…but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion… (ESV)
…but that which is good to the use of edifying… (KJV)
…but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs… (NIV)
…but whatever is good toward edification’s need… (Maxwell)
One can avoid uttering unhelpful things, but still harbor a slanderous spirit. Sure, it is best that I keep my mouth shut when sarcasm mounts its charge from my heart. But, silence is not a sufficient long-term solution. Besides, I would have little to say! Rather than having immediate sarcastic thoughts toward a person, Jesus demands that I have an immediately edifying posture towards them. Rather than hate spewing from the heart, love erupts.
I don’t think Paul is using superlatives in vain. Everyone needs edification. Everyone needs edification all the time. Therefore, never say anything that hinders edification, but always supply what edification needs do its work in a person’s heart. This demands a keen spiritual awareness of one another, which the Holy Spirit gives to those who ask.
The word translated “edification” or “edifying” (oikodomen) draws on building language (so ESV/NIV). It refers to a literal building (Mt 24.1; Mk 13.1) and a metaphorical building (1 Cor 3.9; 2 Cor 5.1; Eph 2.21). It is used here and other places to describe edification: the process of building others up into Christlikeness (1 Cor 14.3, 12; 2 Cor 12.19; 13.10; Rom 15.2; Eph 4.12, 16). The church is a spiritual house, made up by holy, breathing “bricks” (1 Pt 2.4-5). When fully complete the house will be an eternal monument to Jesus, the Foundation and Cornerstone (vv6-8).
Edification, however, doesn’t always mean a compliment. It doesn’t always mean we tell someone how great they are despite apparent sin (see 2 Cor 12.19; 13.10). It does mean we discern the best mix of mortar to set another stone in place. Our goal is not to say what puffs up the ego, but what builds up the heart unto Jesus. Edification is about the intent of the heart, not rosy language. We say whatever it is for the purpose/with the goal/to the end (hence,pros) that our neighbor is more firmly established in Christ.
Edification may help remove bricks that don’t belong on the house in order to set the right ones. But even this is a gentle process. Sarcasm is like a wrecking ball. It tears down violently and with little care. Sarcasm may be addressed at a legitimate need, but demolishes more than its target. It might aim at a certain brick that needs attention, but it takes out a whole wall in the process. Edification is careful and precise, discerning and wise. It chooses words carefully and avoids unnecessary rabble.
Today I meet living stones. And they encounter me. In fact, we are members of one another (Rom 12.5). We are all part of the same house. If they are not firmly established then I am not firmly established. My sarcasm toward them not only weakens their wall, but mine; we’ve mixed hate into the mortar. And Jesus’ house eventually rejects hate-laced mortar.
John Chrysostom has the final word: “Whatever edifies your neighbor, say this and nothing more.”