The Names of Jesus #7

"Jesus Christ Is Lord"

April 26, 1998 / Philippians 2:6-11

The earliest Christian churches were communities of praise. Using both the Psalter from the Old Testament and their own original compositions, those believers sang their confessions of faith. Thus we find an exhortation such as this from Paul: "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord . . ." (Eph. 5:19; cf. Col. 3:16).

In terms of their own compositions, several of those early Christian hymns are embedded in the text of our New Testament. The ones that survive to us are probably among the favorite ones of the church, for they would have been chosen both for their appropriateness to a topic and their ability to communicate with readers in a positive way. For example, here is a beautiful Christological hymn that is astounding for its breadth and depth of confession:

He appeared in a body,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory (1 Tim. 3:16).

In the absence of written Scripture that could be distributed widely and inexpensively, what better way was available for those believers to carry about summaries of their faith? As they worked in the house or field, the lines of this song would course through their minds. As a mother nursed her child, she could sing the words aloud. As a family sat down to a meal, this brief hymn could be the table grace. In any of these circumstances, repeating these brief but profound truths would have had the effect of reinforcing and nurturing faith.1

People of all cultures love music still. And the power of music to shape values and culture can be demonstrated not only from church history but with the frightening memory of militaristic Nazi propaganda set to march time. In modern America and Europe, nothing has done more to legitimate immoral sex and illegal drugs than music. For good or ill, music has power to educate and influence people of all ages and backgrounds..

The New Testament hymn I cherish above all others is the one Paul copied into the text of his epistle to the church at Philippi. To illustrate the point he was making about humility as a cardinal virtue among Godís people, he quoted the words of what was likely already a familiar and beloved hymn to Jesus.2 Whether Paul had composed it himself or was quoting another, we cannot be sure. What we are sure of is its enduring power to stir the hearts of believers with its profound affirmations about Jesus Christ.

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death ó even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:6-11).

This poem about Jesus makes three principal affirmations. First, it proclaims his deity. His "equality with God" in a pre-fleshly existence is the beginning stanza of the hymn. Second, it heralds the drama of incarnation and atonement. Without denying or renouncing his deity, Jesus laid aside the inherent privilege of his standing as God in order to be "made in human likeness." In this act of humility, he remains the model for all his followers. Third, the song confesses "the name that is above every name" which has been bestowed on Jesus in his resurrected and exalted state: "Jesus Christ is Lord."

That Jesus Christ is Lord is a confession not only men but angels (i.e., those "in heaven") and demons (i.e., creatures "under the earth," cf. Matt. 8:28ff) must acknowledge. He has won the great cosmic victory over Satan, evil, and death. Therefore he has the right to wear the name above all others ó Lord!

Significance of the Term "Lord"

The term "Lord" (Gk, kyrios) fundamentally signifies one who holds a position with authority, one who rules at some level. Another Greek word that is also translated "Lord" or "Master" is despot_s; it sometimes entails overtones of harshness and capriciousness, however. Kyrios, by contrast, points to one who has legitimate authority. A pretender and usurper might be despot_s in relation to his subjects. Only one with the lawful right to rule could be kyrios.3

In its wide variety of potential settings within Greek culture, kyrios would on occasion be simply a polite form of address; it would be the linguistic equivalent of our "Sir" or "Madam" in English. It could acknowledge someone as a leader in a family or community. It was often used of persons with official position and authority ó of an officer in relation to a foot soldier or of an owner to a slave. Occasionally it was even a title given to deity. On this final point, it is particularly important to note the fact that kyrios is used to replace the covenant name of God (Heb., YHWH) in the overwhelming majority of cases ó more than 6,000! ó in the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint.4

New Testament usage reflects all these variations of meaning with reference to Jesus. The Samaritan woman at Jacobís Well intended nothing more than a respectful address to the man she met there who asked her for a drink of water when she said, "Sir (Gk, kyrios), you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep" (John 4:11a). The notion of oneís status as a leader is contained in this question from Jesusí own lips: "Why do you call me, ĎLord, Lord,í and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46a). That he was acknowledged as someone with an official status and authority over others is evident in this Pauline text: "For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living" (Rom. 14:9). Yet the status of Jesus as God is clearly affirmed in a verse such as this one: "Thomas said to him, ĎMy Lord and my God!í " (John 20:28; cf. Eph. 1:15-23; Rev. 1:5; 19:15f).

Jesusí Dramatic Claim

Once when Jesus was teaching in the Temple area, he put a challenge to some teachers of the Law of Moses who had been questioning him. He cited a psalm of King David that all of them regarded as Messianic in scope. Following the text of Psalm 110 as found in the Septuagint, he quoted: "The Lord said to my Lord . . ." Knowing that this body of biblical interpreters (1) regarded David as the author of this line and (2) believed he was prophesying about the Messiah, Jesus wanted to know how the text could affirm that (3) the Messiah who was destined to come of Davidís descendants could also be Davidís "Lord."

This is sometimes called one of the "hard sayings" of Jesusí earthly ministry. Indeed, it does pose a question that Christian interpretation can answer and to which Jewish response falls silent. If ó in ancient or modern times ó the Jewish rabbis hold that the Messiah is to be identified with the nation of Israel as a political entity, how indeed did David see the Messiah as "Lord"? How could the nationís king see that nation as his sovereign?

On the other hand, suppose the Messiah is a singular person rather than a political body. The statement then has a decidedly different meaning.

The point made is that David himself distinguished between his earthly, political sovereignty and the higher level of sovereignty assigned to the Messiah. The Messiah is not only "son of David"; he is also, and especially, his Lord. His role is not to restore on earth the Davidic kingdom or the sovereignty of Israel. He does not simply extend the work of David, but comes to establish a wholly different Kingdom, the throne of which is situated at Godís right hand. It is thus the question of another kind of fulfillment to the promise than that which contemporary Judaism expected.5

From the point of view of Christian interpretation, this is unquestionably a thinly veiled self-declaration. It was an invitation for the scribes of his own time to confess Jesus as the Messiah and to give him their allegiance. He was calling on them to offer the same declaration his own disciples had already made (cf. Mark 8:27-29). In their failure to confess him as Messiah, they set themselves over against him and his claims. If they rejected the one to whom David had pointed, they could not be part of the fulfillment of what the Holy Spirit had predicted through him. One writer has summarized this confrontation with these words: "This challenge marks the climax of Jesusí encounters with the Jewish religious teachers and leaders. Their failure to respond positively to this challenge marked the point of no return."

Contrary to the claim sometimes made that the later Greek church adopted the term "Lord" for Jesus, it seems clear that writers such as Paul learned rather than created this title for him. The Greek church learned this Aramaic prayer to Jesus from their Jewish predecessors in faith: "Marana tha!" Jews and Greeks together prayed, "Come, O Lord!" (cf. 1 Cor. 16:22).

"Jesus is Lord" became simultaneously the earliest confession and earliest creed of the church.

The Key to Pauline Theology

The most important expression in the writings of Paul ó if not in the larger theology of the New Testament ó is "in the Lord." The expression signifies that which is done in the presence of, by the authority of, under the power of, and to the glory of Jesus Christ.

What is the source of all instruction, faith, and behavior for the faithful church? "So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking" (Eph. 4:17; cf. 1 Thess. 4:1). All that makes Christians distinctive from others has to do with the Lordship of Jesus.

What is the basis of strength and stability in the lives of Godís elect? "Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends" (Phil. 4:1). We find power in the Lordship of Jesus.

What is the motivation for Christian service? "Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord" (Rom. 16:12). "Tell Archippus: ĎSee to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lordí" (Col. 4:17). Any ministry that is distinctly Christian is done in the power of the Lordship of Jesus.

What is the ground of Christian love and fellowship in the body of Christ? "Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord" (Rom. 16:8). Athletic teams and humanitarian agencies have a bond in their common goal. The church is bound together by the real and pervasive presence of the Lordship of Jesus throughout its membership.

What hope do Christians have for the future? "He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:8; cf. 1 Thess. 5:2). The confidence of believers has nothing to do with their own strength or some nebulous theory of historical progress; it has everything to do with their lives being grounded on the Lordship of Jesus.

What gives the saints of God an ability to smile in the face of death or to be happy in the most difficult of life circumstances? "Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!" (Phil. 3:1a). The ability to write those words while under arrest in Rome has been multiplied in the experiences of countless others who have suffered for the faith. It is not temperament that bestows such a gift but the power of the Lordship of Jesus.

What is the defining commitment that makes life meaningful to Christians? "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col. 3:17; cf. 1 Cor. 15:58). The church announces to all the world that the path to all that is noble, holy, and eternal for it is marked by the Lordship of Jesus.

The sphere of Christís Lordship is the church ó that community whose identity, nature, and functions are determined by its relationship to him. The church is made up of all those who have been baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:26-27), who continually examine themselves and find renewal in repentance in the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 11:28-32), and who proclaim the gospel of Christ to the world (Rom 1:16).

In his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has shown himself to be the master and sovereign over all things. Thus we must never be content with or dominated by the worldís lesser powers. We must, instead, believe, proclaim, and live the truth that Jesus is Lord.

The Personal Implications of Lordship

Robert Boyd Mungerís "My Heart, Christís Home" is a well-known piece of modern Christian writing that points to the everyday personal implications of honoring Jesus as the Lord of oneís life. With apologies to those who know it and for whom my use may be redundant and also to those who may not know it and for whom my account of Mungerís parable may be a diminishment of the original, I know of no better way to make this topic concrete than to borrow from his excellent little piece. It imagines someone becoming a Christian and inviting Jesus to exercise his Lordship in all things.

One evening I invited Jesus Christ into my heart. What an entrance he made! It was not a spectacular, emotional thing, but very real. Something happened at the very center of my life. He came into the darkness of my heart and turned on the light. He built a fire on the hearth and banished the chill. He started music where there had been stillness, and He filled the emptiness with His own loving, wonderful fellowship. I have never regretted opening the door to Christ and I never will.

In the joy of this new relationship I said to Jesus Christ, "Lord, I want this heart of mine to be Yours. I want to have You settle down here and be perfectly at home. Everything I have belongs to You. Let me show You around."

From this beginning, it is imagined that Jesus is invited to enter first one and then another part of a believerís heart. From the study to the dining room to the hall closet, Jesus is taken from one place to the next. The meaning of allowing him to be master and sovereign of the various parts of oneís personality and lifestyle gradually unfold in a powerful way.

First, imagine inviting Jesus to the study, the library, the intellectual center of your personality. This is an invitation for him to look over the books and magazines you read, the pictures on your walls. In todayís setting, it would be a petition for him to see your CD collection, your videocassette library, and the log for your Internet browser.

Perhaps like the person in Mungerís parable, you find yourself feeling uncomfortable as Jesus peruses your mental processes. They may need a good cleaning. You may need to throw away some of the materials you read or cancel your online service. Put in their place instead the Bible and music or literature or visual images that will help you think healthier thoughts. Here is the biblical guideline for this room of oneís heart: "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable ó if anything is excellent or praiseworthy ó think about such things" (Phil. 4:8).

Next visualize asking Jesus into the dining room of your heart ó the room of your appetites and desires. And what is its "menu" of favorite dishes? What are the things you seek most eagerly? Would Jesus see items such as money, stocks, and investments? Might he see diplomas and awards or newspaper clippings and photos of you with powerful people?

If things of this sort dominate your daydreams and life goals, you are surely neglecting this counsel from Jesus: "But seek first [Godís] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matt. 6:33). He also said: "I have food to eat that you know nothing about. . . . My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to do his work" (John 4:32-34). To eat from this menu and to know the delightful taste of seeking and doing the will of God above all else is to experience a satisfaction unlike anything the world can offer.

Then comes the living room in Mungerís parable ó more likely the family room or den in todayís home architecture. It is the comfortable and intimate place of the heart. It is where one goes for good fellowship or serious conversation. Jesus likes to meet with believers in this room regularly. He will be there early every morning or the last thing at night. He makes his own schedule there flexible for the sake of those he loves! He will go over the day with you and sort out priorities, talk over the tough challenges, and figure out what to do with anything that has gone wrong.

This is an important room in all our hearts. And most of us ó at least in the early days of faith ó are regular in meeting with Jesus to listen to his words and to offer ours to him in prayer. It is precious, wonderful time together. Your heart fairly soars as he opens windows of spiritual insight. So many things get sorted out and put right here.

But it is easy to let crowded schedules and distractions eat into your time alone with Jesus in this special place. One begins missing the appointment occasionally. It is never really intentional, mind you. Itís just that "urgent matters" crowd out those quiet times alone with Jesus that once were so important.

One thing is certain: He is always there and never fails to keep his appointment with you. "I have redeemed you at great cost," you can almost hear him saying. "I value your fellowship. Even if you cannot keep the quiet time for your own sake, do it for mine."

Maybe this is the verse all of us should engrave on the door to this room of our hearts both as a challenge and as a reminder: "I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word" (Psa. 119:16). Or perhaps this is what we put on the door to that important room: "May my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word" (Psa. 119:169).

Next Jesus asks to visit the workroom or garage workbench of your heart-home. Well, yes, there is one there. There are some tools and equipment you may not have used much. You donít feel that you know much about kingdom work. You donít feel confident about your ability to turn out pieces worthy of him.

"All right. Let me have your hands," he urges. "Now relax in me and let my Spirit work through you. I know that you are unskilled, clumsy, and awkward, but the Holy Spirit is the Master Workman, and if He controls your hands and your heart, He will work through you." So you resolve to trust him. As you carry through with that resolve, he amazes you by beautifying your own character, allowing you to be his instrument for getting someone else through a crisis of faith, or using you to bring some soul out of the darkness of this world into the light of Christís own presence.

Here is the maxim for this part of your heart-home: "For we are Godís workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:10). Your presence in Christís own workshop of the redeemed and renewed makes you a "work of grace" that testifies to his power. Allowing him to guide you in his gentle, masterful way will make you productive in things you could not have dreamed possible.

Now you start toward the "rec room" with Jesus and feel some hesitation. In fact, you decide to keep back from his holy view some of the activities and buddies that have been the "fun" part of your life. So you keep going to some of those places and getting together with some of those people ó until you eventually feel perfectly miserable rather than joyous in such settings. Finally it dawns on you that Jesus must be Lord of all these moments too. So, in company with him now, there are new friends, new pleasures, new joys that are wholesome. You laugh and smile. But the things that elicit these responses are holy and healthy things. They are things you can share with Jesus.

One day you discover Jesus calling your attention to an out-of-the way place in your heart. It is a place you avoid. It is something of a secret place where old hurts, old wounds, old pains are stored. Itís what Munger calls the hall closet of your life.

"There is a peculiar odor in the house," says Jesus. "Something must be dead around here. Itís upstairs. I think it is in the hall closet." You know whatís there. That place in your heart contains a few old things youíve never been able to show anyone. You didnít want anybody to know about them ó and certainly not the Holy Christ. You practically burst into tears at the thought of showing them to him. Yet the thought of keeping anything back from him or the even more fearful thought of losing his fellowship is more than you can bear. So you relent.

"Iíll give You the key," you tell him sadly, "but You will have to open the closet and clean it out. I havenít the strength to do it." And he takes the key and goes inside ó ever so gently but thoroughly determined. He begins sorting things out. He throws away the rotten, smelly stuff. He cleans out the once-hidden place of abuse you suffered in childhood or the shame someone inflicted on you long ago or a deep wound from your own foolishness that you never thought could be faced. He repaints the room! And he puts in a window that allows fresh breezes to blow through it! What a sense of relief and release you feel to have put that ugly place and all its contents in Jesusí hands!

Finally it comes to you like a bolt from the blue that there is another way to go at this process. So you say, "Lord, is there any chance that You would take over the management of the whole house and operate it for me as You did that closet? Would You take the responsibility to keep my life what it ought to be?" His face lights up, and you hear him reply, "Iíd love to! That is what I want to do. You cannot be a victorious Christian in your own strength." Then he pauses and speaks slowly to say, "But I am just a guest. I have no authority to proceed, since the property is not mine."

Mungerís work comes to an end with this:

Dropping to my knees, I said, "Lord, You have been a guest and I have been the host. From now on I am going to be the servant. You are going to be the owner and Master."

Running as fast as I could to the strongbox, I took out the title deed to the house describing its assets and liabilities, location and situation. I eagerly signed the house over to Him alone for time and eternity. "Here," I said, "here it is, all that I am and have, forever. Now You run the house. Iíll just remain with You as a servant and friend."

Things are different since Jesus Christ has settled down and has made His home in my heart.

This is the difference made when one truly yield his or her life to Jesus as Lord and Master.


Will you be honest enough right now to explore and reveal ó to yourself, if not to a trusted spiritual confidant ó precisely where you are in the process of yielding yourself to your confession? If you are a Christian in your standing before God, it is because you have been willing to confess "Jesus is Lord." But many who are Christians in their standing are less than Christian in their performance. There is still a great discrepancy between word and deed, name and lifestyle, accepting the free gift of salvation and living the gratitude of a surrendered life.

In a world where "Caesar is Lord and God" was soon to become a loyalty oath throughout the Roman Empire, Paul was teaching his spiritual charges that Jesus alone is Lord (1 Cor. 8:5). And some of them would eventually choose to die rather than take the loyalty oath of the empire. With the competing claims of our own time and place, Christians are called to teach, believe, and live the same devotion to Jesus today.


1 For other examples of hymns in the text of the New Testament, see Ephesians 5:14; Colossians 1:15-18; 2 Timothy 2:11-13; and Revelation 15:3-4; 22:7.
2 For helpful background and insights for this beautiful piece, cf. Ralph P. Martin, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1959), pp. 95-109.
3 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 3, 1965 ed., s.v. "kyrios, kyria, kyriakos, kyriot_s, kyrieu_, katakyrieu_" by Werner Foerster, pp. 1039-1058. "One may sum up the whole development by saying that kyrios, originally the one who is fully authorised and has the legal power of disposal, did not contain the element of arbitrariness which so easily clung to despot_s" (Ibid., p. 1046).
4 New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 1975 ed., s.v. "Lord, Master" by H. Bietenhard, p. 512.
5 William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1974), p. 438.
6 New International Dictionary of the New Testament, p. 516.
7 [Pub.Data] In the section that builds off this material, the dialogue contained in quotation marks is taken from the original. The other comments mirror some of my own reflections prompted by the unfolding metaphor.

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