Continuing my discussion of edification this week (see “Salvation as the motivation for mutual edification,” “Acceptance and edification,” and “What is Edification?“), I thought I would tackle a different question: Who is responsible for edifying whom?
Let’s begin with the definition from my previous post: 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.
In reality, many words can be used synonymously with edification, such as encouragement, discipleship, shepherding, etc. Any concept that carries the idea of helping others grow in maturity in their beliefs, their relationships, and their way of living relates to edification.
So, who is responsible for these things? To me, the answer is quite simple: If someone is a child of God, saved through the blood of Jesus Christ, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, then that person is responsible for edifying others. There are several passages to help us understand this, both passages that include edification terminology (Romans 14:19, Romans 15:2, 1 Corinthians 14:26, Ephesians 4:16, Ephesians 4:29, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, and Jude 1:20-21) as well as passages that carry the same concept without specifically using “edification” language (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Colossians 1:28, Colossians 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 10:24-25).
Besides these direct instructions for all believers to work toward edifying one another, there are other types of exhortations as well. For example, the authors of the NT often present themselves and their work in edifying others as an example to follow. Leaders among the church are instructed to edify others both as their own responsibility toward the Lord and as examples to others. Finally, Scripture often speaks of the work of God himself in edifying his children with the intention that we would follow his work.
Thus, Scripture is clear in many different ways that the work of edification is the responsibility of all of God’s children, all the saints.
However, we must be very careful. The work of edification is not something that is to be added to the life of a believer, like a suitcase that can be picked up, carried around, or dropped whenever the person pleases. No… instead, the work of edification is the natural outgrowth of the supernatural work of the Spirit in a person’s life.
Edification begins with love and concern for others. But, just as God’s love for us did not end with good thought, but continued in his expression of that love in Jesus Christ, our love for one another cannot stop with good thoughts toward one another. True love as developed and expressed by God’s Spirits leads one to give of oneself in order to help others. We learn by the work of the Spirit to be more concerned with others than with ourselves (Philippians 2:1-4). This is all part of the process of edification.
To whom, then, do we direct this work of edification? To our brothers, our sisters, and our neighbors. In fact, the Spirit drives us toward a desire to see anyone we meet grow in Christlikeness, both believers and unbelievers. The Spirit drives us to love and care for and serve those who are hurting, hungry, thirsty, etc. This is all included in the work of edification.
But, once again, we cannot see edification as another task to be added to our to-do list and checked off when appropriate. Instead, as we read earlier in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11, our life of edification and exhortation toward others flows from our salvation and new life in Jesus Christ. We are to live for the benefit of others, the growth of others, the discipleship of others, the edification of others.
I can look back on my life and see many, many instances where I was not concerned with the spiritual growth of the people around me. Today, there are times when I do not care whether or not I am edifying others. Often, if I see others making disciples, then I coast about my day, happy that someone else is taking care of it.
There are many excuses that I could give for living like this. In reality, the problem is that during those times I am not allowing the Spirit to supernaturally work through me to impact the lives of the people around me. I could blame church structures, or leaders, or education, or ability, or gifts, or time, or money, or any number of things. But, the reality is that in this case, as with many other problems, I am my own worst enemy.
I must continually die to myself and allow the Spirit of Jesus Christ to live and work in and through me in order to edify others.
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?