1 Corinthians 4:20
For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.
The Corinthians were given to words; they delighted in eloquence; they were addicted to disputations. The Apostle Paul, who fulfilled his ministry by language, written and spoken, was not the man to disparage words. But no man was more impatient of mere words - of words with no reality, no force, no conviction. He had reason to complain of his converts at Corinth, and was resolved to bring matters to an issue with them; and it should be a contest, not of barren verbiage, but of spiritual force.
I. THE NATURE OF GOD'S KINGDOM PROVES THAT IT CANNOT BE MERELY IN WORD.
1. A kingdom implies authority exercised, obedience rendered. Although a kingdom not of this world, not maintained and supported by human means, by laws and arms, still God's empire is a reality. Christ is the King and Head; his laws are binding and stringent, although the motives that inspire obedience are gratitude and love - his subjects are willing and submissive.
2. Such a kingdom is incompatible with the reign of words. To be a subject of Christ is not
(1) to be merely by verbal assent, as by confirmation or any other form of admission to Church privileges, associated with the society of Christians; nor is it
(2) to make any kind of profession; nor
(3) to recite and maintain the great Christian creeds; nor
(4) to utter words expressive of devotion. Men may make use of many and sacred words, and be none the nearer the kingdom of heaven. A nominal and verbal kingdom is weak and despicable; such is not the spiritual kingdom of our Lord.
II. THE ORIGIN AND NATURE OF THE POWER OF THE KINGDOM.
1. Words may be only from man; power is from God. All natural and physical power originates in him. But moral power is either good or evil; and the good only but always is from God. Christ is "the Power of God."
2. When we contemplate this spiritual power which pervades the new kingdom, what do we find it to be? The power of truth, the power of goodness, the power of pity and of love.
III. WHERE AND HOW THIS POWER DISPLAYS ITSELF.
1. Its seat is the soul; there it first enthrones itself, and thence it spreads until it pervades the whole nature, changing the beliefs, the feelings, the principles, and the habits. For "the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
2. The power of this kingdom manifests itself through the whole realm of human nature and life; both by the forces, obstacles, and oppositions it overcomes, and by the results it produces. We observe these effects especially in
(1) the newness of life which is characteristic of the kingdom, as emphatically in the case of the first disciples, brought out of Judaism and paganism into the marvellous light of the gospel;
(2) in the social results, which were exhibited in the cities where the gospel took root, and where the sentiment of brotherhood proved a new power in humanity, sanctifying society within and attracting elements from without.
(3) We have a proof of this power in the case of those martyrs who for Christ's sake were content to lay down their life; for here we have evidently a new spiritual force, capable of inspiring with a fortitude in the cause of an unseen Lord which surpassed the heroic devotion of a Roman to his country's good.
(4) The progress and perpetuity of this power stamps it as Divine, as the one great prevalent and successful force working in human society for its purification, its elevation, its lasting and highest welfare. - T.
Parallel VersesKJV: For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.