Why build these cities glorious
If man unbuilded goes?
In vain we build the world, unless
The builder also grows.
IN TODAY’S READING, WE ARE CONSIDERING AN OLDER WORD THAT HAS FALLEN OUT OF GENERAL USE, BUT ONE THAT STILL HAS SOME GOOD THINGS TO TEACH US. The word “edify” comes from a Latin verb meaning “to build.” An “edifice” is a thing that has been “built,” so we call it a “building.” Figuratively, then, to edify is to “build up.” When one person edifies another, he or she strengthens the other intellectually, morally, or spiritually. And surely, that’s what we should want to do: build others up rather than tear them down.
Modern civilization has many impressive building projects to its credit. As far as physical buildings are concerned, we have excelled. But we have, perhaps, neglected the matter of personal building, the constructing of our citizens’ inward character and integrity, and Edwin Markham was right to ask, “Why build these cities glorious / If man unbuilded goes?” Skyscrapers and sports arenas are of little importance if our civilization fails in the upbuilding of its people.
To build others up, we have to discipline ourselves for their sake. For example, I will be careful about my speech if my goal is to edify and uplift those around me. Rather than saying everything that is in my mind, I will limit my speech to words that are constructive. My inner thoughts may be truthful, but not every truth needs to be spoken — for the simple reason that not every truth edifies.
In the final analysis, it is love that produces edification. Paul the Apostle wrote that “knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (First Corinthians 8:1). In other words, knowledge makes us proud, but love makes us helpful. When we are moved by real love, we will want nothing for those around us except that which will build them up. Indeed, those who have dealings with us should have the confidence that we will do nothing but strengthen them. When experience has taught them that we will refrain from any word or deed that will not be helpful to them, we will have given them one of life’s greatest gifts.
“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification” (Paul the Apostle).