I’ve written two posts over the last few days concerning edification (see “Salvation as the motivation for mutual edification” and “Acceptance and edification“). Since I’m writing my PhD dissertation on mutual edification, you could probably guess that I think edification is an important concept.
But, if you noticed, I included the phrase “We should meet to edify one another” in my list of “Almost Meaningless Phrases.” Why? Because even those of us who use edification language don’t always define our terms. What do we mean by edification? How is someone edified? How is a group edified?
I hope to answer some of these questions (and perhaps more) in this post. In a future post, I’m going to ask and answer a different question concerning edification.
To begin with, “edification” (in its figurative sense) is related to the term “encouragement.” They refer to the process of helping a person or a group of people move from a less mature to a more mature state. For this follower of Jesus Christ, edification refers to the process of growing in the likeness of Jesus Christ – that is, becoming more like him in the way we think, speak, and act.
We see this definition played out in several passages. Perhaps Ephesians 4:11-16 best demonstrates edification as a process of growing and maturing in Christ:
And he [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV)
Notice the progression in growth: from being childlike to being mature… from being wishy-washy in our understanding of Christ to measuring ourselves against Christ… from being deceived to working together. Paul also throws terms such as unity and love into this understanding of edification and maturity.
We see a similarly description in Hebrews 10:24-25 where the author exhorts his readers to think about how to help one another grow in love and good deeds. Obviously, the author did not expect the readers to just think about these things, but to act on them in ways that would actually help produce love and good deeds in their lives and in the lives of their brothers and sisters.
However, the command “let us consider one another” points out that people are edified in different ways. People have different needs. People are mature in some areas and immature in other areas. Also, people learn and grow in different ways. Thus, teaching, exhortation, admonishment can all fall in the realm of edification, if the teaching, exhortation, and admonishment are directed at a given need in a person’s life or the life of a group. In the same way, teaching by example is important for helping people grow in maturity. Our words and deeds should work together.
Since our edification must be focused, we cannot separate edification from the importance of living our lives together as brothers and sisters – as family – in Jesus Christ. Because we share life with one another (i.e. fellowship) we get to know one another better. When we know one another better, we know how to edify one another. Shallow relationships will lead to a lack of edification.
So, edification is not only tied to our love for one another and a desire to see one another grow in maturity as a follower of Jesus Christ, it is also tied to our mutual relationship and intimacy.
What is edification? Edification is using words and deeds in the context of familial relationships and fellowship to help one or more followers of Jesus Christ grow in their understanding of Christ, their love for and unity with their brothers and sisters in Christ, and their faithfulness in living like Christ.
Some Thoughts on Mutual Edification:
- Salvation as the motivation for mutual edification
- Acceptance and edification
- What is edification?
- Who edifies whom?
- How do we edify others?