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A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

“When I came to you, brothers, I didn’t come with excellence of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith wouldn’t stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” - 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

What is power? In our world, a world of corporate takeovers, multi-million dollar political campaigns, and relational manipulation, we are no strangers to the quest for, and the procurement of, what we perceive to be power. As participants in this world, we feel the temptation to pursue authority in various forms and numerous guises; God’s Word confronts all of these quests for power.

In this passage from 1 Corinthians, Paul is addressing “power” as it is construed in Corinth.  When we read this, we are tempted to think in terms of philosophy versus miracles, with Paul landing on the side of miracles. There is actually something distinctly different going on here. Paul’s audience wasn’t relying philosophy or reason, but rhetoric. Skillfully delivered, persuasive words that may or may not be true were a sure way to legitimize yourself as a teacher in Corinth. They were the road to status and influence. In other words, they were the roads to power.  The actual means that influence was given is less relevant to us than the premise: power is seen in persuasion, societal status, and ability to influence a crowd.

Paul disagrees. He writes in 1 Corinthians 1:18-24:

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are dying, but to us who are saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

I will bring the discernment of the discerning to nothing.’

Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the lawyer of this world? Hasn’t God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom didn’t know God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save those who believe. For Jews ask for signs, Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Greeks, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

What is power? The word of the Cross. This scandal stands at the heart of the Gospel, and the heart of the Christian view of power and influence itself. Paul is saying to the Corinthians, and to us, that our road to power, whatever it may look like in your cultural setting (for us it often looks just like it did in Corinth: skillful rhetoric, low substance), is overturned as foolishness by God’s power and God’s wisdom. Power is seen not in our ability to influence a crowd, but our movement to serve those in it. How do we know? Jesus, God’s own Son, shows the power of God in just this way. It isn’t wisdom, it isn’t signs (verse 22), but it is Christ crucified: the power of God.

Our reality is reshaped by Jesus in every way, and nowhere more so than in our quest for power. Today, as we fast, let us again thank our Lord that He did not come to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28). Fasting allows us to remember that power is not known and exercised through human strength (if that were the case, fasting would be foolish!), but God’s power is shown in weakness and humble service. In Jesus, we have been given the model: today, in your fasting, pursue the power of God in the way of God’s Son.  

John Cunningham
Ministry Fellow at University of Pennsylvania