Edification in The Body of Christ
[The following is a transcript from my talk on June 19, 2013 at the Chase Park Church of Christ in Huntsville, AL about Edification in The Body of Christ. Feel free to copy and download as you wish with proper attribution.]
In 1997, Thomas E. Ricks authoured this book called Making the Corps. The book chronicled a platoon of would-be Marines at Parris Island, South Carolina for all 13 weeks of Recruit Training. It was an inside story, written by a reporter who had been embedded with Marines in combat and he wanted to know just what made them the formidable warriors that they were. So he went to the source, he went to the beginning. He went to where Marines were made.
The biggest and maybe most important part of the entire 13 week process of training isn't learning weapons or hand to hand combat, it isn't being trained to be part of the best fighting force on the planet or even to work as a team - it all comes down to the individual. Teams are made of individuals. Marines are made of individuals.
Ricks goes through the process of the breaking down of the individuals character. Not necessarily the essence of who he or she is, but the individual's characteristics. Their way of thinking. Their mannerisms. Even the way they walk and talk. The entire first weeks of Marine Corps Recruit Training is meticulously designed to accomplish one thing: to tear down and to build back up. To tear down an individuals character - a nasty, undisciplined civilain - and to build them up in the image of the Marines - a disciplined, well-trained fighting machine.
Reading about it and getting to experience it firsthand are two incredibly different things though.
In 1999 as a junior in high school I enlisted in the delayed entry program for the United States Marine Corps. I don't remember my mother being excited about this decision, per se, but she was supportive in it. She bought me this book. She probably thought it would dissuade me from joining. I had 10 months in the delayed entry program, plenty of time to think about the decision that I'd made...and to back out if I wanted. The book actually had the opposite effect.
If anything, I think I was more excited to become a Marine. I was more enamored with the philosophy of the Marines than before.
That excitement was quickly squashed the first few hours of recruit training.
We arrived at Parris Island, SC at about 2AM. We put our feet on the famous yellow footprints. We were told that all personal possessions would be collected and given back to us at the end of training. We made one 10-second phone call home, and that was it. We turned in a our civilian clothes for new camoflage utilities. And if we didn't like looking the same as everyone else already, we all got shaved heads.
There were no nametags on our uniforms. We couldn't even refer to ourselves as 'I' or 'me', it was 'this recruit.' We didn't even get 'US Marines' on our uniforms until we earned the title. Everything about even just the first few hours of training was about stripping every bit of individuality that we had.
And you know what my thought was those first few hours? "Why on EARTH did I decide to do this?" Over and over in my head, I said to myself, "You're not supposed to be here, you're not supposed to be here..."
I even got up enough courage to ask the senior drill instructor a question.
"Sir! This recruit does not think he belongs here!" I said stupidly.
The drill instructor looked at me hard and said, "Did you sign on the dotted line?"
My shoulders slumped, because I knew where this was going. "Sir, yes, sir."
"You signed on the dotted line, so get back in line."
And that was it. That was the last complaint, the last selfish thought I had for weeks. In the following days, I would learn to work together as a team with my platoon. I was retaught how to speak, how to walk, and given more lessons in respect than I ever knew were possible. I learned military ceremony and drill. I learned to even eat the same way as my fellow recruits. We were eventually trained with various weapons and fighting techniques. We spent two weeks 12 hours a day on the rifle range honing our shooting skills, because every Marine is first rifleman. We even slept the same way, reciting the rifleman's creed every night before we went to sleep.
Before I knew it, training was over and I was a Marine. I had earned the title. I had been built back up in the image of the United States Marine Corps.
So tonight, when we talk about edification and our theme verse of Ephesians 4.12, we'll literally be talking about building up. If we are to grow in Christ, then part of that is building one another up.
We'll talk about three different things this evening:
1) The word 'edification' and what it means,
2) An Old Testament example of edification
3) New Testament examples of edification for us today
1) The Word 'Edify' or 'Edification'
The theme verse, Ephesians 4.12, is an intresting one. The initial thought starts out in verse 11 and doesn't really end until verse 16:
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. [NKJV]
We won't go into the first half of this verse at all tonight, as that has already been covered by Mike Baker last week.
But it's intresting to note that the New King James and the King James Versions are some of the only ones that render this word in verse 12 as 'edify.' All the rest - the English Standard, NASB, the NIV, the Revised Standar, and the New Revised Standard all render this as 'building up' the body of Christ. And that's exactly what it means.
Now, I'm not sure why 'edify' or 'edification' was used instead of 'building up' here in verse 12, but the word edification didn't even begin to be used in coversational English until the mid-17th century. So it could not have been a word that was original to the time of the writing of the letter to the Ephesians in approximately 60 AD, some 1550 years before.
The original Greek word is 'oikodome', and it denotes the act of building - 'oikos' meaning house and 'demo' meaning to build. It is used only figuretively in the New Testament, in the sense of edification and the promotion of spiritual growth. Romans 14.19, 15.2; and 1 Corinthians 14.3 are some examples of this building up.
The word is also used earlier in Ephesians when Paul is describing how we are one in Christ, one in the body of Christ in chapter 2, starting in verse 19:
19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
It's intresting that word used for foundation as well.
When I was a young man (hopefully I still am a young man, but I digress), my father would come in on Saturday mornings and wake me from my peaceful slumber and simply say, "Get up. Let's go." I'd have about 30 seconds to get dressed, which was actually good training for the Marines now that I think about it.
But my dad used to build all types of things - small buildings, shops, extentions on homes - but mostly he built outdoor decks. At least that's what I remember. And I remember going out with him on tose Saturdays and sometimes spending half the day just getting ready for building. We would have post holes dug (I was usually the one to do that) and we would mix conrete and fill in those holes with posts that would hold up the entire structure. We'd spend hours just on prep work to build the foundation before we actually built anything at all.
The overall theme of Paul's letter to the Ephesians is unity. Unity in the body of Christ. And part of unity is building one another up. But that can't be done unless the building up is done on a firm foundation.
You know the song the kids sing sometimes - "The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock." The wise man built his house on the sturdy, unmoving foundation and when the rains came, he didn't have anthing to worry about, his house stood firm. But the foolish man built his house on the sand, and the rains washed it away. I believe the term the kids use is "The house went SPLAT."
So when we think about the process of edification, the process of building up the body of Christ, we must realize that first we must have a firm foundation on the Word of God. If we don't follow what this book says about how we are supposed to live, then we have no foundation upon which to build one another up.
If we are constantly badmouthing the church, how is that buidling up?
If we are criticizing everything the leadership does, how is that edifying?
If we are being a problem instead of a solution, how is that edifying?
Sometimes we get so mixed up with the day to day of church work and we forget that the church is made up of people. People who make mistakes, people who are wrong sometimes, and people who need one another. We may not realize it, but we desperately need one another. That's what edification is all about.
I love to grill. I love homemade hamburgers. But right now, I find myself without a grill. The only one I have is a little charcoal grill out back. And I hate charcoal grilling. Some of you may love it but I don't. The thing about charcoal grilling is that those coals have to be hot. They have to be put together in a pile or a pyramid to get all of them hot.
But what happens when one of those coals falls off the pile? What happens when one of those hot coals becomes cold? You see, without the pile to keep them hot, that coal becauses cold and therefore useless. You can't cook with cold charcoal.
We may not like to admit it, but we are the same way. Without each other, we will become ineffective as Christians. We will be come cold and useless. We need to heed the words of the writer of Hebrews in chapter 10 verse 24:
24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
That word exhort (parakaleó) means to call on, or to encourage. We need to be able to call on one another, and how are we supposed to do that if we do not assemble together? It may sound incredibly simple, but a big part of building up the body of Christ is simply being with one another.
But switching gears a little - Sometimes, you must strip away all the nonsense and unholiness until you get back to a foundation, and that's exactly what was happening in the book of Jeremiah. Go ahead and turn with me there.
2) Old Testament example of edification.
The Book of Jeremiah is primarily a message of judgment on Judah for rampant idolatry. After the death of King Josiah, the last righteous king, the nation of Judah had almost completely abandoned God and His commandments. God had promised that He would judge idolatry most severely (Leviticus 26:31-33; Deuteronomy 28:49-68), and Jeremiah was warning Judah that God’s judgment was at hand. God had delivered Judah from destruction on countless occasions, but His mercy was at its end.
The book of Jeremiah is a literal tearing down of the Children of Israel in order to build them back up in the image of God.
If you go out to Oklahoma or to the sandy coast of New Jersey, you'll still find houses that have been mangled and tossed about and destroyed from tornadoes and hurricane Sandy. Most of these houses the insurance has to write off as a total loss. I remember visiting my sister's house shortly after the bad tornadoes in April of 2012 and seeing a grocery store less than a half mile from her house that looked like it had been picked up off the ground and thrown back down in its place. The only thing that can be done is to demolish these structures and start over.
God has done what he did in Jeremiah before. He cleansed the world of evil with the flood, and only Noah and his family were spared. He's effectively doing the same thing in Jeremiah. Jeremiah records King Nebuchadnezzar conquering Judah and making it subject to him (Jeremiah 24:1). After further rebellion, God brought Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian armies back to destroy and desolate Judah and Jerusalem (Jeremiah chapter 52). This was God's cleansing. I don't know if it was teaching them a lesson or not, but it certainly brought the nation of Judah to its knees, both figuratively and literally.
Even in this most severe judgment, God promises the restoration of Judah back into the land God has given them in Jeremiah 29:10-11:
10 For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. 11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah's task was not easy. Jeremiah was by nature hesitant, humble, and perhaps even shy. His mission given to him by God was to root out evil, to pull it down and destroy it. But his secondary mission was also to build and to plant. He boldly did both of these tasks fearlessly as God told him to.
We as the church, as we try to grow in spiritual maturity, can learn a lot from Jeremiah. He stood up against evil and idolarty, and unrighteous living. We too, must stand up against evil. Even if it makes us unpopular, even if it makes us the outcasts, we must stand up for God. We do not seek the priase of men, but rather of God.
But that second task of Jeremiah's is ours as well. Not only should we tear down and root out evil in our lives, but we should build up one another in the process. The church is made up of people, and if we build up the church, we build up the people.
So how do we do that? Well, we simply look at the examples in the New Testament.
3) New Testament Examples of Edification
One of the best examples I know of building up the body of Christ is that of Barnabus. His name may mean "son of encouragement", but he had a big part in the development and building up of the early church as well.
Paul is the famous one for taking the Gospel of Jesus to the non-Jews, but Barnabus did it first. Barnabus was a compassionate man that didn't just think of himself. His first appearance in the Bible is as a Jerusalem convert who sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles for those in need (Acts 4.37).
As Christians today in 2013, part of our mutual edification, of building one another up, is putting other people ahead of ourselves. As Christians we must develop a selfLESS attitude versus a selfISH attitude if we are to go about the business of edification.
Barnabus also had compassion for outsiders. When Paul was first converted, when he saw the Lord Jesus on his way to Damascus, the apostles thought his conversion story was a trick. This was, after all, the man who had been persecuting and killing Christians just days before. Even after Paul's conversion - the apostles were very suspicious of him. I can't blame them. It was, however, Barnabus who convinced them to meet with Paul. And the rest of the story of Paul planting churches and spreading the Gospel throughout Asia Minor and the southern Roman Empire would not have been possible without Barnabus.
As Christians, part of the edification of the Body of believers is adding more believers to that body. And the way we look and act towards outsiders greatly affects how we as a church are going to be built up. Colossians 4.5 says "Walk with wisdom towards those who are outside, redeeming the time." The ESV says to "Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making best use of the time."
That phrase, 'walk with wisdom,' literally means 'Be wise in the way you act.' The phrase 'redeeming the time' or making the best use of the time' implies that every opportunity must be snapped up, like a bargain on Black Friday.
We are reflections of Christ in our daily walks of life. Some people will only see Christ as they see how you act.
I tell the kids in my youth group that you are, quite literally, walking billboards for Christ. If people know you are a Christian, if outsiders know you are a Christian, how can they tell? Or can they tell at all?
One last tidbit about Barnabus - he stayed in Antioch as a minister there. The congregation grew so much that he invited Paul to help him. Antioch became the jumping off point for Paul's three famous missionary journeys. Barnabus and Paul went on the first one together.
But on the second trip, a disagreement arose about John Mark, Barnabus' cousin. John Mark had abandoned them on the first trip, and Paul didn't want a repeat. Barnabus and Paul parted ways.
You know what I get from this? I've said it before in this talk and I'll say it again: Christians are people, and people aren't perfect. It's okay for Christians to disagree. It's okay to even part ways if you can't agree about something. But the minute we allow that to infect the church, we become wrong. The minute we start pitting people against one another and forming sections of the church, we're wrong. Paul and Barnabus may have disagreed, but they were wise in their disagreement. Never do you hear Paul or Barnabus either one relfecting on this argument - "Well Paul wanted this and he was WRONG" kinda thing. It's never brought up agian. They disagreed, but they didn't tear down anyone in the process. They had an argument, but they didn't let it affect their ministry.
As we close this evening, I want to give you a list of ways we can be building up the body around us rather than tearing it down.
1. We must be encouraging, not discouraging.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says "Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing." The ESV says: "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."
Psycologists say that for every negative thing a person hears or feels from someone else, mentally 5 positive things must be said in order to forget the negative. So we're looking at a 5:1 ratio.
Encouraging is about being positive. It's smiling, it's saying nice things to one another. Not being fake, but really making an effort to have the joy that we as Chirstians should always have. Because if we are truly in Christ, then we should be the happiest people on earth.
2. Love others.
1 Peter 4.8-10 says: "Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace."
How many people, how many other Christians, will be built up by your love? How many many outsiders will reach for Christ because of the way you love others?
3. Love God.
If we are truly Christians, if we put on the name of Christ, then we will love God. If we love God, then we are truly Christians.
1 John 4.19-21 is a verse that hits us hard.
19 We love Him because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
This connects us with number 2. If we are to grow as Christians, as Christ's body, then we must learn to love. And when we learn to love one another, we can learn to love God and build up or edify one another in Christ.
Growing in Christ is hard work. Growing in Christ requires sacrifce, selflessness, patience, gentleness, self control, and a myriad of other things. But that's why we have each other, because we can't do it ourselves.
I'll leave you this evening with the illustration of the Turtle on a Fencepost. Now, I'm not a rocket surgeon, but turtles aren't really good climbers, or jumpers for that matter either. So how does a turtle get to the top of a fencepost? He has help.
You see, someone had to help this turtle up there. Someone had to place him up there, or else he would have never made it.
The same is true for us. We can't serve Christ by ourselves. We can't do it alone - that's not how it was designed. There is no such thing as 'Lone Ranger Christianity.' We all need one another's help if we are to build one another up in Christ.
Our theme verse for tonight directly implies that we can't do it by ourselves. It says to edify the body of Christ. The body of Christ isn't just one person, it's many.