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1 Corinthians 4:19-20 (ESV):

19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.

What did Paul mean by "power" here?


Related: What did Paul mean when he said "with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power" in 1 Corinthians 2:4?

5 Answers 5

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The operative word here is δύναμις (dynamis) for which BDAG lists six basic meanings. However, the relevant one here is #1 (the most common and basic):

potential for functioning in some way, power, might, strength, force, capacity, eg, (a) general: Acts 1:8, Matt 22:29, Mark 12:24, Luke 22:69, Rom 1:16, 20, etc; ... (b) specifically, the power that works miracles, eg, Matt 14:2, Mark 6:14, Acts 10:38, 1 Cor 4:19, 20, 1 Thess 1:5, etc. ...

The distinction that Paul makes in 1 Cor 4:19, 20 is made clearer in 1 Cor 2 -

1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

Thus, "power" here is the miracle working power of God as imparted by either God directly, or via His Spirit through His servants, including Paul. This presumably also included the miracle of conversion as well as other miracles as evidenced by Paul's ministry.

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There are only two kinds of power, good and evil.

We can speak the truth without love or with arrogance and it is really not God’s power being displayed, but the world’s. Paul is seeking to establish what spirit, or power is behind their words.

…in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. 7For who considers you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? v6-

All good words are received from God and they are to be shared, but not with a spirit of pride or superiority. “The arrogant people” are Christians, but are not doing God’s bidding in His power. The Kingdom is advanced by God’s power only, not by substitute power pretending to be of God.

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There were some in Corinth who had challenged Paul’s apostolic authority (1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:4, and 4:3). In Paul’s absence they were bold to speak against him, but here Paul was promising to return to Corinth and settle all disputes, not with words, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is comparable to what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2. Paul used persuasive words, but his faith was in the power of the Holy Spirit to convict people’s hearts. One of the ways the Holy Spirit demonstrated His power through Paul was by miraculous healings and deliverances.

1 COR 2:4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Paul used the miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit through him as a verification of his apostolic calling (2 Corinthians 12:12).

Therefore, Paul was proposing a test similar to what Elijah did with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Those who opposed Paul would have to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives or shut up. Talk is cheap, but actions are powerful.

“The Life and Epistles of Paul” by W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson says it this way, “For mighty deeds, not empty words, are the tokens of God’s kingdom.”

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The context of these verses seem to be talking about the demonstration of the Spirit and the power concerning Jesus Christ and him crucified.

I don't think these have to do with the signs and wonders that were performed by him in other passages.

These new believers had so many problems going on in their congregation that had been communicated to Paul from the household of Chloe. There were divisions, gross immortality, lawsuits between believers, and many others that he addressed in the letter.

Many of these members were recently converted from pagan practices and they were having difficulty in adjusting breaking with the past. The word of the cross is the power for them to get on with their new lives.

To fix these problems they needed more than empty words spoken out of man's inflated wisdom. What was needed is a demonstration of the Spirit and power.

Their faith should not rest on the wisdom of men but on the message backed by the power of the Spirit of God.

Paul determined to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:2

They had already seen that power in their own lives as their testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in them. 1 Corinthians 1:6

always thank my God for you because of the grace He has given you in Christ Jesus. 5For in Him you have been enriched in every way, in all speech and all knowledge, 6because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.

For the word of the cross is the power of God.

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with words of wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power, For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

The question you brought forth concerning 1 Corinthians 19 and 20.

There were some in the Corinthian's midst who sounded very eloquent with their words that didn't seem to have any power associated in changing lives with their words.

First Corinthians 4:21 is very telling of these people who were teaching them. Sounds like they had a rod on their backs trying to get them in shape. It certainly seems like just the opposite happened.

What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod or with love and a spirit of gentleness? 1 Corinthians 4:21

Which is more powerful??

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What did Paul mean by "power" in 1 Corinthians 4:19-20?

"Power": Authority in the congregation given to him by the Lord. The authority was for spiritually building up the members of the congregation, with the teachings of Jesus and the power of God's spirit.

2 Corinthians 13:10 NASB

10 For this reason I am writing these things while absent, so that when present I need not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down.

1 Corinthians 2:1-10 NASB

Paul’s Reliance upon the Spirit

2 And when I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come as someone superior in [a]speaking ability or [b]wisdom, as I proclaimed to you the [c]testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 I also was with you in weakness and fear, and in great trembling, 4 and my [d]message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of [e]wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not [f]rest on the [g]wisdom of mankind, but on the power of God.

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