1 Corinthians 4:14-20
This is the final sermon in our series on 1 Corinthians. The guiding principle we've used here is that there is always a gap between the ideal things and the actual things, and if we try to fill that gap on our own, we will shred ourselves and those around us. The only thing that can truly fill that gap is the grace of God. In this passage Paul indicates that God's grace, God's kingdom, is not simply a matter of words but of power.
I don't think Paul is merely saying here that "Talk is cheap", as if he were saying that propositional truth is useless and advocates for action only. I think this for two reasons. First, the 'words' he is talking about are those of his detractors, and he is essentially calling them out. If they are right and he is wrong, then they need to back it up with the true power of God and not play 'armchair apostle.' Secondly, we know that the Word of God is indeed powerful - God created the world by speaking it into existence; Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away."
The power he is talking about is the visible power of God, manifesting in history. Take for example the Old Testametn prophet Elijah's showdown with the prophets of the pagan god Baal. The showdown was simple: the true god will be the one who sets the altar on fire. Baal guys are up first and they call out and do their mojo and nothing happens. Elijah then step up to the plate, orders some servants to put water on the altar so everyone knows there is no funny business going on, calls on the Name of the Lord...and shazaam! Fire! Lots of fire. The winner: Elijah. The kingdom of God demonstrates itself with power. This is what Paul is talking about.
The Gospel tells us that God works in history, in time with his power so that we might trust in him. Where most people fall flat is this way: they think that in order to experience God's power they have to first make themselves powerful. Jesus' power actually come to those who are weak and in need of him. God says that "My strength and power is perfected in your weakness." How often do we think that "I've got to clean myself up for God to love me." The Gospel tells us that the opposite is true - that the power of God is most present and at work in those who are in most need of him through weakness.