Let All Things Be Done Unto Edifying
Our challenge is to adhere to the principles of the Truth, yet have mercy in how we apply those principles.
WHEN you renovate a home, you must make a choice. “Will I choose to build up, or tear down?” Sometimes it seems easier to remove the old and just start over, accounting that the structure is not sufficient for restoration. That’s our personal decision because it is our own house. However, in the ecclesial house, this is never our decision. We are primarily called on to build up, to restore, to strengthen. Tearing down is rarely an option.
Bro. Dennis Gillet wrote in The Genius of Discipleship:
“It is one thing to believe in the principle of love, but to be real it needs a loving relationship with others. That is why the ecclesia is called a family and a commonwealth. The Apostle Paul teaches us that if one member suffers, the tremor is felt through all the members; if one member rejoices, the ripple spreads to every heart. (1 Cor 12:26). So, it is evident that the individual relationship which a disciple has with God is not just for himself, alone. It has also to do with that individual disciple fitting into the corporate body of believers.”¹
We are primarily called on to build up, to restore, to strengthen. Tearing down is rarely an option.
Reading through Paul’s letters to the Corinthian Ecclesia, it is evident how great a struggle he had with that body of believers. They had obvious challenges from leaving a pagan culture to embrace the wholesome principles of the Truth in their thinking and actions. But beyond that, they engaged in constant undermining of Paul’s work. There’s good reason to believe the “thorn in the flesh” Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 12:7 was not about a physical malady, but rather the buffeting he constantly received from such brethren. Paul prayed for relief from their grip three times but was told that the grace of God was sufficient for him to overcome.
Paul was most concerned that while he was away, the negative influences at hand would result in the ecclesia in Corinth becoming a battleground rather than a sanctuary of peace and harmony. He catalogs the behaviors he most feared as “quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.” (2 Cor 12:20 ESV).
This, along with unrepented sins of uncleanness, fornication and lasciviousness, could put spiritual lives at risk. While they were debating and fighting, the Corinthians winked at the very moral standards of the Truth which were being neglected.
James speaks of the deadly poison that proceeds out of the unruly tongue. Some men would bless God, yet curse men (3:8-9). How can one bless the Father and then curse men who are made in His similitude? James targets the real issue when he says that when we have envy and strife in our hearts,
While Paul was away from Corinth, he earnestly prayed for their restoration. He desired not to use “sharpness” (KJV) or “severity” (ESV), which he had authority to dispense, but rather that they would repent, so he could build up instead of tearing down.
In ecclesial life, there certainly are occasions when behavior must be addressed. In Corinth, their unwillingness to face up to pressing moral issues became a significant issue the Apostle had to address. Even the gifts of the Spirit became a source of envy and disruption! Rather than thinking of how to best serve others in the ecclesia, behaviors were disruptive as the focus was more on the individual’s desire to demonstrate their own gift than to build up others.
Instead, brethren were using the gifts for their own purposes, and it was distracting. It is interesting that in the two chapters that specifically deal with the issue of the body and the use of Spirit gifts, there is what appears to be an “out of place” insertion of 1 Corinthians 13.
What does love have to do with the disharmony associated with the misuse of Spirit gifts in the ecclesia? Everything! If members had love for one another, it would govern their use of gifts. The focus would move from the right to assert myself to the appropriate thinking of how can I best build up my brethren.
What does love have to do with the disharmony associated with the misuse of Spirit gifts in the ecclesia?
This is the example of our Lord in his final hours before the crucifixion. Despite false witnesses, an illegal trial and terrible physical abuse, he concentrated on saving and helping others. When he himself was deserving of comfort, his focus was on the needs of his disciples and even the criminal on the cross beside him. If we are to learn the lesson of edification, it must start with the mind of our Lord, who in humility counted the needs of others more significant than his own (Phil 2:3-4). A mind of edification does not have one’s interests as the focus.
In our quest to be the people of God, we are regularly faced with the limitations of our flesh. We can possess a burning inward desire to have our own way or to ensure everyone knows just how “right” we are. It can feel like a biological response. When we are challenged, we can have an innate desire to strike back or justify ourselves. This comes from deep within our soul. It is quite the opposite of edification. Left unchecked, when not governed by love and building up, we will find great unhappiness in ecclesial life
The body of Christ offers a significant contrast to envy, strife, and disquietness.
However, our Lord offers us a far better way to live together. It is a life of edification. The late Bro. Colin Badger once told me 1 Corinthians 12 is about the “doctrine of the body of Christ.” It represents a fundamental teaching we would do well to embrace as a primary doctrine. The body of Christ offers a significant contrast to envy, strife, and disquietness.
In 1 Corinthians 12:25- 26, Paul writes that the body should have no schism, but mutual care for one another. Further, we should share in the pains of those who suffer and rejoice when a member is honored. In Romans 12, also dealing with Spirit gifts, we are told to “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” (v. 15).
When one was blessed in Corinth with the gift of prophecy, a believer had two choices. He could envy that brother for having a greater gift, which almost certainly would lead to strife, or he could celebrate with his brother and rejoice, edifying his brother and strengthening the bonds of peace.
We must do what is right, but we must always perform it in love.
Imagine how elated Paul would have been if he had learned that the Corinthians had elected to live in such harmony!—brothers and sisters demonstrating the love of Christ, the ecclesia a place where believers could shelter from a tumultuous and hateful world in an environment where love and care prevailed
Today, we have the same choice. We must do what is right, but we must always perform it in love. Even the restoration of one overtaken in a fault is to be done in the “spirit of meekness.” (Gal 6:1).
We do not solely represent doctrinal positions; we are manifestations of the character of our Lord.
When we correct others, let’s do it with the full understanding of “considering thyself ” and recognizing this could just as easily have been us. The Ephesian Ecclesia was described as having fought against false apostles and evil, but in doing so they had left their first love (Rev 2:2-4). Believers have never been defined solely by their doctrinal purity. While principle is essential, it must be matched with love. We do not solely represent doctrinal positions; we are manifestations of the character of our Lord.
A faithful brother recently exhorted in my ecclesia about the balance of rules and the needs of people. It was a fascinating discussion. Clearly, righteous requirements must be adhered to. When God tells us He considers something a sin, it is a sin. When our Lord gives us a process to follow to restore those who are overcome by a sin, it is expected that we will use it. But, the needs of the individual must always be in mind.
Our challenge is to adhere to the principles of the Truth, yet have mercy in how we apply those principles. How can I build up my brothers and sisters to overcome? No greater example of this principle can be found than the truth and mercy our God demonstrated in the Garden of Eden. There was a rule, a consequence for sin. Adam would return to the dust of the ground. But, without compromising this truth, God provided mercy, enabled by the victory of the Seed of the Woman (Gen 3:15). We must seek this principle in our ecclesial lives. How can we ensure God’s truth is being observed, but also have mercy on one who is struggling to repent? This is the choice of edification—to choose to advocate obedience to God’s commands while displaying gentleness and longsuffering.
Bro. Len Richardson had some insightful comments on this topic:
“We acknowledge it was the Lord himself who fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy: ‘A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax he shall not quench.’ (Isa 42:3; Matt 12:20). Jesus reserved the stern treatment for those who thought they were completely right and whose attitude to others was haughty and contemptuous. Toward the fallen, the weak (tax collectors or prostitutes), he was always encouraging and gentle. He preferred to pour in the oil of tenderness to give revival and make the flame burn brighter.”²
The appeal to our community is that when we see quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder, it is time to come to a full stop and reassess. It is a signal to us that something is fundamentally wrong. The body is not operating as our Lord intended, and we are pursuing our own agenda, not the good of others. None of us wants a community that is a battlefield. Rather we desire a place where we can know our brothers and sisters will care for us just as they would their own body. Let’s reaffirm our commitment to edification.
1 “The Genius of Discipleship,” Dennis Gillet, The Christadelphian, 404 Shaftmoor Lane, Birmingham, UK B28 8SZ, 1984
2 “Sixty Years a Christadelphian: A Worm’s Eye View,” Len Richardson, Detroit Christadelphian Book Supply, Livonia, MI 48154