In this series of articles we are looking at what God’s Word says about community within the church. To facilitate this we have drawn out all of the verses in the New Testament that contain the words “one another” or “each other” and found that they point to four themes: unity, hospitality, devotion and edification. In our last article we spoke about the theme of unity and in this one we will examine edification.
There are several terms the Bible uses that we will include in the category of edification. Among them are admonish, teach, instruct, encourage, exhort and spur on. The word “edify” means, literally, to build up, and that is what these terms speak of. They all point to believers helping others grow closer to God. This may take the shape of encouragement for things done right or admonishment for things done wrong.
It is God’s will that believers edify each other. We all believe this to be the job of the pastor and perhaps elders, but often lose sight of the fact that we are all told to participate in this activity. While there is little doubt that office bearers are to take the lead in this and even have a special God-given calling in this area that does not preclude lay people from doing likewise. In the third chapter of Colossians Paul addresses all believers, calling them “the elect of God.” He says to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Paul tells the church that they are to let the word of Christ to penetrate their hearts and dwell within them. This spiritual presence will be as effective to them as if Paul himself was standing in their midst. As Christ dwells in them, He will empower them to teach and admonish one another in wisdom.
I believe we often fail in this area because we do not trust our own abilities. We often feel that others are wiser, more gifted, more in tune with God and more able to build others up. In his letter to the Romans, Paul spends chapter after chapter instructing them in the basics of the faith. He even moves well beyond the basics, speaking of things that are difficult to understand for a long-time Christian, not to mention a novice. He tells believers to be devoted to one another, to honor one another, to live in harmony with one another and to stop passing judgment on each other. Yet right near the end (Romans 15:14) we find these words, “Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.” Paul is warning the church at Rome against being discouraged by all that they did not know. While their faith may be young, Paul still has confidence that they will be to apply their faith in a practical way by admonishing each other. If young believers are told that they are not exempt in this instruction, how much more are mature believers to take this command seriously?
While we are to admonish each other, it is important that we also ensure that we encourage one another. While as humans the ability to point out all that is wrong is easy (and even fun) encouragement is much more difficult. We love to put down, but are much less likely to lift up. In Hebrews we are told to “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” God tells us that we are all responsible for encouraging each other, lest we become discouraged and are hardened by the illusion that sin is more secure and pleasurable than a life of faith and service.
I became convicted in this area several months ago. I realized that I derived far more enjoyment from admonishing people than from encouraging them. While it seemed very fake at the time, I put the word “Encourage” in the calendar in my computer so that every third day at 10 in the morning the word would pop up on the screen before me. I did not want to allow it to become legalistic, so decided I would leave it there for only a short while. It provided an immediate reminder of the importance of encouragement. Often I would use that reminder to send someone an encouraging email or to give them a quick call to tell them how much I appreciated them. While at the beginning it felt forced, after a few weeks it became very natural and I was able to remove the reminder. I guess it is true what they say that a task becomes a habit after only three or four weeks. While I still naturally tend towards admonishment (a friend labels this his “spiritual gift of discouragement”), encouragement has become a greater part of my life. I am thankful for the God-given opportunities I have had to be an encouragement to others. I am equally thankful for the many times believers (many of which read this site) have taken the opportunity to encourage me.
In a similar vein, Hebrews 10:24 tells us to “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works…” If we follow to the next verse we see that this is to be done within the context of church meetings. “…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the Day approaching.” Our weekly church gatherings provide a God-given opportunity to edify each other. By considering others instead of ourselves we can stir up love and good works in the church community. We also see that in this same church context we can exhort one another.
Truly the church plays a crucial role in God’s plan for relationships between His people. Being a member of God’s community is both an immense responsibility and a great privilege. When we have God’s perspective on these matters I believe it becomes a joyful, not a burdensome, responsibility.