Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Little less conversation

"For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power."

In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul sees himself as up against people who talk a good game, especially when it comes to the kingdom of God and their part in it.  The position they seem to hold would probably nowadays be called 'over-realised eschatology' - they think they have all the blessings of the kingdom now, they think that they are reigning now, and (to pick up some hints from chapter 15 of the letter) they may even think that they have been resurrected now.

Paul's response to this and similar positions held in Corinth is the theology of the cross.  God displayed his power in the weakness of Christ crucified; God displayed his wisdom in the folly of Christ crucified.  Paul has modelled his ministry on Christ - perhaps not deliberately, perhaps just inevitably as he has sought faithfully to proclaim the gospel.  He hasn't been impressive, humanly speaking.  He hasn't come with strength or with glorious rhetoric.  He preached the weak and foolish cross, in a weak and foolish way, and God worked.

But within that context, Paul asserts that the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.

If there isn't a contradiction here, it must be a funny sort of power Paul is talking about here - a cruciform power, the power of God revealed in weakness.  But still, it's power.  It is all very well for these folk in Corinth to talk about their kingly enjoyment of the kingdom of God - which they seem to see displayed in exalted and lofty ideas, a refined spirituality, a liberation from the moral strictures of human society, a deliverance from the suffering that is the common lot of humanity.  But Paul has power, a power that will puncture all this talk.  The power of the gospel of Christ crucified, presented in a cruciform way, by the apostle whose ministry is shaped by the cross.

Here's what I wrestle with.  In the church as I know it, there's a lot of talk.  But there's not a lot of power.  And the temptation is to try to substitute more talk for what's missing.  The more we feel the gap between the NT description of the Christian life and our own experience of it, the more we're tempted to talk up the Christian life.  Papering over the weakness of our experience of the Spirit with words.  But that's not the kingdom of God.

Praying this morning for genuine power, not to bypass the cross or the weakness or the suffering, but to take the cross and the weakness and the suffering and make them the place where God's power is displayed.

No comments:

Post a Comment