We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. (Romans 15:1–2—NKJV)

I recall my early Bible college days when many of us had achieved the “sophistication” of sophomoric wisdom and had learned just enough to be dangerous to ourselves. We had learned that Christians were to edify. Being true to the exuberant nature of untested adulthood, we learned to artfully criticize each other’s regular failures to verbally encourage each other. After an offending word of belittling would slip out of the mouth of one of our peers, a well timed, tongue-in-cheek challenge from another quarter called out, “Edify, you jerk!”—all in the name of good-natured fun. While the admonition to edify was appropriate, certainly the method defeated the purpose and lacked a certain finesse.

To edify is to build up. The word sounds ponderous in that it is related to the word edifice—an imposing structure built to impress and to last. The Greek word is oikodome. It is a compound word of “home” and “to build.” It is found when our Lord speaks of “the builders” in the Gospels (Matthew 21:42, Luke 20:17). Anyone who has built a house knows what planning goes into building a “home.” From reviewing blueprints to picking outlet locations, the home takes shape according to the wish of the owner. The builder puts forth his best effort until the homeowner is satisfied.

It is a very short mental leap from building a building to building a life. Biblically, to edify means to provide the things of building up, that which promotes spiritual growth and development of the character of believers by teaching and by example, discipleship. Just as a builder accomplishes his task of building a home for someone else as a result of expert workmanship, and by supremely patient labor, so a believer pours his godly character into other believers in order to equip their “home.”

This is the role of a church body. Ephesians 4:11–13 states that God gave offices to the local church “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to 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” (explaining the meaning of 2:21 along with 2 Corinthians 10:8 & 13:10).

As any homebuilder knows, there will be changes made along the way before the project is finished. In order for the work to be completed according to the wishes of the owner, some work must be corrected or rearranged. Building up may require a little bit of tearing down and correction. My great grandfather pastored a church going through a building program. An account has been passed down that if a stonemason did work of which he did not approve, he would take the trowel himself and “correct” the stonework later that evening. 1 Corinthians 10:23–24 states, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well being.”

The call to edify is a high calling with a holy privilege. As Paul addressed the error of the Corinthian church regarding spiritual “gifts,” one of the guiding principles of the exercise of any gift was the test of practical edification of other believers. This litmus test is positively seen in 1 Corinthians 14:3 concerning the forth-telling gift of prophecy, exercised so that it “speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” The test is also negatively seen in 1 Corinthians 14:5, 12, 17, and 26 where the exercise of the “gifts” is resisted if brotherly edification does not occur. 1 Timothy 1:4 reads, “nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith.”

It is the role of godly believers in every walk of life (whether disciplemakers, parents, shepherds, faithful servants, or good brothers) to be in the business of patiently and expertly building into the lives of believers around them for the pleasure of their Owner, the Lord Jesus Christ. Are you diligently working alongside the Master-builder building lives for eternity? Trust and obey.