By Barney Keith
The edification of the saints is one of the objectives of our assemblies. We are made to wonder at times just how much of this is accomplished. The church at Corinth was instructed to conduct assemblies in such a manner “that the church may receive edifying” (1 Cor.14:5). Paul admonished, “Let all things be done unto edifying” (v. 26). His concern was that certain disorder in their meetings would prevent edification.
While Paul was dealing in 1 Corinthians 14 with a kind of assembly that cannot be duplicated today (one where spiritual gifts were being exercised), this chap-ter does set forth some lessons that clearly are applicable today in making our own assemblies more profitable. True edification can occur only when conditions are conducive to such. We shall consider some of them briefly.
Without teaching or instruction there will be no edification. Paul declared that the brother who prophesies “edifieth the church” (v. 4). God’s will was being revealed and it was necessary that it be taught. It is no less necessary that it be taught today. Initial faith comes from this (Rom.10:17). Maturity of growth comes from increased acquaintance with the word of God (Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Pet. 2:2). A congregation that receives very little teaching that calls attention to Scripture will not be edified, but will become vulnerable to the ravages of false doctrine and apostasy. Interesting, but pointless, tales about one’s personal life, big doses of psychology, heavy expo-sure to popular denominational authors, and even enthusiastic “feel-goodism” will never edify Christians in the right way. Elders in every congregation should insist upon good solid Bible teaching from the pulpit and in the classrooms. There will never be a substitute for this.
As a corollary to the above, edification can occur only when peopleunderstand what is said. How can one be built up if he does not comprehend the message of the speaker or teacher? A problem at Corinth was created when some used languages (“tongues”) that were unintelligible to the audience. Paul likened it to “speaking into the air” (v. 9) when there was no understanding. Evidently prophesying was in the vernacular and would require no translator. The brethren would be edified by this, for they could understand. Their praying also needed to be in an understandable language. Otherwise people could not say, “Amen” when the prayer was finished (v. 16). No person is edified by what he does not comprehend.
It is just as necessary in our day for preaching to be intelligible. Special effort should be made toward clarity of speech, God’s message of truth should not be obscured by befuddling, confusing verbiage. Flights of oratory with vocabulary unfamiliar to the average person may greatly amaze, but will hardly instruct the common man. The best teaching is done by simplicity of speech. Our Lord expressed the grandest of truths in the simplest of ways. The great apostle Paul took care that his preaching be done “not with excellency of speech” (1 Cor.2:1) and not “in persuasive words of wisdom” (2:4).
Despite the best efforts one may make, on occasions someone may leave an assembly saying, “I don’t agree with what he said.” One should not, however, have to say upon leaving, “I couldn’t understand what he was talking about.” Let us make the teaching plain. If the hearer claims not to understand, let us strive to be sure that his failure is due to his own attitude of heart and not to our failure to speak plainly.
Edification Requires Decent, Orderly Procedure
Edification is expedited by orderly procedure in the services. This is easily seen in verses 26-40. Whatever causes confusion or distraction unnecessarily militates against the profit that should be received from teaching. Paul shows in verses 29-30 that the commotion created by several prophets trying to speak at one time was destructive of edification. Mentioned also in this context is the disruptive speaking out by certain women, a clear violation of the divine order (35, 36). “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace,” Paul declares in verse 33. His instruction is, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (14:40).
One cannot help wondering just how much edification occurs in an assembly where attention is distracted by things which generally ought not to go on during worship. What justification can be found for a steady stream of children to the restrooms something that could be avoided by parents seeing to that at a more appropriate time. (A few people have certain physical problems over which they have no control. These comments intend no criticism of such cases.) Distraction sometimes may be due to boisterous, unruly children who are allowed to continue without proper correction.
And what about the noisy rattling of paper bags to get snacks out for the kids? Or even the unpleasant sounds across the way from clipping nails? Or perhaps the constant whispering (?) to those nearby? Problems of this sort may vary from place to place. Let us never forget that hearts are to be focused upon worshiping God “in spirit and in truth.” Effort should be made, as much as is possible, to create and maintain an atmosphere that makes that kind of worship possible (John 4:24).
And Another Thing
While not under consideration in the Corinthian text, it surely is in order to say something else that is obvious to all. True edification cannot occur when a schismatic, belligerent atmosphere pervades a congregation. An assembly for worship should never be in shambles from a shouting match or shameful outburst of anger. “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.” Shame on those who allow passion and pride to prevent worshipful devotion to him in whose august and holy presence they have met.
True edification arises from “the wisdom that is from above,” which, according to James 3:17, is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits …” The opposite behavior, he says, is “earthly, sensual, devilish” (v. 16). Edification cannot flourish in such soil.
Edification Is Possible
Edification of the church is possible! God does not re-quire that which we cannot do. True edification will take place (1) with the teaching of God’s word, (2) understand-ably presented, and (3) in an assembly conducted decently and in order with the proper spirit of brotherly love. Let us be concerned always with “things wherewith one may edify another” (Rom.14:19). We need all the edification we can get to help us make it to heaven!
Guardian of Truth XL: No. 17, p. 1
September 5, 1996