Edification Defined - Addressing Self Edification & Tongues

People who believe that the gifts are still valid for today often say that speaking in tongues enriches their spiritual life. They say to speak in tongues in private will be self edifying and one should desire to do so. This belief, however, is not scriptural. Edification, as stated in the Bible, has nothing to do with any of these things.

Edification is about increasing in knowledge. Webster Dictionary defines it as “to instruct and improve especially in moral and religious knowledge.” The actual word means to “build up.” In scripture, this type of edification (building up) is about strengthening the church in knowledge, or instruction. Today, however, people seem to think that edification has to do with how a person “feels.” Edification is not about making anyone “feel good” nor does it come from an “experience” or supernatural event. There is no scriptural basis for this type of definition. Paul was clear, that gifts hold no purpose unless they bring some sort of instruction or information with which the church can learn and grow from. Edification requires instruction.

1 Cor 14:6 & 12 Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?…12 So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church. (NIV)

There are no scriptures anywhere that speak to edification as a "feeling" or "experience" of the "power" of the Holy Spirit. Emotions are never mentioned. The gifts were given to help the church grow in the knowledge of Christ. Speaking in tongues without understanding what was said is not instruction. There is no edification taking place. The gifts were given for the edification of the body.

Eph 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (NIV)

We must discard the preconceived and worldly definition of edification as personal satisfaction and glory. This is not what “edify” means. Edification is to instruct and improve in spiritual knowledge. I can think of no greater way to be built up than in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In order to do that we need understanding.

What about 1 Corinthians 14:4?

1 Corinthians 14:4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.

When we read the context of this passage we can see that Paul was not teaching the Corinthians to use their gifts to edify themselves, but that they should instead, seek to use their gifts for the edification of the entire body. In fact the chapter begins with Paul comparing and contrasting the gift of tongues, to the gift of prophecy. In each instance Paul prefers for the people to choose to prophecy because it edifies the church, which he states should be the desire for the gifts. His point in this passage is that rather than speaking in tongues edifying themselves they should prophecy so that the church as a whole is edified. In fact, this point is summed up in the next verse where Paul says that those who prophesy are greater than those who speak in tongues "unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified."

1 Cor 14:1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. 3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified. NIV

Paul was stating self edification as a negative effect, not the positive. He continues to go on at length about how useless it is to speak in tongues no one understands. He then makes this statement:

1 Cor 14:12 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.

He was telling the Corinthians to seek in gifts that would build up the church and not to use them for personal edification, which is really no edification at all.

Which type of tongue is for self edification?

While many people say that the 'gift' of tongues is for the edification of the body, tongues as the evidence of the Spirit is a different kind of tongue and therefore allowed for personal use. However, you can not use the verse in 1 Corinthians 14:4 to try to support an idea of using tongues for personal edification if you admit that what you are speaking is NOT the gift of tongues. 1 Corinthians 14 is clearly speaking about Spiritual gifts. The chapter begins stating this fact.

14:1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts

Spiritual gifts is obviously the topic of these passages. In our article "Tongues and the Evidence of the Holy Spirit Baptism" we have shown how tongues are not the evidence of the Spirit so I will not address that here, but we will mention that the Bible never speaks of two kinds of tongues. Even if it did, (which it does not) the passages in 1 Corinthians 14 are dealing solely with the gifts of the Spirit. There is no contextual way to say that 1 Corinthians 14:4 means a 'different' kind of tongue. This argument is totally invalid and has no Scriptural basis. No where does Scripture say there are 'two' types of tongues.

Tongues were meant to edify the church

So we see that the gifts were given for the edification of the church. These gifts were an instrument of God given to man so that the early church could learn and grow in the knowledge of this new covenant during its early stages. During this transitional period, from law to grace, the church not only needed these instructions, they needed a method in which they could verify that those people who were teaching it were really speaking for God. Therefore, the apostles were not only given the authority to instruct us about these new doctrines, they were given the ability do miracles and practice these gifts so that people would know they were really speaking for God. These gifts were given by God as “sign” gifts to authenticate His apostles and to authenticate His “new” teachings.

2 Corinthians 12:12 The things that mark an apostle--signs, wonders and miracles--were done among you with great perseverance. NIV

Hebrews 2:3-4 This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. NIV

These “signs” were not merely miraculous in order to awe the crowds; they had been prophesied about and should have been recognizable to the Jews who were familiar with the Scriptures. They were used to prove the new revelation that was taking place was that which was spoken about in the Scriptures (Acts 2:16, 1 Cor 14:21). This was done so that the church could be edified. There was no purpose to do so for self edification and they are no longer needed today. Today we can read the Bible, the completed Word of God. These teachings were written down so that we can be edified, which means we can be instructed in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ through the Written Word.

For an in depth study on this topic please read our page titled "Spiritual Gifts."

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