Edification is used in the Bible as another word for building or building-up. The term quite often has application to spiritual building. In the natural sense, the history of Israel is often focused on the building and rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and especially of the Temple. There was first of all the erection of that portable Temple or tabernacle in the wilderness. Then, centuries later, there was the building of Solomon’s magnificent Temple, known today as the “First Temple.” After the re-gathering from Babylon, in the days of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, there was the building of the “Second Temple.” Finally, the Second Temple was greatly enlarged and embellished by King Herod, just before Jesus’ time. Today there is much excitement among the Jews and among some Christians about the building of what would be the “Third Temple.”
While the Temple is extremely important, the Bible indicates that the spiritual implications of the Temple are far more important. Along with the literal concept of “the house of God” there is the spiritual concept of the house, perhaps better understood as “household of God.” Indeed, the words “house” and “household” are taken from the same Greek root. In the New Testament we realize that Yeshua (Jesus) considered himself to be the fulfillment of the Temple or House of God (Jn. 2:19-22). It is clear that those who believe in him become a part of this spiritual Temple (Eph. 2:19-22). They are not just a spiritual building but a spiritual priesthood. In 1 Peter 2:5 we read, “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Even the Old Testament prophets make plain that there is more to the House of God than just real estate. In Isaiah 66:1-2 the prophet exclaims: “This is what the LORD says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand-made all these things, and so they came into being?’ declares the LORD. ‘This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.’” God is looking for a person in which to dwell. He found that person in Yeshua, and all the members of Christ become a part of that glorious Temple.
TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY TEMPLE BUILDING
If we are indeed collectively the Temple of God as the scripture says, and if the Spirit of God dwells within us, then a very basic work among us must be that of edification, or Temple building. Indeed there is much scripture that bears this out. We might ask ourselves, how do we go about Temple building? Temple building is first and foremost the work Christ Himself. He said to Peter long ago, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt.16:18). The Lord accomplishes that building work today by the agency of his Holy Spirit within us (Acts 9:31).
The Apostle Paul sees the building-up of the Temple of Christ as an intensely spiritual thing. For this reason he exhorts the church to seek spiritual gifts that edify: “So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church” (1 Cor. 14:12). Paul also tells us that true prophecy builds the church: “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church” (1 Cor. 14:4).
There is a false building up of the church and certainly this does not edify in the long run. False prophets abound today and false prophecy does not edify. The Christian book stores are filled with books but not all of these books build up the body of Christ. They may give us an ear-tickling thrill for a moment, but in the end they will not edify the church. There are other means of false construction, such as pride and flattery. Even the false god, knowledge, which is so esteemed by many in this age, cannot edify the church or build the Temple of God. Paul says, “…Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1).
There are many other things that absolutely tear down the church of God. The scripture says in 1 Timothy 1:4, that we should not “… give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith” (NKJV). The opposite of edification is destruction. The Holy Spirit within us tells us when we are edified. He also lets us know when we are being destroyed. Disputes, arguments, bondage, self-seeking, and pride all destroy. In fact, all sin works against edification and destroys God’s building and its blessed fellowship.
Even some of the supposed glorious meetings of the church can fail to result in edification of the Body of Christ. On one occasion, the prophet Elisha instructed his school of prophets to make a pot of stew. Unfortunately, one of these prophets lacked discernment and added a poisonous vegetable to the stew. The cry soon went up that there was “death in the pot” (2 Ki. 4:40). Just because people are shouting “hallelujah” at a church gathering does not mean it is a good stew or a good meeting. Just because it was brewed by certain prophets does not mean that it is wholesome. The Holy Spirit within us will inform us if we have been edified or destroyed by a gathering. We should do our best to insure that all gatherings result in edification.
HOW DO WE FIT?
Now, just how do we fit into this Temple that God is building? First of all, we have a sacred responsibility and direct command from God’s word to build up ourselves. This is a daily responsibility for every believer. In Jude 1:20-21 we read, “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”
Faith, prayer, hope, and love are all important in building up oneself. The intense study of the word of God is certainly important. When we fail in these areas we let others down and become a drain on them. When we fall into sin, or get low and depressed, we invite a spiritual attack and become a threat to the whole body of Christ. It is like a breach in the wall. In Psalm 51, David confesses his sin with Bathsheba, but strangely he ends his confession with the request, “In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem” (Psa. 51:18). Every sin affects the walls of Jerusalem – the wall of defense protecting God’s elect. Every sin affects the glorious Temple of God. Every sin affects everyone else in the whole church.
We need also to find our place in the building. We need to get into that place and quit squirming. Our squirming and instability is a nuisance to other living stones and it delays the building process. When we are not in our place we may become a stone of stumbling. Stumbling blocks are in a real sense just Temple stones that are out of place. God may have to do some serious work on us before we can fit into our niche in his building. He may need to knock off some of our rough edges. For this reason, we must not despair when God sends us abrasive people. It may be for our own good and that of the Kingdom of God. Sometimes also we need to help knock the rough edges off of others. However we must always do this with love. We often need to speak the truth in love, to rebuke in love, and to exhort in love (2 Tim. 4:2).
HOW SHOULD WE PROGRESS?
The Apostle Paul says, “…everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening” (2 Cor. 12:19). We should follow his pattern in dealing with the members of the Lord’s church. In Romans 14:19 we are told, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” In Romans 15:2 we read, “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” We should even be willing to curtail our own liberties in Christ for the sake of a weaker brother or sister (1 Cor. 10:23).
When we come together it should result in edification. Real ministry should always result in edification or building up of the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). It is clear that we all have a part in that work of ministry (Eph. 4:16). One very important thing to remember is that we need always to guard against destructive speech. The Scripture says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29). We must allow ourselves to be knitted together in love (Col. 2:2; 2:19). Also, we must remember that it is impossible to knit and “knit pick” at the same time.
Added to these thoughts we close with the beautiful words of Paul to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:32: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
– Jim Gerrish
This updated article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem. Original publication date, 1997.