The Lordship of Christ
We did not live in those days when the Ruler of the old Roman world was called LORD. The notion of the divine right of Kings has been temporarily exploded, though to be sure it will be revived in days yet to come, when the Man of Sin will set himself up in the temple of God claiming that he is God, and demanding the worship of all within his jurisdiction (2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:15).
The believer, by the Spirit of God calls Jesus “Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3) and rightly so, because not only is He so spoken of in the Old Testament (Psalm 110:1 and Matt. 22:22, 43 and 44) but by His resurrection from the dead “God has made (i.e. vindicated) that same Jesus … both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). At His birth it was announced that the One born was “Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11), yet during His lifetime it was evident that man in general, and the disciples in particular, did not fully understand the fact. After He was raised from the dead Thomas called Him “My Lord” (John 20:28), and Peter so proclaimed Him, but the mass of mankind did not believe it. The good news, however, was spread far and wide that “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10, 9). The acknowlegment, then, of the Lordship of Christ is vital if one is to be saved from the penalty of his sins, as well as if the life is to be adjusted to the glory of God and the good of its owner. In these papers we shall seek to set out something of what the Scriptures teach touching this matter.
He is Lord of All
Thus declared Peter in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:36). This bracketed phrase must, indeed, have struck the centurion with astonishment. That the claim of universal lordship should be made for Jesus the Nazarene was nothing if not remarkable. Peter is emphatic. Of Him alone could this be said: He, and He alone, is Lord of all. And His Lordship extends not only to persons, Jew and Gentile, all men alike, but also to “all things.” The limitless immensity of the universe is now-a-days acknowledged by man as the result of his scientific discoveries, but little do most scientists appreciate that the Universal Lord of all the domain, a fraction of which bewilders them, is the Christ of God, the babe of Bethlehem’s manger, the sufferer on Calvary’s Cross. This is a truth which should bring the utmost peace to the hearts of God’s people, for that Lordship is not a mere nominal one, it is one that He actively exercises in the interests of His own now, as one day He will actively enforce it to “the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11).
Even the winds and the waves obeyed Him. The fish brought the money to His feet. The demons released their captives at His bidding. Disease and death vanished from His presence. He, by whose word creation in the first instance came into existence, is the One who upholds it now, and by His miracles displayed that He was and still is Lord of all things.
His Lordship did not commence with His birth, much less with His resurrection. David addressed Him thus (Psalm 110:1) for He was eternal, His birth not being the commencement of His being. The Hebrew word Adon has its counterpart in the New Testament Greek word Kurios, and both words have a wide territory of meaning, such as Sir, Owner, Master. The Lord of all Power and Might condescended to enter human existence, not at its source in the days of Adam, but midway down the stream, when many generations had played their little part in life and had passed away; and thus He who was the root whence David sprang became also his offspring: hence it was that the Psalmist “in spirit” designated as his Master, One who was to be raised up out of his own tribe and family.
Not merely is He Lord of all things, but He is also Lord of all people. “The same Lord of all is rich unto all that call upon Him” (Rom. 10:12). Peter, under the direction of the Spirit, had gone outside the bounds of Judaism with the gospel of God’s grace, and though this was an initial ministry and not permanent for him —for he was the Apostle of the circumcision (Gal. 2.8), it was perpetuated by the preaching and writings of the Apostle Paul who was entrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision (Gal. 2:8). “Christ both died and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living” (Rom. 14:9). His Lordship is over all people without limitation. That is why, in a future day, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord no matter whether they are in Heaven, on earth or in the infernal regions (Phil. 2:10-11).
There are those who voluntarily and gladly now, in time, confess Him as Lord and, indeed, call Him “My Lord.” David did so before He became incarnate (Ps. 110:1); Elizabeth did so at His incarnation (Luke 1:43); Mary did so when He was dead (John 20:13); Thomas did so when He was raised (ibid v. 28); and Paul acknowledged Him as “My Lord” when He saw Him in glory (Phil. 3:8). Have we really done this? If you will examine the lives of all these persons, despite any failures that may be detected therein, you will find that this acknowledgment affected their conduct and so moulded their lives that they are worthy of our emulation. David was “the man according to God’s own heart,” whatever we, with a fallen nature that ever loves to grasp at the unsavoury, may say touching his sin with Bath Sheba and its shocking concomitants. Elizabeth’s long married life had been governed by the Lordship of Christ (see Luke 1, 6). Whatever may be said of Thomas’ scepticism, we cannot but believe that in reverence he shrank from implementing his own suggestion, his words expressing the deep and lasting conviction of his heart. And who can doubt that Mary’s whole life from the time of her mighty deliverance was governed by the glad surrender of herself entirely to her Owner-Lord? And the converted history of Saul of Tarsus, which began with the word “Lord” is eloquent testimony to the fact that it was not in word only, but in deed that he owned Christ Jesus as his Lord.
Indeed, it was his habit when referring to Him historically to give Him the title “Lord Jesus.” For instance, in referring to the grace of the Lord Jesus, who “though He was rich yet for our sakes He became poor” (2 Cor. 8:9), he did not speak of “Jesus” but gave Him His title. Similarly, when he says “The night in which the Lord Jesus was betrayed” (1 Cor. 11:23). How strange, then, that so many today fail to give Him His due when speaking or preaching of Him, yet they ascribe to His apostles the prefix “Saint” to which they are not specially entitled above any other of His people! We should eschew this snare.
But there are those who “deny the Lord that bought them” (2 Peter 2:1). Here, confessedly, the word “despot” is used, but the gist is the same. They repudiate His proprietary rights over them, whose they were by creation and by whom they have been purchased when “He sold all that He had, and bought the field” in order to acquire the treasure within it (Matt. 13:44). “Our lips are our own: who is lord over us?” they say (Ps. 12:4). They are utterly lawless, insubordinate, rebellious. But their day will come to an end. His Lordship implies His deity.
Implies His Deity
This is seen in the use of the word Kurios in the New Testament for the word Jehovah in the Old. Kurios is Greek and Jehovah is Hebrew, and Isaiah 40:3 is quoted in Matthew 3:3, which respectively gives these words. The identification is indubitable. John was the forerunner, preparing the way of Him who was God manifest in flesh. There are many such passages in the New Testament, and sometimes it is not easy to determine whether the title refers to the Lord Jesus or to God, the statements concerned being applicable to both because they are co-equal each with the other. This is all the more remarkable seeing that the early Christians were, for the most part, Jews and, therefore monotheistic. They could not on any account sanction the thought of more than one God, but they saw, by faith, in the person of the Lord Jesus “the true God” (1 John 5:20). In fact, it may be that James uses the conjunction “and” in an explanatory way in his Epistle (1:1) and we might read his words as “James, a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We must not suppose that everyone who addressed the Lord Jesus by the word Kurios recognized this truth. Sometimes, indeed very often, in the days of His flesh those who approached Him thus meant no more than “sir” or “master,” an acknowledgment of superiority with the view of getting a need met. This is clearly seen in the English version of John 4:11 and the reader will discern other like cases. In John 9:36 the word “Lord” appears to have the lesser sense: but in verse 38 the greater, for the erstwhile blind man believed.
The recognition of this will give us to see the true significance of the word “worship” in its many occurrences in the Gospels. It does not always imply that the worshipper intelligently apprehend the deity of the One before him. It often was no more than an act of respect, specially in view either of need or of gratitude. But the title Lord, certainly denotes authority.
This is clearly seen in such a passage as John 13:13 and 14. The apostles called the Lord Jesus “Master (Teacher) and Lord,” but the Lord Jesus reverses the order and speaks of “Lord and Teacher.” The circumstance was that of His having washed the disciples feet: He had given them a lesson in action, not in speech. That action called for imitation, and such imitation could only be acknowledged as a binding duty if they recognized His Lordship over them. How easy it is for us all to be more occupied with the Word than with practice. Luke records “all that Jesus began both to do and to teach” (Luke 1:1), putting action before speech. The two on the Emmaus road spoke of the Lord as one “mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19), and here in the Upper Room the Lord Himself places His authority before His teaching. For if His authority be repudiated His teaching will have no effect. But own His Lordship, then His teaching at once becomes authoritative and binding.
It was this that Paul sought to press on the Corinthians, who were apt to ignore his teaching. “If any think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. If he does not recognize this, he himself should not be recognized” (1 Cor. 14: 37-38 NEB). Paul was not imposing on the Corinthians his own fancies or whims, for they could never be binding. But the Lordship of Christ implies that His word has the effect of a command, and calls for prompt obedience.
Is this the reason why there is everywhere so much departure from scriptural patterns; why the writings of Paul are brought into question; why there seems to be a desire to evade the plain teaching of the epistles under the plea that they are written for conditions that then existed —which conditions do not obtain in our day? Many fail to see that such writings embody principles which are applicable at all times.
The reader would find it a most profitable study to go through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and note how frequently he speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ our Lord, the Lord Jesus, and so on. It is in verses 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10 of the first chapter to say nothing more of the rest of the Epistle. He speaks of the “Lord of glory” (2:8): “the mind of the Lord” (2:16); services given by the Lord (3:5); the knowledge of the Lord (3:20); the examination at the coming of the Lord (4: 4-5); and so we could go on through the whole letter. The Lordship of Christ is the authority for disciplinary action (ch. 5) and the demand of cleanness of life (ch. 6). On his authority Paul can legislate in regard to marital relationships (ch. 7). To us, he says, there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ (8:6 RV). It is the Lord who has regulated touching the maintenance in material things of His servants (9:14). No less than seven times does he use the title in connection with the Lord’s Supper (ch. 11, vv. 23-32). The title stands at the gateway of the apostolic teaching touching church gatherings (12:3) and the whole of chapters 12-14. Both Paul and Timothy work under the same Lord and their plans are subject to His permissive will (16:7-10).
One can imagine that the Lord, who walks in the midst of the lampstands (Rev. 1.) would say to many today “Why call ye Me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say” (Luke 6:46). It will not suffice to say that we have preached: we have done many wonderful things; we have eaten and drunken in His presence (Luke 13:26). That will be of no avail in that day. It is all too easy for us to rest on the doctrine — and it is a scriptural one — of the eternal security of the believer and yet so to live that we repudiate day by day His claims of Lordship. That repudiation shows that we are not true believers, and are not entitled to claim the security which belongs alone to those who in truth “confess Jesus as Lord.” These are solemn thoughts, and those of us who are most vocal and who are most before the eyes of our brethren need, of all men, to be the most careful.
Each one has a responsibility to the Lord and this Paul enforces when dealing with matters in which believers do not see eye to eye. The reader should peruse Romans 14 and the early part of chapter 15. He speaks of the master (kurios) in 14:4; of the Lord no less than three times in verse 6; and likewise three times in verse 8. He cannot stress it too much. We are not responsible to our brethren for our actions — for our liberties or for our forbiddings, but to the Lord, and each of us will give an account of himself to God. This is often forgotten and we are prone to draw a line which our brethren must toe because it is one which suits us. But not all have the same faith or the same liberty. Some are weak in their conscience, and others are strong. We must not despise nor must we condemn. They are our brethren for whom Christ died: why then should we despise them? We are not invested with judicial authority over them: why then should we judge them? It will suffice if we can give a satisfactory account of ourselves in respect of things which we allow or disallow in our own lives. That is as much as we can manage.