1Co 4:18-21 “Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you. But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?”
Paul demonstrated an intimate knowledge of the children he had begotten through the gospel. Apparently, those that laid claim to Apollos or Peter felt a certain vindication that Paul had written this letter and sent it with Timothy, but had not come himself. They were boastful in their conceit that Paul was not really concerned with them and would not come to exercise any authority. Here Paul lays that notion to rest.
As at other times, Paul makes recognition of the fact that his will in this matter was not primary. We never want to fall into a pattern of saying “the Lord willing” as some sort of catchphrase. However, in all we purpose to do we should recognize in our hearts that we can only do in His kingdom according to His will. Paul’s intent was to come to the Corinthian brethren in person and soon, but He also recognized that might not be the Lord’s will since the Spirit had forbidden other things that Paul had intended (Act 16:6-8).
Paul also let them know that he was not going to be impressed with pretty speeches. Sometimes we are swept away in the excitement and beauty of an oration without ever really stopping to consider if there was any godly worth in what we have heard. We are fooled by good oratory only to later discover that there was no real strength in the words.
I have heard literally thousands of sermons in my life, some of them by highly educated men and others by men who never completed high school. Where the speech of some was garnished with a large vocabulary and well spoken, the speech of others was riddled with grammatical errors and colloquial expressions. However, the power was not in any man’s use of the language but in the Holy Ghost using the men doing the speaking.
As it was then, so it remains today. We have those who are caught up in the presentation and entertainment value of a speaker without any thought to whether there is true power in what we are hearing. The kingdom of God is not in flowery words and entertaining presentation. The kingdom of God is in the power of the words He gives to His ministers that convicts us of our sinfulness and then assures us of His grace and mercy.
When we go in the service of God, like Paul we can have every expectation of being able to discern between speech and power. We should not be swayed by a haughty spirit and fancy presentations. We should not assume that a man of simple living with no great degree of education is less worthy of our attention than one who is well educated and holds a high position, or vice versa. This is not about men: it is about the power of God in His kingdom.
Paul now calls them back to consider the parental role that he feels toward them. He also puts some responsibility directly back on them. Today we might say “The ball is in your court.” Paul was telling them that how he came to them rested squarely on their shoulders. It was up them whether he showed up with a switch or with a smile and a quiet spirit. Either way, he was coming as a father to dearly loved children.
May God grant us His mercy to again know the power in His kingdom and to remember that, whether with a rod or in the spirit of meekness, that power assures us that we are His children!