By Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.
“Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (Acts 9:31).
“Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another” (Rom. 14:19).
God, in his infinite wisdom, arranged Christians into autonomous local churches for edification and cooperation. A major advantage of this group arrangement is that it allows Christians to mutually edify (teach, support, encourage, comfort, correct and discipline) one another.
Each congregation’s effectiveness in the Lord’s work greatly depends on a combination of peace and edification. A church may enjoy peace without scriptural edification, but it can have very little effective edification without peace. This is why congregations must diligently eliminate disruptive influences from among them.
A divisive person must be dealt with firmly and swiftly. After the first and second admonition such a one is to be rejected (Tit. 3:10). It only takes one divisive, pre-eminence seeking, self-willed character like Diotrephes (cf. 3 Jn. 9) to completely destroy the peace of a good church.
False teachers bring in destructive heresies (factions or parties) by causing some to rally around their false doctrine to the detriment of both the purity and peace of churches (2 Pet. 2:1ff). Such teachers bear the responsibility for much of the strife among churches today.
However, not all strife is caused by those who teach “various and strange doctrines” (Heb. 13:9). Paul spoke of those who “indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife” (Phil. 1:15). While endorsing what they preached, even rejoicing in it (Phil. 1:18), he criticized their ulterior designs. Such often use their positions as teachers/preachers of the gospel (sound doctrine) as a means of gaining personal power among their brethren. One cannot fault what they teach. They may be paragons of doctrinal soundness, yet use the respect gained by their strong stand for the truth to rally naive brethren around them personally. They often find ways to discredit any whom they consider to be a threat to their pre-eminence among brethren. Some use the respect that they have gained for their doctrinal soundness as a power base to force the church to bow to their self-willed edicts in all matters of judgment – or face scorn from them and their party of loyal followers. These self-willed tyrants are as surely “heretic,” “factious” or “divisive,” needing to be rejected by the congregation, as the false teacher who brings in destructive heresies. ‘They needlessly disturb the peace of the church and create a climate “hat makes much needed edification extremely difficult – if not impossible.
If a congregation is to grow and function as it should, it needs to maintain a peaceful environment. Jesus Christ is our peace (Eph. 2:1-14). All men, Jew and Gentile alike, can be reconciled unto God and each other through him so making peace (Eph. 2:18). Without a peaceful relationship with God, congregational peace is meaningless. That peaceful relationship (“unity of the Spirit”) that was established by the Spirit (Eph. 2:18) must be guarded (or kept) by us (Eph. 4:3). In order to do this we must “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering” (vv. 1,2). This includes “bearing with one another in love” (v. 2). The strong have to bear with the weak (Rom. 15:1-3). Without gentleness, longsuffering, and bearing with one another, it would be impossible for a group of Christians, all of whom make mistakes, to work together with any degree of peace. One who is doctrinally sound needs to be sure that his humility, gentleness, longsuffering and forbearance are also in order. Otherwise, he may make havoc of the church and destroy opportunities to save them that hear him.
If a church is to be effective, its meetings need to be conducted in peace rather than confusion (cf. 1 Cor. 14:33,34). This goes for worship assemblies, Bible classes and business meetings. Too often, these meetings are turned into a forum for every radical to sound off – to the tearing down rather than building up of the church. Such continual wrangling will kill the morale of a church and drive good brethren away from the congregation. Sometimes serious differences may need to be aired in such meetings, but they should be done in a calm and brotherly fashion rather than the contentious spirit that is so often the case.
As suggested earlier, peace alone will not make a congregation truly effective in the Lord’s work. A church must receive good edification. A lack of peace is an immeasurable hindrance to edification, but a church may be at perfect peace with itself and be in shambles spiritually.
There are certain things that the Bible says edifies brethren, individually and collectively. Members of any congregation would do well to pursue these things.
Sound doctrine edifies (Eph. 4:11-16). Sound teaching such as was done by apostles and prophets and continues to be done by faithful evangelists, pastors, and teachers keep brethren from being tossed about by every wind of doctrine and results in the edification of the body (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-4:5; Tit. 1:9-13). All of us have our ability, to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (Tit. 2:1-8). Such will edify the church.
Pure speech edifies (Eph. 4:29). Wholesome words that reflect and promote a high standard of morality, ethics, courtesy, and spirituality serve to edify one another. Our speech should always be the truth, whether it is the truth of the gospel or the truth about every day events in our lives. Error and lying tear down rather than edify.
Love edifies (1 Cor. 1:8). When Paul says that knowledge puffs up, he is not discouraging or degrading knowledge. However, knowledge alone, untempered by love, tends to puff one up. Without love, one knowledgeable of his lawful rights in Christ may run rough shod over his good, but weaker, brethren who have not yet reached his level of knowledge.
Some things that are lawful do not edify under some circumstances (1 Cor. 10:23). There are two kinds of lawful things – things required and things permitted by law. Those things required by law always edify. They must always be done. Things permitted by law may not always edify. Paul is discussing things permitted by law – specifically, eating meats offered to idols. Under some circumstances they could be eaten without harm but under other circumstances they would not edify but tear down. Love would cause the brother, knowing his right under the law of Christ to eat such meats, but not being required by law to eat them, not to eat them under circumstances that would hinder the edification of his brethren.
Love of brethren takes precedence over mere rights (not obligations) under the gospel. We may need to yield certain rights for the sake of peace and edification (1 Cor. 9). To promote peace and edification, we may need to yield personal judgment calls to the judgment of others. To preserve peace and advance edification we may need to be extra patient with certain scruples of others, especially if the thing in question is a matter of indifference to us (cf. Rom. 15:1,2).
It takes effort to build one another up in the faith. To do so each needs to follow things that make for peace and that edify each others.
It takes all the help, teaching, and encouragement we can get to make it. We need to work to keep the congregation, of which we are members, in a position to give such help by promoting edification and preserving peace. We all need to take advantage of what the congregational arrangement, as God ordained, has to offer.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 18, pp. 547-548
September 20, 1990