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. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 1 Corinthians 4:19-20
In any gym, there are those of who talk a big game, running their mouths and bragging about how much they can lift. Then, there are those who simply lift a lot. The talkers might fool you for a while. Spend any time at the gym though, and you’ll soon know who talks and who does. Everyone eventually figures out who the pretenders are. You are what you do, not what you say you will do (Yes, I stole that from an internet meme).
Paul wasn’t speaking of the gym, but he must have encountered a similar phenomenon as he prepared to visit the Corinthian church. In today’s passage, he called out those braggarts who ran their mouths, thinking quite highly of themselves, while doing nothing. He said that he was coming and that when he got there, he’d sort out the talkers from the doers. The kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.
This is a good reminder for us. Because we’re saved by grace, through faith, we cannot earn God’s love and forgiveness. We simply must believe in and call on God and we’re saved. Paul did indeed teach this blessed truth, but the temptation then, is to think that our behavior just doesn’t matter. All I must do is say the magic words and I’m good. I don’t have to do or change anything.
I’ve lived – and am sometimes still tempted to live – this way. If I’m saved by faith and forgiven for all time, then I might as well just do whatever I want. Being a Christian means I’ve got a cosmic get-out-of-jail-free card. In this kind of thinking, I’m like the big talker at the gym, claiming I’m a serious weightlifter, without ever lifting any weights.
Paul dispelled such absurdity in today’s passage when he said that God’s kingdom doesn’t exist in our empty words. We’re not saved by our actions, but if our faith is worth anything, it must lead to radical change in our behavior. Can others tell by watching us that we love God and love our neighbors? If we claim faith in Christ, our subsequent action (or inaction) proves that we’re either doers or simply pretenders.