March 7, 2012
I’ve often wondered about Paul’s words in this verse, and I’ve never quite understood them. Why does Paul seem to discount the role of words? After all, aren’t words important since through them the gospel is proclaimed? And why does Paul seem to exalt power? Should I understand Paul to mean that when I minister I should do so in the power of miraculous healings and signs, etc?
I think Paul may have a very different understanding of power in this verse. In fact, he has even discounted such dramatic and powerful displays earlier in Corinthians. Paul writes, “Jews look for signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified. . . . Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom; God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:22-25).
Thus, Paul has defined power earlier in his letter to the Corinthians: power is none other than Christ crucified! So, in 1 Cor 4:20, Paul likely has this power in mind when he writes “the kingdom of God is not in talk but in power.” In other words, the power of the kingdom is Christ crucified and risen (cf. 1 Cor 15). Paul will proclaim the kingdom in this kind of power: always carrying around in his body the dying of the Lord so that life may be displayed. This power is despicable in the world’s eyes. So there is a great irony here. Proclaiming the kingdom in power means one will appear weak. Paul puts it like this, “I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Cor 2:3).