In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord teaches: "He that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the spirit of truth[.]
"Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together" (D&C 50:21-22; italics added).
Elder Scott has clarified: "The verb understand refers to that which is heard. It is the same message to all. Edified concerns that which is communicated by the Holy Ghost. The message can be different and tailored by the Spirit to the needs of each individual" (Address to CES Religious Educators, February 4, 2005).
Understanding relates primarily to facts. The gospel of Jesus Christ is laid out in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon for all to understand. We may further understand doctrines doctrines like temple ordinances or priesthood keys that have been clarified by modern prophets. Independent of conversion or feeling, understanding happens in the mind-- often a necessary starting place-- so we may understand gospel principles just as we understand the principles of accounting or biology.
When we use our agency to be active in our scriptures, prayers and church classes, we may also experience edification. Edification occurs when the Spirit, having authorization from our righteous choices, instructs us individually. Then the truths that we understand may be carried down into our hearts. Then we may know how particular doctrines are to be applied in our own lives. Then and only then may we truly become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Understanding and edification may come at any time and with any subject. As an economics student at BYU, I understood and was edified by the principle of sunken costs. My professor helped me understand, but it was the Spirit taught me while I sat in Econ 110 that I needed to make forward-looking decisions and let go of past mistakes. This truth-- of immense value to me at the time-- sunk into my heart and became a part of my testimony that God lives, that He loves and watches over me, and that the atonement of Jesus Christ is a reality.
On the other hand, our actions may limit the ability of the Spirit to reach the depths of our hearts. If we are unprepared, stubborn or not open to learning, we may miss wonderful opportunities to be edified. It does little for our spirituality to attend Sunday School and critique the performance of the teacher, for example. On the other hand, if we humble ourselves and approach learning experiences with a willing heart, the Lord can edify our hearts and minds through His Spirit, regardless of the teaching experience of the presenter.
If we are to be converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must have both understanding and edification. In other words, we must learn by study and by faith: through searching the scriptures and the two-way communication of prayer. As we do so, and as we use our agency to be edified in our church meetings and our daily lives, the Lord will reinforce our souls with spiritual strength necessary for our circumstance and the environment that may surround us.
"Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one my edify another" (Romans 14:19). That is your challenge and mine. How will you edify, and be edified, today?