his audiences. One of the examples of this is I Corinthians, where the church was divided and tolerating grievous sin. But he opens his letter with these words:
“I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1:4-9)
Another example is his letter to Colossians where the church had been infiltrated by Gnostics, who were proclaiming Christ wasn’t sufficient in knowing God and introducing dangerous teachings about how believers should live. Here is how he first addressed them:
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospelthat has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf,and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.” (1:3-12)
Note the reassurance of their value to Paul and to God that he reiterates in the opening of his letters. He also in each of these letters closes with greetings from others, which add a sense of reassurance that they are truly loved and appreciated.
I really believe this is a desperate need in our culture right now. There is so much anxiousness and insecurity among us. I think this contributes to the rancor in our culture. It is so difficult to even have discussions about things with which we disagree because we are often so protective of our position that we dare not allow anyone to disagree with us. And often we ostracize those folks with labels that are not loving or reassuring that they are still loved.
As the Church, we need to reassure people that they are valued and loved, even if they are doing things we disagree with or that are not pleasing to God. She often finds herself at one end or the other of extremes. Either she seeks to reassure by embracing any act or lifestyle as good and withholding any biblical critique, or she is quick to critique without offering any reassurance. Paul did well at balancing these two and we would do well to emulate him. For in doing so, we reassure people that they are loved. Isn’t that the mission of the Church?
© Jim Musser 2021 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.