Be Alert to the Importance of Commendation

HAVE you ever heard anyone complain that his employer gives him too little commendation? Have you possibly even complained about that yourself? Or if you are a young person, have you said the same thing about your parents or your teachers?

Some of these complaints are probably legitimate. But according to one German motivational trainer, when employees make this complaint, what bothers them is not so much the lack of commendation as the lack of personal interest on the part of their boss. At any rate, something is obviously missing. Commendation and a feeling of personal interest are both vital if we are to enjoy satisfying relationships.

In the matter of worship, this is also true. The Christian congregation needs to be marked by a spirit of commendation, warmth, and a feeling of personal interest. Its members achieve and maintain such a fine condition by observing the Bible’s guidelines. Nevertheless, no matter how loving the congregation is, improvement is always possible. With this in mind, let us consider three fine examples of offering commendation: God’s pre-Christian servant Elihu, the apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ himself.

Courteous and Respectful Counsel

Elihu, apparently a distant relative of Abraham, was instrumental in helping Job to get a balanced view of his relationship with God. Elihu was courteous and respectful. He patiently waited for his turn to speak. And whereas Job’s professed friends only found fault, Elihu, besides offering counsel, was quick to commend Job for his upright course. He did so with warmth and with an obvious feeling of personal interest as a friend, using Job’s name, unlike the others. He politely requested: “O Job, please hear my words, and to all my speaking do give ear.” Respectfully putting himself in Job’s place, he acknowledged: “Look! I am to the true God just what you are; from the clay I was shaped, I too.” And then in commendation, he said: “If there are any words to say, make reply to me; speak, for I have taken delight in your righteousness.”​—Job 33:1, 6, 32.

Treating others courteously and respectfully is, in a sense, a way of commending them. In effect, we are telling our listener, ‘I consider you worthy of my attention and worthy of being treated well.’ Thus we convey a feeling of warmth and show our personal interest in him.

Being polite and courteous means more than just following the rules of good  manners in a formal way. To reach the heart of others, our courtesy and politeness must be sincere and from the heart. They must be an expression of genuine interest and love.

Tactfully Giving Commendation

The apostle Paul showed the part tact plays in commending others. For example, while preaching in Athens on his second missionary journey, he defended Christianity before some Greek philosophers. Note how he tactfully handled this difficult assignment. “Certain ones of both the Epicurean and the Stoic philosophers took to conversing with him controversially, and some would say: ‘What is it this chatterer would like to tell?’ Others: ‘He seems to be a publisher of foreign deities.’” (Acts 17:18) Despite such remarks, Paul maintained his composure and responded: “Men of Athens, I behold that in all things you seem to be more given to the fear of the deities than others are.” Rather than condemn their idolatry, Paul commended them for being religiously devout.​—Acts 17:22.

Was Paul being hypocritical? Not at all. He knew better than to judge his listeners; he was well-aware that he himself was once ignorant of the truth. His commission was to present God’s message, not to judge others. He knew from experience what many of Jehovah’s Witnesses today have found: Some sincere defenders of false religion eventually come to be among the strongest defenders of true religion.

Paul’s approach was good, and it brought fine results. “Some men joined themselves to him and became believers, among whom also were Dionysius, a judge of the court of the Areopagus, and a woman named Damaris, and others besides them.” (Acts 17:34) How wise Paul was to commend the Athenians for their sincere beliefs​—even though false—​rather than condemn them for their lack of accurate knowledge! People who are misdirected by faulty information often have good hearts.

When called upon to make a defense before Herod Agrippa II, Paul also used a tactful approach. Herod was known to be carrying on an incestuous relationship with his sister Bernice, something clearly condemned by God’s Word. Nevertheless, Paul spoke no words of condemnation. Rather, he found a legitimate basis for commending Herod. “Concerning all the things of which I am accused by Jews, King Agrippa, I count myself happy that it is before you I am to make my defense this day, especially as you are expert on all the customs as well as the controversies among Jews.”​—Acts 26:1-3.

How wise it would be for us to use a similar tactful approach when we deal with others! Commending a neighbor, a fellow student, or a workmate can promote peaceful relations and encourage good behavior. By reaching the heart through well-deserved commendation, we may at times be able to motivate sincere individuals to replace their false reasonings and actions with those more in line with accurate knowledge.

Jesus’ Perfect Example of Offering Commendation

Jesus offered commendation. For instance, after his resurrection and ascension to heaven, Jesus, at God’s direction, spoke through the apostle John to the seven congregations in Asia Minor. He did not fail to commend those who deserved commendation. To the congregations in Ephesus, Pergamum, and Thyatira, he used such expressions as: “I know your deeds, and your labor and endurance, and that you cannot bear bad men”; “you keep on holding fast my name, and you did not deny your faith in me”; and “I know your deeds, and your love  and faith and ministry and endurance, and that your deeds of late are more than those formerly.” Even in Sardis, where the congregation needed strong counsel, Jesus took note of individuals who were worthy of commendation, saying: “Nevertheless, you do have a few names in Sardis that did not defile their outer garments, and they shall walk with me in white ones, because they are worthy.” (Revelation 2:2, 13, 19; 3:4) What a fine example Jesus set!

In imitation of Jesus, we should never condemn an entire group for the failure of a few or give necessary counsel without also giving appropriate commendation. It is good to have in mind, however, that if we give commendation only when we plan to give counsel, our commendation may sometimes fall on deaf ears. Be generous in giving commendation whenever possible! Then, should counsel be needed on another occasion, it will be more readily accepted.

Elders Who Offer Proper Commendation

Cornelia, a Christian woman now serving in a European branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses, recalls that during the early 1970’s, the visiting traveling overseer asked her how she was doing with her personal study and magazine reading. “I felt a little ashamed of myself,” she says. But she went on to admit that she did not manage to read every magazine article. “Instead of finding fault with me for this,” she remembers, “he commended me for reading as much as I did. I felt so encouraged by his  commendation that since then, I have been determined to read every single article.”

Ray, who serves at a branch office in Europe, remembers his first day of pioneer service. The presiding overseer of the congregation, a man with business and family obligations as well as numerous responsibilities in the congregation, entered the Kingdom Hall that evening and went straight to Ray and asked, “How was your first day of pioneer service?” Now, almost 60 years later, Ray still remembers that elder’s thoughtfulness.

As those two experiences show, a sincere, loving expression of appreciation for what others have done​—not just thoughtless words or pointless flattery—​can work wonders. In the Christian congregation, we have so many reasons to commend our fellow believers. Just think of their desire to serve Jehovah, their well-prepared comments, their progress in overcoming stage fright in order to deliver talks or to participate in meeting parts, their zeal in preaching and teaching, and their attempts to highlight Kingdom interests and spiritual goals. When we give commendation to others, we are richly rewarded. It makes us happy and puts us in a positive frame of mind.​—Acts 20:35.

Congregation elders do well to commend the congregation for its good work. And when counsel is necessary, they give it in a spirit of love. On the other hand, they avoid becoming so concerned with doing everything just right that anything short of perfection is regarded as a serious weakness.

Christian elders who copy the example of respectful and loving courtesy shown by Elihu, the tactful approach used by Paul, and the loving concern shown by Jesus will be a source of genuine encouragement to their brothers. Commendation will bring out the best in others and will make for joyful, harmonious relationships. How Jesus at his baptism must have rejoiced to hear his heavenly Father commend him with the words: “You are my Son, the beloved; I have approved you”! (Mark 1:11) May we cause the hearts of our brothers to rejoice by our sincere, meaningful words of commendation.

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A tactful approach brought fine results for Paul, so it can for us too

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Warm, sincere commendation can work wonders