“The word of the cross is…the power of God.” ~I Corinthians 1:18
How can the message of truth be the power of God? Is not power a force acting on someone or something? How can a word–a message, a proposition, a teaching–be power?
As usual, I like to look at the context as I try to answer these sorts of questions that I like to ask…. Here we see that, as Paul begins this first letter to the Corinthians, he is emphasizing the power of God–and specifically, the power of God’s words. So let us see what he says on the subject of the word and of power: “…but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” ~1:23-24 “…and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” ~2:4-5 “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” ~2:12-13 “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” ~4:1 “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.” ~4:20
This reminds me of this Westminster Shorter Catechism question: “Q. 31: What is effectual calling? A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlighting our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.”
The Word of the Lord does not return to him void–it always accomplishes that for which it was appointed. The word of the cross, the gospel of Christ, was appointed that men might humble themselves, repent of their sins, believe him, and walk in obedience to the reigning Christ (see Acts 2). If it was the will of God to choose “what is weak in the world to shame the strong”–it was in order that “no human being might boast in the presence of God” (I Corinthians 1:27 & 28). If it was his will to establish his power through the foolishness of preaching–what can we say against him? Shall we pretend to be wiser than God? Indeed, he is wiser than us, for he has not only provided the message to be preached, but also the means to make that preaching effectual–the Holy Spirit of God.
“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” ~I Thessalonians 1:4-5 “…by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God…” ~Romans 15:18 & 19 “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” ~I Corinthians 2:14 The Scriptures always link the power of the word with the Spirit of God–it is he who applies the word of the cross to the hearts of the hearers–or not.
In closing this extremely brief discussion of this beautiful teaching of Scripture, let us honestly say with the apostle Paul, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” ~Romans 1:16