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Mutual Edification and the Church: Command

  • Alan Knox Blogger, Developer, and PhD Student
  • 2014 22 Dec
Mutual Edification and the Church: Command

I believe that Scripture clearly points out that the church should assemble (whenever believers get together) for the purpose of “mutual edification.” Scripture does not tell us exactly what actions should be taken when the church meets. But, in this series, I am attempting to show that Scripture demonstrates the purpose of the gathering of the church through example, principle, and command. So far, I have “introduced” this series, and I’ve presented some “examples” and “principles” found in Scripture. In this post, I examine commands in Scripture related to the church gathering together for the purpose of “mutual edification.”

As I mentioned in a previous post, I make a distinction between “commands” and “principles” based on context. “Commands” are given specifically in the context of believers gathering together, while “principles” are not.

There are at least two specific passages in which commands are given related to believers gathering together for the purpose of mutual edification. The first is found in 1 Corinthians 14—the entire chapter—and specifically verse 26:

What then, brothers? 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 ESV)

Before this passage, Paul talks about the superiority of prophecy compared to speaking in tongues when the church is meeting together. He says that prophecy is superior in that context because prophecy builds up the church while speaking in tongues (without interpretation) only builds up the tongues speaker.

Following 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul gives a few guidelines related to prophecy and tongues speaking. Again, priority is given to prophecy because through prophecy the church is directly edified, while through tongues speaking (without interpretation) only the tongues speaker is edified.

It is also clear in this chapter (especially 1 Corinthians 14:27–32) that Paul expects several people to take part in speaking while the church meets. He even provides for the possibility that someone may speak even though that person had not planned or prepared to speak (at least where prophecy is concerned, but I believe this applies to any speaking that provides direct edification, such as teaching) (see 1 Corinthians 14:30).

The wording in the ESV at the start of this verse (“When you come together…”) is a little misleading. The verb “come together” is subjunctive with a subjunctive conjunction. Together, they should probably be translated “Whenever you come together….” Thus, Paul is making an appeal for working together for the purpose of edification any time and on any occasion that the believers meet together.

A similar passage is found in the Book of Hebrews:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19–25 ESV)

I included the entire paragraph because it sets the instructions of considering one another, encouraging one another, and not forsaking to meet together in the context of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and his position as our high priest.

In this passage, the author specifically says that the believers should think about one another so that they can provoke (a very strong word, usually used in the negative) one another to love and good works. He relates that this cannot happen if they stop meeting with other believers, but that it can happen if they encourage one another. (Although the ESV translates the “one another” with “stir up” instead of “consider,” the term “one another” is actually the direct object of the verb “consider.”)

As far as the mutuality of this passage is concerned, it would seem that the same ones who are instructed to “draw near to God” and to “hold fast the confession of our hope” are also the ones who are instructed to “consider one another to stir up love and good works.” In other words, this applies to all believers, not just certain ones.

In the context of the Book of Hebrews, the idea of “encouragement” includes both moving away from certain things (i.e., sin and deceit) and toward other things (i.e., love and good works). This is very similar to the idea of “building up” that we’ve seen before, even though the term “edify” is not used here.

So, in this two passages at least, we see clear commands within the context of gathering together that believers should work together in order to help one another in their walk with God—i.e., build up one another or encourage one another.