Is it OK for a Christian to edify himself/herself, especially when speaking in tongues?1
Look closely at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:3-5.
“On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:3-5).
Some argue that Paul was being sarcastic in verse 4, intending to censure or rebuke as selfish anyone who desires to be edified by the use of this gift. But the edifying of oneself is not a bad thing. It simply isn’t the primary point of the kind of public meeting Paul had in view. We study the Bible to edify ourselves. We pray to edify ourselves. We listen to sermons to edify ourselves. Countless Christian activities are an effective means of self-edification. I hope that your motivation in reading this article is to edify yourself by increasing your biblical understanding of spiritual gifts! If there are any lingering doubts, Jude 20 commands us to edify ourselves by praying in the Spirit!
Every gift of the Spirit in some way or degree, either directly or indirectly, edifies its user. This is not evil unless self-edification becomes an end in itself. If your spiritual gift serves to increase your maturity, heighten your sensitivity, expand your understanding, and intensify your zeal, all the better for the body of Christ! In this way self-edification is simply an intermediate step to the growth of others in the church. Why would anyone object to that? I’m sure Paul wouldn’t.
Also, if self-edification from tongues-speech were wrong, Paul would not have encouraged its use in verse 5a. And uninterpreted tongues were what Paul had in mind, for he contrasted them with prophecy, insisting that the latter is better suited to edify others (unless, of course, the tongues-speech is interpreted, v. 5b).
Some may wonder how mysteries that are not understood even by the speaker can edify. The answer, at least in part, lies in verses 14-15. There Paul says
“For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also” (1 Corinthians 14:14-15).
As Gordon Fee points out,
“Contrary to the opinion of many, spiritual edification can take place in ways other than through the cortex of the brain. Paul believed in an immediate communing with God by means of the S/spirit that sometimes bypassed the mind; and in verses 14-15 he argues that for his own edification he will have both. But in church he will have only what can also communicate to other believers through their minds” (Commentary on First Corinthians, 657).
My hope is that cessationists will, therefore, cease appealing to the spurious argument that self-edification is sinful or selfish. As noted earlier, if it is, they should repent for ever having read this article (or any other!) in the first place.