1 Corinthians 4:20
For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.
The contrast between word and power is familiar to our minds. To say of a man that he is a stickier for the letter, a pedant about forms, a zealot for words, is to say that he is shallow and tiresome. A wise man looks beneath the skin and shape of things to their substance. An effective man goes in for power. Yet the world is governed by words as the expressions of thought and purpose. Education is conducted, opinion is formed, all human combinations of knowledge and practical force are got together, and held together, by means of fit words. The kingdom of God itself is introduced by the Word of testimony. What avails not is mere repetition of words after the manner of a charm, or "vain jangling" about verbal forms. Especially irksome must all such metallic clatter of words without profit have been to a man so much in earnest as St. Paul. No doubt there was much of it among the Christians at Corinth, where to the minute pedantry of Jews was added the inveterate disputation of Greeks. The apostle wished to discourage their sharp word contests, and gave notice that, on his next visit, he would probe the arrogant pretensions of certain talkers very closely. Their speech would avail them little if they failed in spiritual power. Such cautions against religious verbalism are needed constantly. Just because Christianity owes so much to true and faithful utterances, rests on testimony, and requires much teaching, it is peculiarly liable to be weakened by hollow, pretentious, or disputatious speaking. Therefore must we emphasize the futility of religious words without the informing Spirit of life and power. The great characteristic of the kingdom of God, as announced by Jesus Christ, and spread abroad by his apostles, was its penetrating and elevating dynamic. It had a quiet but potent energy. It could "turn the world upside down;" could break off Jews from self righteousness and Gentiles from idolatry, abase the proud and exalt the lowly, make the wise simple and the simple wise. And what was this power? It was the force of truth, the diffusive element of light, the majesty of righteousness, the sublime persuasiveness of love. It was all this, and more. It was the heart piercing and enthralling energy of the Holy Ghost, working with and by the Word. God gave the increase. In the light of St. Paul's compact and weighty saying, look at -
I. THE KINGDOM OF GOD AMONG OURSELVES. We speak not of a particular Church, but of the kingdom moving forwards in the midst of Churches variously constituted and administered. Church usages and appointments may, and indeed must, change. It is not possible or desirable to reproduce in the nineteenth century, and in the West, the very Church of the first century in the East. But the kingdom of God must be, and is, the same. It is "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." Wherever these are found, they betoken the presence of a heavenly power. But a Church may appear strong, and yet be at heart cold and weak. It may be irreproachable in word and form, clothed with venerable traditions as some old wall is mantled with ivy; it may be exemplary in all the routine of prayer and preaching, and yet be barren and ineffective, because it has nothing but forms and words; and "the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." It is quite impossible to overcome the world, abase the proud, sober the frivolous, arrest the mind that is busy with a thousand trifles, or lift up the spirit that has debased itself to avaricious deceits or to those fleshly vices which civilization cannot overcome, by words ever so well chosen, services ever so comely, forms of godliness ever so correct. What is wanted is the kingdom of God in power.
II. THE KINGDOM OF GOD ELSEWHERE - EVERYWHERE. Even if we take a very hopeful survey of missionary work, we must confess that Churches have been too languid in purpose, too pedantic in method, and in some places too jealous of one another, too ready to cry, "Lo, here!" "Lo, there!" It is the kingdom of God which should be preached; and if only its power comes to be felt, we might all keep our minds comparatively easy about the moulds into which new life may flow, or the forms under which Christian activity may organize itself throughout the world. It is a startling and mournful fact that in countries where our faith has been professed for centuries, we have yet to discuss the evidences of Christianity. Christian literature has reached an almost prodigious development; and Christian teaching and preaching are not scarce. Yet the world does not believe or obey the gospel. Surely there is a hiding of power. Rise up, Christians! gird up the loins of your mind. Be evidences of Christianity, known and read of all. There is no witness so luminous and so irresistibly convincing as that which comes from the practical effect of the gospel on the minds, consciences, dispositions, and conduct of the men and women who profess to believe it. - F.
Parallel VersesKJV: For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.