Recovering the Lost Art of Edification

by Jared C. Wilson September 14, 2020

“. . . a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up . . .” – Ecclesiastes 3:3

We are being very hard on each other right now. Why do you think that is?

I’ve watched over the last few months as church members run off pastors from churches, pastors run over people on social media, and Christians of all kinds have determined that people not their kind are responsible for everything wrong in the world. The world is on fire, and in some ways more dangerous than literal.

Why are we doing this? A few reasons, I think:

  • Fear — Fear drives all manner of sinful thoughts and words. And this is a great season of fear. Between a global pandemic, lawlessness in the streets, hurricanes and wildfires, and the political tensions ramping up, we’ve got lots of fuel for fear. And fearful people are constantly insecure, and thus constantly defensive, and thus constantly lashing out.
  • Anger — The wrong kind of fear leads to the wrong kind of anger. We think we’re being righteously indignant or prophetically courageous when really we’re being judgmental and quarrelsome. When we’re angry about perceived wrongs or injustices, we tend to look for a scapegoat. We look for someone to blame. Someone to take it out on.
  • Confusion — We don’t have all the answers, and we’re finding it increasingly difficult to navigate such chaotic times when all the “experts” seem to disagree so often with each other. We’re uncomfortable with not knowing, so we create theories that explain “what’s really going on” and accuse others of conspiring against us. Our lack of clarity must be someone’s fault.

Or maybe it’s all of those things, or none of them. But I doubt I’m the only Christian who’s noticed we’re in a pronounced season of tearing down. And I doubt I’m the only one growing weary of it.

Certainly there is a time, as Ecclesiastes 3 tells us, to tear down. There is wide application of that. Some institutions or structures may have reached time of replacement. That kind of tearing down is a kind of laying to rest. Wickedness and injustice should always be torn down. That kind of tearing down is a kind of righteous rebellion. Sin should be rebuked, false teaching refuted. But if you’re always in tearing down mode, you end up tearing down more than you ought.

There’s a lot falling apart these days, and I think Christians ought to be especially interested in building up. Sure, you could spend all your free time arguing with people online and otherwise grumbling about them in your heart, but you could also consider how constantly being set to “attack” conflicts with the fruit of the Spirit. As Paul says, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (1 Cor. 10:34).

I think many of us have lost the art of edification — the art of building each other up — and it’s high time to recover it. Indeed, it is an urgent need at this very moment. What might recovering the lost art of edification look like?

  • Prayer — It’s hard to be angry with someone you’re interceding for. Anger leads us to dehumanize, objectify our enemies. But bringing them before the Lord in prayer is our way of acknowledging his image in them and submitting our will about them to him. The genuinely prayerful heart has no room for bile.
  • Encouragement — There are no Bible verses that command us to suspect, accuse, scrutinize, or attack one another. But there are plenty that call for encouraging one another. Honest question: Do you think American Christians in particular are known by our encouragement of one other? And yet we have clear commands to that end. Christ gave the watching world the right to judge our orthodoxy in at least one respect — our love (Jn. 13:35). And Paul writes, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11).
  • Pointing to Christ — I have noticed the startling irony of people on social media arguing all the live long day about “getting back to the gospel” who never seem to articulate anything approximating the gospel. If your demeanor in the public square gives the impression of an impossibly angry judge or trigger-happy accuser, how do you expect to commend the gracious Christ? Unrelenting attacks on the brethren, railing against the vulgarities of the world while remaining silent about the vulgarities of our own favorite leaders, and daily maintaining a snide and scoffing spirit all give the impression of Jesus as one who is petty and cruel and harsh. What if instead — just hear me out — we spent at least as much time (if not more) positively magnifying the grace of the gospel and the beauty of Christ?

It’s not too late to repent. We don’t have keep following our flesh down the chaotic spiral of fear, anger, and confusion. We don’t have to keep tearing each other up. Sure, that may be good for views and clicks. And it’s easier than building up. But that’s how the world works. The spirit of the age is all about biting and devouring. But you and I are different. Aren’t we?

With the Lord’s help, we can turn around and go against the current of the world by making our priority the building up of each other in love. At this moment, it’s not too late. Let’s recover the lost art of edification. It might mean that we might decrease. But it will be worth it if Jesus is glorified.

“So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” – 1 Corinthians 14:12

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