One theme that runs throughout Paul's letters is the theme of edification. In one sense, he seems to think of both his ministry as an apostle and the local church in terms of this one goal.
For instance, he writes in 2 Cor. 12:19--"we do all things, beloved, for your edification." He understands that whatever authority he has in the church it is for the edification of the saints. So he writes, "I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not destruction" (2 Cor. 13:10).
Chapters 12-14 of 1 Cor. make it clear that spiritual gifts (whether you think they continue or cease) are for the edification of the church (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:5, 12, 17). In Eph. 4:11-12, apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers are given to the church "the edifying of the body of Christ."
And the purpose of the public gathering of the church is edification. "Whenever you come together... let all things be done for edification" (1 Cor. 14:26).
Edification, of course, simply means to build up. It's to erect an edifice, a structure or building. The pastor's heart is to be dedicated to building up others in the church.
Paul seems to think of this "building up" largely in terms of learning, encouragement, mature understanding and love (1 Cor. 14:19, 20, 31). So he speaks of the whole body of Christ growing in "the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ... every part does its share, caus[ing] growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Eph. 4:13-16).
This provokes me because so many things can be done in a church that do not have edification in view. When my sinful tendency toward convenience, solitude, impatience, or fear of man enters in, then edification can and does take a back seat. But the apostle says he does "all things... for your edification " (2 Cor. 12:19). He interjects a tender word ("beloved") in the midst of that claim. And that's a clue as to why the apostle felt this way. Those we dearly love we desire to build up. And that's the pastor's heart at its best, isn't it.
Well, how do we keep a focus on edifying the body and doing all things for their edification? I'm only sketching this out and trying to further my thinking, so any comments and suggestions would be helpful. But here are a few thoughts.
1. I suppose we should make the question of edification explicit. Paul says he does everything for the church's edification. So, in everything from sermon applications, decisions in leadership meetings, counseling, music/song choices, and reading recommendations, we should ask "Will this edify the body of Christ?" And perhaps be more specific: "In what way will this be edifying to the saints?"
2. A second thing I suppose we should do is work out from situation to situation, decision to decision, what exactly edification looks like. The danger here, particularly where fear of man enters in, is to confuse edification with "pleasing" others. So, we may fall into the trap of thinking that the only thing that edifies is the thing that makes someone happy or comfortable. Well, that certainly wasn't Paul's outlook. Most of the references to edification above occur in the context of his correcting or rebuking the church. And we know Paul exhorts the church to some difficult decisions, like removing from membership the man taken in sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5) or those who are divisive (Titus 3:10-11). Both of those things contribute to the edification of the body, though they certainly weren't on the face of things recommended to make certain people happy or pleased. Edification is not always (rarely?) synonymous with the easy, coddling thing.
3. We should recognize that prophesying is the primary scriptural method for edifying the body (1 Cor. 14:1-5). As pastors and teachers, then, we're not to neglect the ministry of the Word as the primary method for building up the church. It's the proclamation of the Word that edifies, comforts, and exhorts (v. 3). And we need to remain committed to this ministry even when we don't see the immediate fruit of it. Building high and building steady requires building deep. Our preaching and teaching ministries, if owned by the Holy Spirit, may for a time be excavating, foundation and plumbing laying ministries with little visible architecture. But if we keep building deep, the Lord will build sturdy and high His church.
4. We should develop a tendency toward positive encouragement. That may sound like the opposite of what I said in 2 above. In #2 I'm concerned about a false view of edification that may tend toward flattery, cheap grace, or neglect really. Here, I'm not talking about flattery or empty commendations. I mean to say that most people are encouraged, built up, with a sincere and thoughtful "well done." Faithfulness should be rewarded and noticed and held up as a positive model for others. Paul could commend the Macedonians for their generous giving, Titus for his care for the Corinthians (2 Cor. 8:16-17), Epaphras for his fervent prayer for the Thessalonians and Laodiceans (1 Thes. 4:12-13), and Phoebe for her labors (Rom. 16:1-2). My tendency is to notice weaknesses and to address weaknesses fairly quickly. But that's tiresome and discouraging even for me! Two things I've learned from my time in the DC area. From C.J.--look for evidences of grace. From Mark--young preachers have a tendency to use negative examples in their sermons. So, I'm trying to learn from those men by looking for evidence of God's grace in the life of the body and then using that where appropriate in conversations, sermons, etc.
5. We should teach others to edify others. Eph. 4 makes it clear that each joint supplies to the other parts of the body. The project of edifying the body of Christ is a corporate project. It doesn't rest solely on the pastor's shoulders. So, we should model and teach such edification. We should encourage the body to consider itself the front line for mutual care and encouragement. We have to model hospitality, giving and receiving constructive feedback, gently but clear correction, exhortation and rebuke, and teaching with a view toward the well-being of the body. We must pray and labor for an entire body of people who are given to strengthening their brothers and sisters in Christ. And we have to help our people see that a ministry of edification is not only the design of God for the church but it is also the most efficient way of having their own needs for edification met (Eph. 4:16). As they serve others, others will be serving them, and together we'll all grow into the likeness of Christ.
6. Place emphasis on the whole over the parts. Here's where things get a bit tricky. Some of us will have hearts that are naturally drawn to the broken and bruised individuals in the body. Others will be particularly concerned with particular concerns or issues held by a small group or a minority. Still others will participate in certain ministries that enrich them personally or a small group of like-minded members. But I think Paul places emphasis on those gifts and activities that elevate the whole over the parts. In several places in his letters, he lays down his rights and calls others to do the same for the sake of the entire body. It's possible for us to "give thanks well, but the other is not edified" (1 Cor. 14:19). The priority is to be placed on the whole and not on individual edification.
I'm only beginning to think more carefully and explicitly about the goal of edification and how it should inform my pastoral ministry. Honestly, I find it slippery at points because the wisdom required to do it well is well beyond any wisdom I have. I trust the Lord's grace and cling to the fact that it's God the Holy Spirit who is performing this work and constructing His church. Yet, I want Him to do that with me rather than despite me. May our churches be built up in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ!
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