Paul makes a simple statement concerning the gathering of believers, “Let all things be done for edification (building up)”. (1 Corinthians 14:26) The purpose of this series of posts (See “Edification 1 – Introduction” and “Edification 2 – Definition“) is to examine the term “edification” in order to better understand Paul’s simple statement.
Once we begin to understand what edification is, we need to examine the scope of edification. When the church gathers, is the purpose of the gathering to edify the individual or to edify the group?
Paul recognizes that it is possible for believers to utilize the gifts of the Spirit to edify themselves. (i.e. 1 Corinthians 14:4, 28) While some suggest that Paul is being sarcastic with these statements, the text does not warrant this. In fact, 1 Corinthians 14:4 is a parallel statement: “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.” The same form is used to describe the actions and the results of “the one who speaks in a tongue” as the form that is used to describe the actions and the results of “the one who prophesies”. Textually, if one part of the verse is sarcastic, then the other should be taken as sarcastic as well. If one part of the verse is understood as serious, then the other should be seen as serious as well. Thus, Paul says that some spiritual gifts (such as speaking in a tongue without interpretation) can edify the individual. (Similarly, we know from experience that both prayer and Scripture reading can edify an individual as well.) This is not wrong in the correct context.
When we look at the context of 1 Corinthians 14:26, we see that Paul is specifically addressing the gathering of believers: “people” (1 Cor 14:3), “church” (1 Cor 14:4, 12, 19, 23), “other person” (1 Cor 14:17). Similarly, at the beginning of 1 Cor 14:26, Paul says, “When you (plural) come together…” Thus, when the church gathers together, the purpose shifts from the edification of the individual to the edification of the group. While individual and self-edification is not bad, it is not the focus when believers gather. In fact, Paul teaches that gifts which only edify the one exercising the gift should not be exercised when the church gathers together.
Therefore, in the context of this series – edification during the gathering of the church – the scope of edification is the gathered believers, that is, mutual edification. Paul’s instructions that everything is to be done for edification is only realized when each activity that is carried out during the meeting is carried out for the purpose of uniting the church, helping the church know Christ, and maturing the church toward being more like Christ.
It is in recognizing that the edification of the whole church is the purpose of the meeting that we also recognize that “edification” means much more than patting someone on the back, gazing inwardly to better know yourself, agreeing with the doctrines of the teaching, or even singing songs that express our praise to God. While each of these may be beneficial in certain contexts, if they do not lead toward unity, intimate knowledge of Christ, or maturity, then the purpose of the church coming together has not been reached.
It is also in recognizing mutual edification as the purpose of the gathering of the church that we also recognize that specific activities or functions are not the purpose of the church. Thus, great teaching, praying, singing, giving, etc. may be greatly beneficial to individuals, but if the church is not edified, then the scriptural purpose for the church to gather has not been achieved.
It is further in recognizing edification of the group as the purpose of the church’s assembling that we also recognize our complete dependence upon the direction, working, and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. It is only the person of the Holy Spirit – divinely present in the lives of believers – that can move them in such a way that all are united, brought into closer relationship with Jesus Christ, and matured toward being more like him.
Individualism, human control, apathy, ritual, performance, traditionalism, etc. can hinder the work of the Spirit through the gathered believers in bringing about the mutual edification of the entire group.
When the church comes together, the purpose of everything that they do and say should be toward the edification of the entire group. This is the scope of edification during the meeting of the church.