1 Corinthians 4:18-20
Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.…
These are by no means always associated together in the same man. Oftentimes they seem quite unable to dwell together. Speech is in inverse ratio to power. The free talker is seldom a vigorous thinker; and the boaster can never gain any real power by his extravagances. It seems that, at Corinth, there were some loud talkers, who depreciated St. Paul's authority, and endeavoured to destroy his influence. They made out that his "bodily presence was weak, and his speech contemptible;" and they mockingly said, "No doubt he writes very vigorous and terrible letters, but he is afraid to come himself." "These persons persuaded themselves that they had so undermined his reputation that he would not dare to come again to Corinth, and they grew more self asserting in consequence." Paley notices an undesigned coincidence between this passage and 2 Corinthians 1:15-17; 2 Corinthians 2:1. There evidently had been some uncertainty about his visit, of which his opponents took undue advantage.
I. SPEECH WITHOUT POWER. A mere gift of fluent talk is granted to some men. It is seldom associated with vigorous mental power, and is a perilous gift because it can be so readily misused. Such speech may be pleasant to listen to, as is the murmur of a flowing stream. It may be popular; it may be exciting to mere sentiment; it may be boastful. Its influence is small and temporary. It bears very little relation to the correction of moral evils, or the culture of the godly life.
II. SPEECH WITH POWER. Speech which is
(1) the utterance of thought;
(2) which bears the "accent of conviction;"
(3) which is carefully set in adaptation to the hearer; and
(4) which is uttered in dependence on Divine leadings and inspirations.
Here the word is used by St. Paul especially to mean "the power that is derived from Christ, which he himself possesses to influence the heart of man. It includes, no doubt, the power of working miracles, for, with one or two exceptions, the miracles of the gospel were manifestations of Christ's power to deliver humanity from the dominion of evil and its consequences." Speech with power is that kind of speech which directly influences the heart and the conscience, and leads to the fuller apprehension of truth, the conviction of sin, or the discovery of neglected duty. It may comfort, instruct, counsel, or warn. Dr. Horace Bushnell says, "Three distinct elements must be included in preaching which has the genuine power.
(1) A descent to human nature in its lower plane of self love and interested motive, and a beginning made with the conscience, the fears, and the boding expectation of guiltiness.
(2) The due exhibition of the Christian facts. In the Apostles' Creed nothing is included but the simple facts of Christ's life. Too little by a thousandfold is made of these facts. How much easier to preach the decoction (doctrine), and let the dried herbs of the story go! It might be so if they were really dry; but since they are all alive, fresh and fragrant as a bank of roses, how much better to go and breathe among them, and catch the quickening odours!
(3) The right conception of the gospel, and the fit presentation of it, under the altar forms provided for it." And Canon Liddon, in his 'Bampton Lectures,' pp. 168, 169, has the following passage: - Picture to yourselves a teacher who is not merely under the official obligation to say something, but who is morally convinced that he has something to say. Imagine one who believes alike in the truth of his message, and in the reality of his mission to deliver it. Let his message combine those moral contrasts which give permanency and true force to a doctrine, and which the gospel only has combined in their perfection. Let this teacher be tender, yet searching; let him win the hearts of men by his kindly humanity, while he probes, ay, to the quick, their moral sores. Let him be uniformly calm, yet manifestly moved by the fire of repressed passion. Let him be stern yet not unloving, and resolute without sacrificing the elasticity of his sympathy, and genial without condescending to be the weakly accomplice of moral mischief. Let him pursue and expose the latent evil of the human heart, through all the mazes of its unrivalled deceitfulness, without sullying his own purity, and without forfeiting his strong belief in the present capacity of every human being for goodness. Let him know 'what is in man,' and yet, with this knowledge clearly before him, let him not only not despair of humanity, but respect it, nay, love it even enthusiastically. Above all, let this teacher be perfectly independent. Let him be independent of the voice of the multitude; independent of the enthusiasm and promptings of his disciples; independent even when face to face with the bitter criticism and scorn of his antagonists; independent of all save God and his conscience. In a word, conceive a case in which moral authority and moral beauty combine to elicit a simultaneous tribute of reverence and of love. Clearly such a teacher must be a moral power." Impress that such teachers we should seek to find; such was the Apostle Paul; and under the power such can exert we may hope to grow into the "stature of the perfect man in Christ Jesus." - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you.