I think it’s pretty universal that parents have a place in their imagination for their children in the future, all grown up. We may see our children receiving an athletic scholarship. We hope they’ll have a high-paying or important job some day. We want them happy, and married with a few well-behaved kids. Some Christian parents have a different kind of vision: their children becoming the next John Piper, the next Adoniram Judson, the next Amy Carmichael. Back to the everyday, to how I think, I’m wondering, when I think about my children as adults, what is in my imagination? What people do I want them to emulate? What is most important to me, and ultimately, how do my actions confirm or deny my values?
When Paul talks about Epaphras, he identifies specific commendable actions. I’m noticing that he doesn’t feel the need to point out that Epaphras is motivated and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t remind us that anything good in this man’s life is entirely because of God’s grace, and so on. If Paul were speaking at some churches I’ve been a part of, he might get criticized for exalting men instead of God. It’s interesting that a public shout out is neither unspiritual nor necessarily man-exalting.
Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis. Colossians 4:12-13
I love this description of Paul’s friend Onesiphorus:
The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; 17 but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me. 18 The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day—and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus. 1 Timothy 1:16-17
In his public commendations, Paul sets an example of a pastor who publicly recognizes the diversity and contributions of the body. He identifies important and praiseworthy qualities. If a line can be crossed into inappropriate hero worship, these examples have not crossed it.
Paul demonstrates what he loves by what he praises. I’m especially interested in praise of others as a teaching tool. I remember a college professor who publicly admired a legendary teacher for his habit of picking up trash as he walked around campus. Sure enough, one day I happened to walk behind him, watched him stoop to pick up trash, and never forgot the example of a brilliant man with humility to serve in such a menial task. I’m interested that my professor modeled a world view that admires character more than intelligence, a desire to see beauty and goodness in the world around her. I like it when that daddy is helping his daughter. I like it when people tell the truth even when it is hard. I like it when… My children don’t know it, but these comments are teaching just as much (and perhaps more) as if I gave them commands: pick up trash, help children, tell the truth, even when it is hard, and so on.
It is also true that I show my children what to value by what and how often I criticize. Negative examples are a necessary part of life, but I want to be careful that my running commentary doesn’t emphasize what is bad with the world. When my habit is to find fault, I can hear my children becoming cynical, not discerning. I’d rather my speech reflect that God is in control than communicate that nobody can be trusted, everything is falling apart, and I’m powerless to stop it!
Regardless of whether my comments are positive or negative, I am teaching what to value by what I value. Especially as my children have gotten older, I’ve been less confident in my ability to shape a life that attempts great things for God, and I have realized that I’m far more interested that they grow up to love God with all their hearts. If God wants to lead them into great things, he can do so, but what’s most important to me is that they follow Christ. That’s a big difference.
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
Do I love justice, mercy, and humility? How am I communicating that love to my children?