Jesus told his disciples that his mission was to establish the Church to continue his work in the world and that they all had a part in this. His commission to the Apostle Peter is recorded in the familiar words from Matthew’s Gospel:
“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18)
After Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, the Apostles and other believers set to work on their building project:
The church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. (Acts 9:31)
The Apostle Paul wrote that all of the disciples, as well as all committed Christians throughout history, have been part of the construction team building the Church:
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ . . . (Ephesians 4:11-12)
And through their ministry, all believers in our day have become part of the team as well, continuing Jesus’ building project.
Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. (verses 15-16)
The Greek word that’s used in the above Bible verses is the same word that regularly describes the construction of an actual building, as can be seen in a number of New Testament passages.* The application of the building metaphor to the Church is very literal and tangible, as Paul shows in another of his letters:
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. (1 Corinthians 3:10)
With this teaching in mind, I’ve been thinking about how my words, my behavior, my interactions with others match my calling as part of the building team carrying on the work of Jesus, Peter and Paul. The word “edify” came to my mind. I began to wonder whether my day-to-day actions are actually edifying to those around me and to the Church. I remembered that there were New Testament verses that had the word “edify” in them. As usual, my Bible memory was influenced by the fact that I grew up on the King James translation. I looked the word up, and I discovered some wonderful verses that encouraged me. But, to my surprise, while the King James Translation used “edify” as a translation, our pew Bible, the New Revised Standard Version consistently used “build up,” or something pretty close. When I checked in the Greek original, each of these passages had the same word as I wrote about above, the word Jesus used of his mission to build the Church in the world through his followers, including me. I took this as a challenge to examine all my words and deeds in the light of these verses:
Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (Romans 14:19)
Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. (Romans 15:2)
We know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. (1 Corinthians 8:1)
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. (1 Corinthians 10:23)
When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Corinthians 14:26)
Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)**
I stumbled on an interesting contrast the Apostle Paul makes two different times in rather personal passages in his Second Letter to the Corinthians. He notes that the Lord gave him authority as an Apostle for building you up and not for tearing you down (10:8-9). He also explains that the apparent harshness of some of his exhortations in this letter are intended for building up and not for tearing down (13:10).
I took that as a warning that if I’m not building others up in my daily interactions, I may be tearing them down.
– Pastor George Van Alstine
* Matthew 7:24, 21:42; Luke 17:28, 20:17; Mark 12:10; Acts 4:11.
** Other passages where the term is used this way are: 1 Corinthians 14:3-4, 26; 10:23; 2 Corinthians 10:8