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“, “Edification 2 – Definition“, and “Edification 3 – Scope“) is to examine the term “edification” in order to better understand Paul’s simple statement.
The purpose of the church coming together is edification, that is, to bring the entire church into unity, to strengthen their relationships with Jesus Christ (to know him), and to mature the church toward being more like Christ. Now, who is responsible for edification? Is this the responsibility of leaders only, or all the gathered believers?
If we are to assign responsibility for edification to leaders only, then we are required to step outside the pages of Scripture for justification. In fact, leaders are not mentioned at all in 1 Corinthians or in many other books of the New Testament. When Paul commands that everything done when the church is assembled is to be for edification, he addresses this command to “you” (plural). This is the same “you” (plural) to whom the entire letter has been addressed, that is, “to the church of God which is at Corinth”. (1 Cor 1:2) There is no indication in the letter’s address or in the body of the letter that some of these commands are addressed specifically to leaders within the community of believers at Corinth.
Similarly, we should recognize that Paul has specifically spelled out that each believer within the church is gifted, important, and necessary for the proper functioning of the body. (1 Cor. 12:20-27; cf. Eph 4:16) Therefore, members of the body of Christ are not simply responsible for attending a meeting of the church. Instead, and much more, they are each responsible for edifying other believers when they assemble with them. (Heb 10:24-25) Just as with other responsibilities that God has given to believers (prayer, Scripture reading, abiding in Christ, walking in the Spirit, providing for needs, etc.), this responsibility cannot be delegated to others. If only one or a few accept their responsibility to edify the church, then the others are disobeying God in their meeting, regardless of the activities that take place.
However, in reality, it is incorrect to say that believers are responsible for edifying one another. In fact, if 1 Corinthians 12-14 are taken together, then it becomes clear that it is actually the presence and work of the Holy Spirit (through all believers) that actually transforms lives and edifies believers. The Spirit provides the gifts according to his will, by his empowerment, and for his direction. (1 Cor 12:4-11) But, as Paul reminded the Corinthians at the beginning of his letter (1 Cor 1:7), they were not lacking in specific spiritual gifts. Similarly, Paul tells them later that God chooses exactly who he wants (which includes their gifts) in the church. (1 Cor 12:18) So, if the Spirit is present and able to work among believers to edify them, why was it necessary for Paul to instruct them in this?
First, the Spirit does not force himself on any person, nor does the Spirit force anyone to exercise the gifts as they should be exercised. For example, it is possible for someone to speak even when the Spirit is not directing them to speak, or even when it is not the right time/context for them to speak. (1 Cor 14:27-30) Both the one speaking in tongues and the one prophesying (as well as other gifts) can control whether or not he or she utilizes that gift during the course of the church’s meeting. Thus, even though the Spirit is doing the work of edification through the believers, the believers are still responsible for exercising those gifts in obedience to the Spirit’s direction. As Paul tells the church in Ephesus, believers are still able to hinder the work of the Spirit through their own disobedience.
Also, just as some believers may speak or act even when the Spirit is not directing them to do so, other believers may remain silent even though the Spirit is directing them to exercise their gifts. This kind of silence is just as much an act of disobedience as speaking outside the direction of the Spirit. Thus, if the Spirit desires to use someone to edify the body, but that person refuses to obey, then the church will not be edified, even though everyone necessary is present, the gifts are available, and the Spirit is ready and willing to work through them.
So, the Holy Spirit is responsible for edifying the church when it comes together, and every believers is responsible for obeying the work of the Spirit in their own lives in order to realize the edification of the church. This cannot be controlled by leaders, but should remain under the sovereign control of God through His Spirit as he enables and guides each believer.