“Edification” (or “building up”) is an English gloss of the Greek term οἰκοδομή (oikodome). This term can refer literally to the act of building or construction, but it can also be used in a figurative sense. Figuratively, “edification” refers to a process of growth from a less mature state to a more mature state. For the person who is “in Christ,” this figurative edification refers to spiritual growth, with the ultimate goal being a likeness to Jesus Christ. Other terms such as the παρακαλέω (parakaleo – “encourage”) word group can also be used to indicate this same type of growth toward maturity.
“Mutual edification” indicates that the work of building up is a mutual or corporate responsibility. This is the type of upbuilding that Paul refers to when he says (concerning gathering with other believers), “Let all things be done for edification.” (1 Corinthians 14:26 ESV) Solo edification (that is, edifying oneself or one person edifying others) is not the purpose of the church assembling. Instead, the purpose of the assembled church is that the entire congregation (or at least multiple people within the congregation) be involved in helping one another mature. The mutuality of this kind of edification is as important in the New Testament texts as the process of edification itself.
This conclusion does not negate the fact that self-edification or solo-edification is possible and even beneficial to the individual. Self-edification refers to the person building up him/herself. There are many activities that God uses to build up an individual, sometimes even working through the actions of that individual. For example, Paul says that speaking in tongues can be edifying to the one speaking in tongues, even if that person does not understand what she/he is saying. (1 Corinthians 14:4; 1 Corinthians 14:28)
Solo-edification refers to one person building up many others. This unidirectional type of service may seem like a form of mutual edification, but it is not. Mutual edification is multidirectional, recognizing that God communicates through all of his children, not just one or a few.
The authors of Scripture conclude that neither self-edification nor solo-edification is the purpose of the church gathering together. Thus, a distinction should be made between some act performed by one person that edifies himself or herself or others, and acts performed by many people that edify many people. Only acts performed by many people that edify many people are considered mutually edifying. And, these are the only acts that should be performed when gathered with other believers.
Thus, the “one another” aspect of edification should be considered carefully when the church gathers together. While we often consider the truthfulness of what is said, or the love with which something is done, we often do not consider the mutuality aspect of our gathering together. But, for the church – and especially for our growth and maturity – mutuality is an extremely important part of edification.