It's been said: "What you see is what you get." There is truth in that statement, although regarding people, it is more accurate to say: "What you're looking for is what you'll find." Jesus' life demonstrates this principle. He saw the best in people. He saw what they were capable of, and not just what they were at the moment. His interaction with Simon Peter is a powerful illustration of this.
Aubrey Johnson communicates the point masterfully on p. 135 in The Barnabas Factor:
"Cephas, Jesus' nickname for Simon, was an Aramaic term meaning 'rock'. Those who overheard the Lord must have questioned His assessment. How could He see rocklike qualities in someone like Simon? It was like calling a bald man "Curly" or a stout man "Slim." Others must have laughed to themselves, 'He's hardheaded all right.' But Jesus was talking about nothing less than Simon's character. He saw a man who would be steady in the face of duty and trial. Was Jesus a quack? Was He deceived? Could He not see the faltering faith and broken promises of Simon? Did He not foresee that Simon would sink into the Sea of Galilee when his faith melted before the waves of a ferocious storm? Did He not know that Simon would deny and forsake Him in His most desperate hour? Certainly Jesus knew all this, but He also saw something else. He saw the day when He would gather His disciples at Caesarea Phillipi and ask the question, 'Who do you say that I am?' and that it would be Peter who made the grand confession, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.' He saw the time when His popularity would fade and multitudes of followers would leave Him, yet when asking His disciples if they too would depart, it was Peter who would reply, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of life.' When making His examination, Jesus did not confine His thoughts to what Simon was at that moment. He saw what he could be. He focused on Peter's spiritual potential and challenged him to live up to it. Encouraging words are not idle chatter. They are inspiring, transforming words! Thanks to Jesus, Peter captured a new self-image and grew into its likeness" [emphasis added].
This reminds me of the Pygmalion effect, which we have studied in the past (note the archived lesson from 10/28/2005).
Jesus also did a wonderful job encouraging Matthew. As a tax collector, Matthew would have been despised by most Jews as a social outcast. But, Jesus saw something redeeming in Him and encouraged him. Matthew overcame any materialism he may have been afflicted with as a tax collector and devoted his life to sharing his newfound riches with others.
Additionally, in John 8, we see Jesus providing encouragement to a woman caught in the terrible sin of adultery - "When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, 'Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?' She said, 'No one, Lord.' And Jesus said to her, 'Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more" (8:10,11). Did Jesus declare her to be innocent of the charges against her? Absolutely not. His words implied she was guilty, and she did not attempt to deny it. Was He saying that adultery was a small sin and of little importance to God? No, because adultery was punishable by death under the Old Law--when there were at least two witnesses. It's as if Jesus was saying, "Things are not as hopeless as they seem. I know your past, but what matters is your future. I have looked into your heart and see a bright new tomorrow ahead of you. Follow Me and start building a better life. You can do it. I believe in you!" (cf. 8:12).
No one wants to be put under a microscope. No one wants to be known and forever limited by his weakest moment. We all long for encouragers who see the best in us and will try to help us cultivate it. We long for sincere, encouraging words, and so do those we encounter daily. Don't tear others down; be a builder! You will never be more like Jesus than when you see the good in other people and help them believe in themselves.