The Nature of Biblical Edification
First Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 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.
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 prophesiethspeaketh 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 states, “For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.” For something to edify, it must have meaning. Not in the sense of emotion or feeling, but in the sense of the understanding. 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 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.