THE KINGDOM IN POWER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 4:20
6-26-55 10:50 a.m.
In our preaching through the Word, we have come to the last part of the fifth – of the fourth – chapter of the first Corinthian letter. It is a marvelous text that I have, and it is an indescribable disappointment to me this morning that I feel so bad that I can hardly deign to do justice to this marvelous passage in God’s Word. I tell you that not to seek your sympathy but to say that I cannot preach this as it ought to be preached. I can but point it out in the Word of God, but you can see it from the Book. I’ve been struggling for about three days to stay on my feet, and in about two or three more, I’ll be all right. So there’s nothing for you to think about. I just feel bad.
Now, this glorious passage: its text is the twentieth verse, and in your Bible now, in the fourth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, we begin at the fourteenth verse and read to the twentieth:
I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.
For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.
For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus
– Timothy –
who is my beloved son
– his son in the ministry –
faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.
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 in not in word, but in power.
[1 Corinthians 4:14-20]
And that’s that glorious text: "For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power" [1 Corinthians 4:20].
In the sixteenth verse, the Apostle says: "As I follow Christ, you follow me" [1 Corinthians 4:16]. Then in the previous verse, he had made appeal that they listen to him because he was their father in the gospel; he had begotten them in the Lord Jesus [1 Corinthians 4:15]. Then in the seventeenth verse, he says: "I am sending you Timothy . . . who will remind you of my ways in the Lord Jesus" [1 Corinthians 4:17]. Then in the eighteenth and nineteenth verse, he says: "But do not think because I am sending Timothy that I myself am not to come, as some of the teachers insinuate that I would not dare to come – I would not show my presence" [1 Corinthians 4:18]. For, says he, "They speak the message of Christ boastfully" – in words, oratorically, rhetorically. They have great form and appearance, but the kingdom of God is not in form or appearance [1 Corinthians 4:19]. It’s not in word or language. It is not in eloquence or peroration, but the kingdom of God is in the power of the Holy Spirit [1 Corinthians 4:20].
Now, you will find in Paul that constant contrast between religion of sound, empty – of form, of appearance – in contrast to the kingdom of the regenerating power of God. For example, in the 1 Thessalonians letter and the first chapter, the fifth verse, he says – the Apostle says: "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power" [1 Thessalonians 1:5]. And once again, in the third chapter of the second letter to Timothy, the same apostle writes of those who "having a form of godliness, deny the power thereof" [2 Timothy 3:5] – that same contrast. And in the fourteenth chapter of the letter to Rome, he will say again in the seventeenth verse: "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost" [Romans 14:17].
It is amazing as you take a concordance of that Greek word dunamis from whence we get our word "dynamite, dynamic, dynamo," – translated "power" – it is amazing in how many places the apostle Paul will use that word referring to the Kingdom of God. For example, in the first chapter of the Book to Rome and the sixteenth verse, he says: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation" [Romans 1:16].
And in this letter out of which I am preaching, in the little two pages that I’ll turn, listen to the Apostle as he will write. First Corinthians 1:18: "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us who are saved it is the power of God." Now look again in the same chapter in the twenty-fourth verse, the previous one: "We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block and unto the Greeks foolishness" [1 Corinthians 1:23]. Now the twenty-fourth: "But unto them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ – we preach Christ – the power of God and the wisdom of God" [1 Corinthians 1:24].
Now in the same way, in the next chapter – just turn the page – in the second chapter of the first Corinthian letter, the fourth and the fifth verses:
And when I came to you preaching the gospel, I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
– and then the next verse –
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
[1 Corinthians 2:3-5]
And turn the page and there is this text of the morning: "For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power" [1 Corinthians 4:20].
I say, you find that thing constantly contrasted in the Word and in the epistles of the apostle Paul. They contrast between a religion of empty sound – of form, of appearance, of rhetoric, of sophistry, of philosophy, of ritual, of intellectualism – and the religion true which is of God, which is manifested in the power of the Lord – a religion of substance, a religion of reality, a religion of transforming grace, a religion of regenerating power.
Now that is an age-old contrast. It has been since the dawn of mankind. This difference between a religion of the word, of the form, of the gesture, of the bending of the knee, of the vestment, of the ritual, of the incantation, of the shibboleth, of the voodoo work, of the gorgeous ceremony, of the basilica, of the temple, of the sacrifice – a religion of form and word in contrast to a religion of the revealing, dynamic power of God. That was the thing against which the old prophets inveighed in the ancient religion of the Jews. The Jews had the inevitable weakness of all mankind of mistaking the shadow for the substance, the form for the real thing.
Micah, for example – listen to Micah as he will preach:
Wherewithal shall I come before the Lord, and how shall I bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Even shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
Real religion is never a matter of a burnt offering, or a libation, or any kind of ceremonial approach to appease the wrath of God, but real religion is always of the soul and of the heart: "What doth God ask of you but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" [Micah 6:8]
Now when you turn to the Book of Jeremiah, the preaching of the prophet is the same thing. In the seventh chapter of his message, he writes, quoting the Lord:
Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: "Put away all of those burnt offerings. Put away all of those sacrifices.
"For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.
"But this is the thing that I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey my voice, I will be your God and ye shall be my people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded to you, that it may be well with you.’"
And one other: the same identical thing is in this opening sermon of the prophet Isaiah:
Hear the word of the Lord . . .
"To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?" saith the Lord. "I am full of burnt offerings and the fat of fed beasts. I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs or of he goats.
"When you come to appear before Me with these things, who required this of your hand? . . .
"Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto Me. Your New Moons, and your Sabbaths, and your calling of assemblies – I can’t away with; it is iniquity . . .
"Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth;
they are a trouble unto Me; I am weary to bear them.
"When you spread forth your hands in all of those beautiful, gorgeous genuflections, I’ll hide my eyes; yea, when you say all of those pretty prayers, I won’t listen . . .
"Wash your hands . . . Put away evil.
"Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed; judge the fathers, plead for the widow.
"Come now, and let us reason together," saith the Lord, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
Real religion is a direct approach to God where the Lord God talks to the soul and where the suppliant talks directly to God. And that’s the thing Paul meant in the second chapter of the Book of Romans when he said: "For he is not a Jew which is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men but of God" [Romans 2:28-29]. And that eternal distinction between religion of form – and of ritual and of ceremony and of sound, of the saying of prayers, of the going through all of those incantations – that contrast between religion of sound, of word, and a religion of the power of God has been, I say, a universal contrast in all the story of mankind.
When Paul walked through the streets of Athens [Acts 17:16-34], when Paul walked through the streets of Corinth [Acts 18:1-18], when Paul walked through the streets of the Asian capital of Ephesus [Acts 18:19-21, 19:1-20:1], he saw on every hand the most gorgeous displays of religion the earth has ever seen. There has been no temple erected to any God like the seventh wonder of the world, the Temple of Artemis [Acts 19:24-27, 34-41], Diana Ephesians. There was no temple in the earth the world has ever seen that has survived, even in ruins, like the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens, and the whole gorgeous, glorious city of Corinth was filled with beautiful marble temples.
What kind of worship was on the inside of those temples? The most glorious pageantry, the most impressive ritual that the Greek mind – and that’s the greatest mind that has ever characterized any race – the most gorgeous ritual that any mind has ever conceived of. The Greek knew how to build a house for god, and he did it better than anybody in the world; and the Greek knew how to write glorious hymns, and he did it better than anybody in the world; and the Greek knew how to make gorgeous rhetorical addresses to the gods, and he did that better than anybody in the world; and the Greek knew how to make beautiful form and pageantry with artistry and all that enters into high cultural worship. He had it all. He had it all. And as Paul walked among it, he looked upon those gorgeous temples and that marvelous ritual and those beautiful pageantries of worship. All of that was in Paul’s day.
And that has been the curse of the development of historical Christianity in all of the generations since. Some of it takes the form of being most intellectual – a religion of word. Sometimes it takes this form; intellectual assent. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptized, and you’re saved [Acts 2:38; 16:31].
Sometimes it takes the turn in the form of sophistry and philosophy. You go to church, and you listen to a learned minister discourse on many, many of the highly complex intellectual problems of the day. He’s bookish. He’s read many, many volumes, and he speaks learnedly and scholastically, and he is filled with all kinds of things that treat of the mind, and of intellectual grasp, and metaphysical intuition, and philosophical insight.
And then sometimes this religion takes the form of the most glorious pageantry the world has seen in modern times. The churches are built so beautifully, and the vestments are so gorgeous, and the form is so wonderful, and there is an aping event in all of the churches of the world. Every time they build a church, there’s a tendency to build it like that. Every time a denomination grows and moves on the right side of the railroad tracks, it has a tendency to have services like that. And whenever we give ourselves maturity and we grow up and we become affluent, we love those beautiful rituals, and the minister to be just so, and the services to be just so, and the music to be just so. All religion has a tendency to develop in that direction.
But I tell you again as Isaiah thundered, as Jeremiah thundered, as Micah thundered, as Paul thundered: Religion is never found – not the power of God – it is never found in the basilica, or in the temple, or in the form, or in the ceremony, or in the vestment, or in the incantation, or in the litany, or in the ceremony – but the religion of Almighty God is found in its dynamic changing power [Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 4:20]. And if it’s not in that, then it isn’t.
The place doesn’t matter [John 4:19-24]. Elijah knelt down on his knees at the hour of the evening sacrifice in the dust on top of Mount Carmel, and on the other side were all the prophets of Baal who’d gone through all of their incantations according to the elaborate ritual of the sun god. Elijah, lone and by himself, knelt down in the dust by the side of the altar and prayed saying, "O God, for this one time, hear Thy servant and send the fire." And the Lord heard and the Lord answered by fire on top of Mount Carmel [1 Kings 18:20-40].
I don’t know where it was, but somewhere in Jerusalem, the disciples who had been threatened for their lives gathered together and knelt down and prayed that God would give them power and unction to testify to the grace of the Son of God [Acts 4:18-30]. And while they prayed, the place was shaken where they were gathered together, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit [Acts 4:31]. It doesn’t matter where. A kitchen is just as good as a cathedral. This church is just as good as a barn, or a barn is just as good as this church. Anywhere’s all right. The difference lies in the power of God [1 Corinthians 4:20].
Any form is all right, any form. It makes no difference the form. Any form is all right. Way back yonder, long ago, they marched around Jericho [Joshua 6:1-20]. What a crazy way to obey the mandates of God! They marched around the city, but the Lord was in the marching and the walls fell down. Any form is all right. Paul and Silas were in jail. Their feet were in stocks, in chains [Acts 16:23-24]; their hands were in stocks, and they were on the inside of the dungeon. But they prayed and sang praises to God, and the Lord shook the jail and the whole earth quaked [Acts 16:25-26]. Any form is all right – any form. The difference lies in the presence of God.
Jacob, by himself with a stone for a pillow in the nighttime, saw the heavens open and the angels of God ascending and descending up and down that Jacob’s ladder – way out there with his head pillowed on a stone [Genesis 28:10-15]. And when he arose, he said: "This is none other than Bethel," the house of God [Genesis 28:16-19]. Any place is all right if God is there. Any form is all right if the presence of the Lord is in it. It’s God’s power that makes the difference [Acts 4:20].
In the New Testament, in the New Testament, they looked to heaven and prayed and the Spirit of the Lord came down. In the household of Cornelius, while they listened to the preached word of Simon Peter the Holy Ghost fell on all them that believed [Acts 10:34-48]. While they walked along the way, the two on the Road to Emmaus said to one another, "Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened unto us the Scripture?" [Luke 24:32]
Any place is all right: way up there in that classroom on the seventh floor, over there in the lower floor of that activities building, up there on that skating rink, down there in Coleman Hall, here in this auditorium, there in one of your homes – anywhere is all right. It’s the throne of God, it’s the gate to glory, it’s Jacob’s ladder [Genesis 28:10-22], it’s the presence of the Holy Spirit, it’s God that makes the difference. And real religion is never in word. It’s never in ceremony. It’s never in phrase. It’s never in peroration. It’s never in language. It’s in demonstration of the Spirit and the power of God [1 Corinthians 2:4, 4:20].
And that’s what we cry out for: "O Lord, not the husks of religion, not we. Others may be content with just the form [2 Timothy 3:5]. Others may be very happy with just the ceremony. Others may be glad indeed for just the respectability of it, but not we. We seek the moving Spirit of God. We seek the power of the Holy Ghost. We seek the regenerating presence of the Lord God."
Where is the Lord God of Elijah? Where is the Lord God of the prophets? Where is the Lord God of the apostles? Where are the days of the outpouring of Pentecost? [Acts 2:1-47]. Where is the glory that filled the mercy seat? [Exodus 25:22; Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 7:89] Where is the Shekinah presence of Jehovah God? [2 Chronicles 7:1-3]. Where is it – the burning in the soul as Jesus walked with them by the way? [Luke 24:32] That’s what we seek. Lord, in this class; Lord, in this service; Lord, in this auditorium; Lord, in this hour, may the Spirit of the Lord so fill the house that it is hard to believe that there’s room for us God has so pre-empted every seat and every aisle and every place.
Now, Mr. Souther, we sing our song. And while we sing it, while we sing it, somebody you, give your heart to the Lord. Somebody you, put your life in the church. Somebody you, answering the call of God: "Here I am, Pastor, and here I come, preacher. This day we take the Lord as our Savior, and this day we’re putting our lives in the fellowship of the church."
While we sing this appeal, prayerfully sing it, while we sing this appeal, into that aisle and down to the front and by the side of the pastor, would you come? "Here I am, Pastor, and here I am." While our people pray, while God’s will is done, and while we wait just for you: "Here I come, Pastor, and here I am. This is my whole family. We’re all coming – the whole family – we’re all coming." Or one somebody you, while we make appeal, make it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.