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Tear Down or Build?

The phrase, edify or edification, is used exclusively by the Apostle Paul in Scripture. It carries the concept of building, either physically (like a house) or as a metaphor for promoting spiritual growth. In all cases, it is a positive term.
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Paul was extraordinarily focused on building faith in individuals and ecclesias. He had no interest in activities that weren’t positive or directed at helping new and existing believers to become stronger in their faith. Even his own authority as an apostle was given strictly for building, never for tearing down. 

This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. (2 Cor 13:10 NIV).

Paul’s authority as an apostle was given strictly for building

Paul would literally do anything for the benefit of others. This included an incredible flexibility that he demonstrated by adapting his style and words to the appropriate audience. 

For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ), that I might gain them that are without law. (1 Cor 9:19-21).

While Paul was fully committed to building and encouraging, he must have found it deeply discouraging to see behaviors that undermined faith. The same brothers and sisters Paul had labored over and rejoiced with when they accepted the true gospel had their faith shipwrecked when others forced their view of life in the truth on them. This is the antithesis of edification. It is similar to Job’s complaint about his three companions when he said, 

People who are at ease mock those in trouble. They give a push to people who are stumbling. (Job 12:5 NLT).

Examples in the Book of Job

Job is a dramatic case study of what happens when those in one’s community of faith become the greatest source of upset. Not one of his companions offered a single word of comfort or edification. Rather, their words were like the gnashing of sharp teeth. They refused to hear him. They were intent on forcing their erroneous view of God on this suffering man. They asserted essentially:

“This happened to you (Job) because you have sinned, and you are now receiving the just reward of your wickedness. You didn’t aid the fatherless and widows; you didn’t clothe the naked or feed the hungry (all untruths). God is exacting on you much less than your iniquity deserves (Job 11:6).”

They escalated their criticism of this suffering man, even as they saw him in tears. But perhaps the deepest hurt to Job was knowing that no matter how genuine his heart was, their thoughts and devices would “wrongfully imagine against me.” (Job 21:27). Beyond the actual words spoken, Job knew these companions saw no good in him. They were his persecutors, though they thought of themselves as his friends. (Job 19:22).

building up collapses when criticism, harshness, and condemnation occur

The standard for all ecclesial life is edification—building up. This may be accomplished in many ways, but it collapses when criticism, harshness, and condemnation occur. 

We are progressively seeing the opposite of edification being modeled in our society. Many people demonize different points of view and sort individuals into separate camps. Soon there is nothing positive to be said about the neighbor living next door because he supports a different cause or policy. Name-calling and defamatory statements about another person’s actions or motives are frequently made, generally without any recourse. Some are more interested in tearing down and diminishing their opponent than looking for common ground. 

This must never be a description of our lives in ecclesias. I see no permission in Scripture for any of us to negatively label one another or ascribe malicious intent to another’s motives. This is not only useless behavior but also destructive.

Sadly, I do hear labels being applied to brothers and sisters. Maybe they are too conservative or too liberal. Their practices are labeled as being akin to Humanism. They are callous and unforgiving. They are loveless. They throw away God’s commands to accept any convenient behavior. They are called worldly.

None of these labels are edifying. They all miss the fundamental point of edification—to build up. Encouragement was never intended to be exclusively for our dearest friends in the truth, or even those who are closely aligned with our point of view. It is intended for all, even those who see issues quite differently from us.

Paul Provided the Standard for our Lips. 

Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but if there is any good word for edification according to the need of the moment, say that, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Eph 4:29 NASB).

Maybe you have considered the above passage to be addressing the use of foul language, which certainly has no place in our lives either. But the context of this passage is about how we are to be “angry, and sin not.” (v. 26). “To neither give place to the devil.” (v. 27). The context of the entire chapter is about putting away “all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking.” (v. 31).

For believers, there is not to be malice. Still, rather we are to be “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (vv. 32). The “unwholesome words” being spoken of here represent the opposite of edification.

Whenever we negatively describe a fellow believer, we invite unhealthy and destructive words to issue from our mouths. Instead, Paul’s instruction is to choose “any good word for edification according to the need of the moment.” Certainly, we wouldn’t use expletives or foul language to describe one another. We need to have the same level of circumspection about bitterness, envy, wrath, and anger, all of which are unwholesome and evil.

Job’s companions would have been better served by embracing God’s divine perception of him. God chose to see the good in Job as “blameless and upright.” (Job 1:1 ESV). In fact, Job’s companions would have been better served by continuing to sit quietly with Job in the dust and keeping their mouths shut. This is a good directive when our thoughts are not edifying to others. 

Offering Correction is Edification

One might wrongly conclude that edification prohibits judgment and correction but that is a false notion of how correction is described in Scripture. We are to judge observable behaviors, not motives or intents of the heart.

godly rebuke is edification

God will hold us accountable if we turn our heads away from a brother or sister who is swallowed up in a sin. Correction and godly rebuke express our love and care for one another. The fact is that godly rebuke is edification.

This is a principle stated clearly in the Law.

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD. Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. (Lev 19:15-17 NIV). 

The idea here is to offer correction, building up and encouraging your brother or sister to repent and return to righteous living. This is not judicial judgment but the pastoral care we have for each other in a loving community. Jude further describes this:

But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.  And of some have compassion, making a difference [ESV “and have mercy on those who doubt”]:  And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.  (Jude 20-23).

The standard for proper rebuke and correction is a form of very personal edification. At times, it involves bearing with and having compassion (Job’s companions would have done well with this strategy). This is similar to the compassion to be shown by the high priest, “He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.” (Heb 5:2 ESV).

When the adulterous woman was brought for judgment before the Lord, his assurance and correction was, “Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more.” (John 8:11). When we see our role clearly about edification, our compliments, as well as our rebuke, are firmly rooted in building up and encouraging.

Be a Better Builder

When God, in His infinite wisdom, designed ecclesias for worship, it was with a full acknowledgment that diversity of thought and backgrounds would bring about conflict. In our ecclesial life, there is no centralized authority or human mandate to decide right or wrong. Each of us is expected to contribute to the ecclesial organism. We are all to be builders.

Because the ecclesia is made up of fragile men and women struggling with their faith lives, there is a great opportunity to help one another. You can be a better builder when you, too, realize your need for help. When I see a brother struggling, I accept that I have my own struggles and am no better.  

Paul spoke about the comfort we receive from our God and how we can be comforters to one another.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.  For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.
Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. (2 Cor 1:3-7 NLT).

So, the next time you are exasperated with a brother or sister, the next time you clash on what you think is an important issue, remember this counsel. It is an opportunity to feed our flesh for self-justification or to demonstrate the same kind of comfort we regularly receive from our God. The choice is as simple as that: Tear down or build?

 Dave Jennings

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