The Nature of Biblical Edification

What does it mean to be edified? Without doing a scientific survey, my guess is that most people would say that being edified means to be encouraged, to make to feel better, or to have a more positive attitude. So, I did some searching on the Internet to see if my guess was accurate or not. I found that the majority of the time, the word is used in the sense of encourage or be made to feel better. However, when I looked into an English dictionary, I found the following definition. “Edify: enlighten, to improve the morals or knowledge of somebody.” Another dictionary said this. “Edify: to instruct or improve spiritually.” Does this surprise you? Do you think of being instructed as edification? Do you think of gaining new knowledge when you are edified?

In going back to the Greek language and looking at the word, we find that it comes from a word that means to build, erect, or set up one thing or another. The word was originally used to describe the founding and construction of a house. So it literally meant to build a place of dwelling out of construction materials. The original sense of the word can still be found in our language today in the word edifice, a building. However, in the New Testament, the word is often used metaphorically of imparting wisdom to another person. That is, instructing another person with words that can be understood and applied to life. While today the word may be used in the sense of encourage or make someone to feel good (that is, from a purely emotional point of view), that is generally not the way that it was used within the New Testament.

One of the reasons I wanted to think about the proper way this word was employed in the New Testament, is that there are some today who claim to do things in worship to God on the grounds that those things are edifying. That is, I have heard people say that the use of instrumental music within the worship is edifying, and so it must be a good thing. Could we justify instrumental music (or anything else, for that matter) based upon the idea that we are emotionally moved or stirred? Could we justify adding an additional element to God’s worship under the banner of “edification?” Is this biblical edification?

There is no doubt that the Bible clearly teaches us to follow after things that edify. Romans 14:19 states, “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 states, “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” And in 2 Corinthians 12:19, Paul says “…we do all things for your edifying.” However, we also read that not everything that is lawful is something that edifies. Paul writes in 1 Cor.10:23, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” This leads us to ask the question: what are the kinds of things that truly do edify?

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul deals with the problem of the Christians at Corinth speaking in unknown tongues without the presence of an interpreter. In contrast to the one who speaks in an unknown tongue, Paul states in verse 3, “But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” In essence Paul is saying that the unknown tongue does not edify, but prophesy does edify. He reiterates these thoughts in verses 5 and 12, and then in verse 17 he states, “For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.” The point that I am bringing out here is that in order for something to edify, it must have meaning. Not in the sense of emotion or feeling, but in the sense of the understanding of the intellect. That is, if something is not intelligible or comprehendible by the intellect, then it cannot edify. True edification can only come through a situation where knowledge and instruction is imparted with the attitude of love.

Let us note Ephesians 4:11-16. These verses speak concerning the subject of edification of the body of Christ. Verse 12 tells us that one reason God gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers was for the edifying of the body of Christ. Each of these offices are special in that God uses them to instruct and teach. Verse 13 tells us that this instruction and teaching has as its object, imparting the knowledge of Christ. Verse 15 says it is about speaking the truth in love. One cannot be edified without love (1 Corinthians 8:1). Verse 16 reiterates that instruction and teaching are for the purpose of edifying. Truth, knowledge, instruction, and love are all things that are associated with edifying. We learn then, that edification comes through the avenue of words when conjoined with the motivation of love on the part of the one edifying. Biblical edification inherently involves communication. Wordless expressions of emotion, feeling, or any other element which produces an incomprehensible sound cannot edify. Speaking the truth in love, however results in godly edifying (1 Timothy 1:4).

Playing an instrument of music is something that is aesthetically beautiful, stirring, and uplifting, but it cannot edify; it cannot impart knowledge; it cannot instruct. Only the use of verbal communication when combined with spiritual words and an attitude of love can accomplish this task. Knowledge alone does not accomplish this task. Knowledge separated from love does not edify, it merely puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1). However, biblical edification is the loving impartation of spiritual instruction designed to build up the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding of the student to the motivation of accomplishing the work of the kingdom.

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Pattern Theology

The plea of churches of Christ today is to restore New Testament Christianity into the lives of as many as will receive the gospel message. It is not sufficient to merely preach the gospel, without expecting those who claim to believe it to restore to their lives the truth that is contained within that gospel. To this end, the churches of Christ preach and teach that the gospel contains all of the information that we need to do this (2 Peter 1:3; 2 Timothy 3:17). This revealed information constitutes a pattern whereby those that conform to it and abide by it restore New Testament Christianity into their life. It is with this pattern that we are concerned in this particular study.

There are those today who say that the New Testament contains no such pattern and in so affirming, also must affirm the impossibility of restoration. If there is no pattern, then certainly one cannot restore New Testament Christianity. However, if the New Testament does contain such a pattern, then not only is restoration of New Testament Christianity possible, we must restore it to be pleasing to God. Hence, the plea of the churches of Christ today rests upon this one pivotal question; namely, does the New Testament contain a pattern of information, whereby when we conform to that pattern we have restored New Testament Christianity?

Jesus tells us that there is a pattern. In explaining the Parable Of The Sower, Jesus says, “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). From examining this parable we take Jesus to mean that the proverbial seed refers to God’s word, and that the word of God, as illustrated within the parable, has the properties of a seed. Just what are the properties of a seed? We recognize that a seed contains everything within it to restore the plant from which it came. There is a pattern within a seed which nature follows to restore from that seed a living and breathing organism. We don’t expect that a seed with the pattern of an apple tree would restore an orange tree, and vice versa. We expect a seed that contains the pattern of an apple tree, when that pattern is followed by nature, to restore an apple tree. So is the word of God. When individuals follow God’s word, restoring to life out of that word what God put into it, they will find themselves conforming to a pattern that will create what God desires it to create, namely, a Christian. In so doing, they will find that they have restored what God placed into His word. With such, God will be pleased.

The opposite of this is that when we neglect the word of God in such a way so as to remove part of God’s pattern or even to add other things to God’s pattern, we will not get what God desires and God will not be pleased. One of the lessons that we learn in this regard comes from Cain and Abel. We remember the story. Cain was a tiller of the ground and Abel was a shepherd. Cain offered in worship to God from the fruit of the ground, but Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock. God had respect toward Abel’s worship, but God was not pleased with the worship of Cain (Genesis 4:1-5). Why was it that God was pleased with Abel’s worship, but not with Cain’s? The book of Hebrews helps us to understand the answer. Hebrews 11:4 states, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.” 1 John 3:12 also helps us to understand; this passage says that Cain’s works were evil, but Abel’s were righteous. How could Abel’s works be righteous? Had not Abel sinned and fallen from God? How could Abel present a work of righteousness before God? We must conclude that God instructed Abel in how to please Him. Abel heard God’s word and presented that offering by faith, for faith comes by hearing God’s word (Romans 10:17). It was thus that Abel had a pattern from God. No doubt, Cain had been told of this same pattern; Cain simply did not follow it. By not following it, Cain offered worship that was according to his own righteousness and not pleasing to God. We learn from this not only that Abel followed a pattern, but also that fallen man needs a pattern so as not to present to God a righteousness of his own.

To illustrate this further, we turn to Adam and Eve. Prior to Adam and Eve’s fall, man was in about as patternless a state as man could ever be. There was but one law by which to abide, and as long as man abode by that law, he could do any other thing he wanted to do and live forever and never be displeasing to God. Once, however, man fell, man no longer could please God with just any behavior. It became necessary for God to tell man what to do in order for man to please God. This necessitated God’s creation and delivery of a pattern to man. This is illustrated for us in Adam’s attempt to clothe himself after the fall. Standing naked before God he attempted to cover himself and woefully failed. God, however, made coats out of animal skins and thus covered man’s nakedness and established the divine pattern for so doing. In this pattern we see man’s dependence upon God for righteousness. When we follow God’s pattern for that righteousness, man is covered. Without it, man stand’s naked.

Man’s failures at his own coverings transfer to his attempts at worship as well. We have already illustrated this in the story of Cain and Abel. Because man could not approach God with a righteousness of his own, this necessitated God delivering a pattern for worship. Fallen man cannot present worship to God without some kind of God given pattern of worship. Since that time it has been universally true that when man by faith presents the pattern of worship that God has given, man lives within God’s righteousness. However, should man step outside of that pattern and act on his own in worship to God, man creates a righteousness after his own pattern and not after God’s pattern. In so creating his own pattern, man can never truly restore God’s order of things. However, if man humbles himself, goes back to the pattern of God, and follows that pattern, beautiful restoration occurs. This is true in matters concerning worship, salvation, the organization of the church, the behavior of Christians, and many other things whereby we, as man, must approach God.

Today, the blood of Christ has dedicated the pattern of things which God has given us to approach Him (Hebrews 9:23, 24). This means that the pattern is pure and holy and that when one follows it in faith, one can approach God in purity and holiness with boldness (Hebrews 10:19-22). When we so follow the pattern we will restore the things God wishes for us to restore in our lives. When we fail to follow that pattern, we do err and like Cain, do that which is evil. Let us not be about the business of approaching God based upon a righteousness of our own, but let us hold the pattern of sound words (2 Timothy 1:13) and thereby approach God in His righteousness.

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The Significance of the Sufferings of Christ

By now, no doubt, you have heard of the movie, “The Passion of the Christ” directed by Mel Gibson. The subject of the movie is, more or less, the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus. I saw the movie this past week and it accurately, vividly, and gruesomely portrays what the physical experiences of Christ were like when He was delivered up by the Jews to the Romans for crucifixion. I have heard in the media, and even from some professing Christians, some negative reactions to the consideration of the sufferings of Jesus. In this regard, one is prompted to ask the question, why should we, as Christians, consider the sufferings of the Christ?

First, we should consider the sufferings of the Christ because Jesus was God in the flesh. Without the doctrine of the deity of Christ, the sufferings of Christ would be loveless. When we consider that Jesus was God Himself and took on the form of man to redeem sinful man from the clutches of Satan, we recognize the true love of God. Through sin, man became God’s enemy, but through Christ, man can be God’s friend once again. Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:14-16). Paul wrote, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It was on account of God’s love for His creation that Jesus died on the cross. The sufferings of the Christ cause us to consider God’s love for us.

Second, we should consider the sufferings of the Christ because Jesus was the Son of God. Without the doctrine of the sonship of Jesus, the sufferings of the Christ would be unnecessary. When we consider that Jesus was the Son of God, we think that He came from the Father Himself. And when we think that the Father sent Jesus into this world, we must understand that the sufferings of Christ were necessary to accomplish what God, the Father, wanted to accomplish for the salvation of man. We read in John 8:28, 29, “Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.” Jesus loved His Father and so He obeyed and suffered. The sufferings cause us to consider Jesus, the obedient Son of God.

Third, we should consider the sufferings of the Christ because Jesus lived a sinless life and did not deserve what He went through. Without the doctrine of the purity of Christ, the sufferings of Christ would be worthless. When we consider the sinlessness of Christ, we recognize that the sufferings of Christ had true value. Counterfactually, if Jesus had sinned, then He may have merited what He received. However, since He was indeed sinless, we know that those sufferings are worth far more than the most precious of substances on this earth. They were made valuable by His sinless life. Peter writes, “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18, 19). The sinless life of Jesus makes His blood precious. The sufferings of the Christ cause us to consider His innocence and worth.

Fourth, we should consider the sufferings of the Christ because it was our sins for which Jesus suffered. Without the doctrine of the atonement of Christ, the sufferings of Christ would be purposeless. When we consider that Jesus died for our sins, we recognize that His death was on our behalf. We are the ones who merited, on account of our sins, that suffering and death. But Jesus took our place and atoned for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 we read, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” We read further in Romans 5:10, 11 “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” The sufferings of the Christ cause us to consider our worthlessness, guilt, and need for redemption.

Fifth, we should consider the sufferings of the Christ because that will lead us to His resurrection. Without the resurrection of the Christ, the sufferings of the Christ would be powerless. When we consider that Jesus, after having suffered and died, was resurrected from the tomb, we recognize that this is where God’s power truly lies. This is God’s power of salvation for man today, the message of the cross, the gospel (Romans 1:16). Paul writes in Philippians 3:10, 11 “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” We also read in 1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” The sufferings of the Christ cause us to consider the power of His gospel.

Finally, we should consider the sufferings of the Christ because that will motivate us to live more faithfully to God and Christ. Without the doctrine of the perseverance of the Christ through His sufferings, then we would have no foothold upon which to place our faith. When we consider the fact that Jesus endured the cross, it motivates us to endure the pressures under which we come in this life as well. It motivates us to live a better life. It motivates us to study God’s word more. It motivates us to worship God, as God wants us to worship Him. It motivates us to help the poor. Jesus endured this life and the death that is associated with this life. Through Him, we can endure too! The writer of the book of Hebrews exhorts us to look “�unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” The sufferings of Christ cause us to consider our own faithfulness to Him.

As Christians, we don’t consider the sufferings of Christ merely to gape at a tragic and gruesome spectacle. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:16, “Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.” For the Christian, the sufferings of Christ mean so much more than merely the physical travesties that He endured. We consider the sufferings of Christ today in light of the doctrines that were taught by the Christ. Jesus himself said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6:53). His flesh is the bread of life. That bread is His teaching. “It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me” (John 6:45). Ultimately, it is the belief of Christ’s doctrine in association with His sufferings that will bring one to salvation and move those who are saved toward greater service in the kingdom of Christ today.

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