The Apostle Paul speaks about edifying one another multiple times in his epistles. I know for me, which I think is true for many Christians today, the word edifying means to build another up with positive language. It reminds me of a motivational speaker, or pastors such as Joel Osteen, who are always speaking positively toward their listeners. It seems as though it is more directed at building one’s self-esteem, making them feel better about who they are. But is this really what Paul meant when he penned the Greek word oikodomé—translated “edify.”
Strong’s defines oikodomé in three ways: “(a) the act of building, (b) a building, (c) met: spiritual advancement, edification.” As you can see it refers to building an actual building or structure, the physical structure itself, or metaphorically building one’s spirituality to help them to become more pious. The third definition, of course, is the focus here.
I think a lot of times too many Christians get caught up trying to build others up with positive, caring words that they overlook the true meaning of edification. The problem with this, however, is that these uplifting words can often have negative effects on the receiver.
What I mean by this is that Christians tend to walk on “eggshells,” so-to-speak, when dealing with another Christian in regards to their lack of piety in their Christian lifestyle. They may not be willing to express truly the other’s shortcomings, or sinful behavior, because they believe they are only supposed to be loving and up lifting. Not to mention the fact that many, many Christians today feel that pointing out another’s wrongdoings is a form a judging. A no-no in modern Christianity. Sadly, this is allowing too many Christians to fall short of where God intends them to be.
I would like to point out another definition of the word oikodomé from HELPS Word Studies: “(figuratively) constructive criticism and instruction that builds a person up to be the suitable dwelling place of God, i.e. where the Lord is ‘at home'” (emphasis added).1
When we are “edifying” other Christians in their Christian walk, constructive criticism is a good thing. And that is exactly what Paul means when he uses oikodomé to refer to building others up. People need that to see where they are falling short. Many times one may think they are living correctly from their perspective, but, in reality, they aren’t. And it takes a good friend, a true Christian, to sit them down and constructively tell them where they are falling short and help build them up to be a better Christian, a “suitable dwelling place of God.”
Remember, that is what we are now through Jesus Christ: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16) If someone is living a carnal lifestyle, then that dwelling place isn’t going to be suitable for God. God is pure. God is holy. God is love. And if our temples, that is our bodies, aren’t the same, then we can’t offer ourselves as a dwelling place for God.
Make sure, however, that you aren’t being hypocritical. You can’t go around trying to build others up and help them become more pious when you, yourself, are not a proper dwelling place for God.
So today I ask that, first, you make sure your dwelling place is pure for God to dwell in. Secondly, I ask that you don’t be afraid to help your fellow Christians in doing the same for themselves. Don’t walk on eggshells and be afraid to constructively criticize them if you see they are falling short. We, together, comprise the Church, the Holy body of Christ, and we need to stand firm, pure, and holy together. We need to work together, building one another into a proper dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.
Think how closely connected the Early Church was. They were able to spread Christianity throughout the world because of their unity. They weren’t afraid to criticize and point out when its members were falling short. And that is exactly what we need today.
1. HELPS Word Studies copyright © 1987, 2011 by Helps Ministries, Inc.