According to the dictionary, to edify means “to instruct and improve, to uplift.” Most theological contexts pull from its old Greek and Latin roots, to build up. You may have heard preachers or others talk about the “upbuilding of the kingdom.” This is where it comes from.
It connects to a metaphor, a word picture that runs through the New Testament especially, that compares the body of Christ to a building. Peter writes about it in his first letter.
Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture,
“Behold, I lay in Zion
A chief cornerstone, elect, precious,
And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”
Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient,
“The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling
And a rock of offense.” 1 Peter 2:4-8
Christ is the cornerstone, and we make up the other stones. It would make sense, then, that we shouldn’t undo all the hard work Christ did to build up His house. Instead, we should be imitating His work and building each other up, that is, edifying each other.
How do we edify each other? Let’s look at some New Testament references to learn more.
Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Romans 14:19
Pursue the things which will edify somebody else. Pursue them. That requires focus, tenacity and expending a lot of energy.
Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. 1 Corinthians 8:1
It makes sense that love would build up. I like the contrast between the temporary, fragile “puff” and the solid brick of “edifies”.
Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. Ephesians 4:29
Our speech is one of the primary ways we edify others. And did you catch the word “necessary”?
Nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. 1 Timothy 1:4
The ultimate goal of edification is building our faith. Arguing about nit-picking details won’t do that.
1 Corinthians 14 mentions edification more than any other place in the New Testament. It emphasizes two major ideas. First, your gifts were given to you to edify the body of Christ. Second, corporate worship is when that happens. Skip church and you miss your big opportunity to edify and be edified.
In modern usage, edify has largely been replaced by encourage, but that’s an incomplete translation. Encouraging is mostly emotional, helping you feel better about something. Feeling better is more of a side effect, or a bonus with edification. Instead, it primarily strengthens faith by reminding us that we fit into the spiritual house Christ is building.
This is hardly an exhaustive study, but let me leave you with one last word on edification — it is one more result of God pouring out His grace on us.
“So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Acts 20:32