“Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.” 1 Cor 4:18-20
Here Paul seems to be contrasting the Word and the Spirit, and the Word comes out on the short end, when he says, “For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.” So let’s investigate this to see if it is so.
Now, I think he is still talking about the world’s wisdom (word) vs. God’s power (Spirit). Let’s go back over the three chapters we have already read and see:
“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. 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 Cor 1:17-18
“… Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Cor 1:24
“And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Cor 2:4-5
“… not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches …” 1 Cor 2:13
“… If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.” 1 Cor 3:18
The contrasting that Paul has been doing since the first chapter, is the words of man vs. the power of the Spirit. He is not saying that God’s own Word is in opposition to God’s own Spirit. 1 Cor 1:24 even equates the power of God (Spirit) with the wisdom of God (Word), who are both Jesus Christ! The Word of God was spoken from the midst of the fire (Deu 4:12), i.e., the fire is the Spirit of God and the power of God (Mat 3:11)!
But man’s words, man’s wisdom, the world’s wisdom, and those who are mighty according to the world, are all on one side in these four chapters, while God’s words, God’s wisdom, His Spirit, and His power are all on the other side. And God’s side, even if it were weak (which it isn’t), is stronger than the world’s side (1 Cor 1:25)! So to make Paul’s meaning even more clear,
“For the kingdom of God is not in [the] word [of human wisdom] but in [the] power [of God].” 1 Cor 4:20
Now in 1 Cor 4:19, he talks about the word of those who are puffed up as if it was in opposition to the power. When he is talking about “the power,” we saw, he is talking about the power of God. But what is the word of those who are puffed up?
Well, we know that knowledge puffs up, but love edifies (1 Cor 8:1). The wisdom of this world is the wisdom that knows better than God; the wisdom that comes from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That knowledge, and pride in that knowledge, is the knowledge that puffs up. The word of those who are puffed up, is the word of human wisdom, and knowledge according to human wisdom, which is in opposition to the power of God.
Remember that God is not against knowledge or wisdom (2 Pet 1:2-5)! But the wisdom and knowledge of the world, i.e., the kingdoms of this world which rebelled against the kingdom (or kingship) of God beginning way back at the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9) and continues today, is against God and refuses to bow its knee to God, and this is why it is in opposition to God.