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“, “Edification 3 – Scope“, and “Edification 4 – Responsibility“) is to examine the term “edification” in order to better understand Paul’s simple statement.
The purpose of the church coming together 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. The Holy Spirit is responsible for edifying the church – and, in fact, only He is capable of affecting the transformation necessary for the lives of believers. However, each believers is also responsible for obediently responding to the work of the Holy Spirit in their own lives and exercising spiritual gifts as He directs. But, what types of activities does the Holy Spirit use to edify the church?
In the same sentence where Paul commands the Corinthians that everything they do should be for the purpose of edification (1 Cor 14:26), he also lists several example activities: hymns, instructions (teachings), revelations (prophecies), speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues. We cannot assume, however, that Paul intends to give an exhaustive list. Previously in the same passage, Paul mentioned praying and how praying can edify either an individual or the church, depending on the nature of the prayer. While this could be an instance of tongues (i.e. praying in tongues with or without interpretation), it could also be a separate activity.
This brings up an issue that deserves consideration. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul lists many different gifts of the Spirit. Later, when he is writing the section of the letter that we call Chapter 14, he primarily focuses on the gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy. Many have suggested that the reason for Paul’s focus on these gifts is that the Corinthians were not exercising one or both of these gifts correctly. This is a possible interpretation. But, we should recognize that Paul does not state this in the text; instead, it is inferred from his focus on these two activities.
There is another explanation. Paul could be focusing on gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy as example gifts of those which normal do or do not edify the church. The gift of speaking in tongues represents all gifts and activities that, on their own (i.e. without interpretation), does not edify the church but only edifies the individual. On the other hand, the gift of prophecy represents all gifts and activities that edify the church. In this case, then the guidelines listed for speaking in tongues (one at a time, with interpretation, etc.) would also be guidelines for other gifts and activities that normally would not edify the church. The guidelines that Paul gives for prophecy (one at a time, the first person stops if another starts, testing by the group, etc) would also be guidelines for other gifts and activities that normally would edify the church.
Also, there is no reason to suspect that Paul did not expect the Spirit to work through other gifts during the meeting of the church. For example, in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul also lists the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, discernment, helping, and administration. Thus, the Spirit could also use these gifts in various activities in order to edify the church. However, it would seem that the guidelines offered for speaking in tongues and prophecy would apply to these activities as well, as mentioned above.
Similarly, there may be other activities and gifts that the Spirit could use to edify the church that are not necessarily listed in 1 Corinthians 12. For example, Paul does not mention the reading of Scripture, but the Spirit does use Scripture to edify the church. Similarly, Paul does not mention singing, but singing can also be used to edify the church. (Yes, I know that Paul mentions “hymns”, but in two other passages, “hymns” are said to be spoken, not sung: Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16.) Thus, the activities are not limited to those mentioned. However, the guidelines should be followed regardless.
For me, that brings up the question of the number of people exercising their gifts or performing certain activities when the church comes together. For both prophecy and speaking in tongues, Paul says “two or three”. Does this carry over to other activities, such that two or three people may be allowed to teach, bring a hymn, help others, read Scripture, pray, or sing? This is not clear, though it would be beneficial to allow several believers to participate in that manner. What is clear is that Paul did not intend for one or two people to dominate the meeting.
So, in concluding a brief look at the various activities, the Spirit uses many different people who carry out many different activities to bring the church to unity, to help them to know Christ more, and to mature them toward Christ-likeness, that is, to edify the church.