1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the Church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ - their Lord and ours:
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I always thank God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in Him you have been enriched in every way - in all your speaking and in all your knowledge - 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand 35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
36 Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.
Our reading from 1 Corinthians today is Paul’s greeting in his first letter to the Church in Corinth. Paul was a highly educated man so he uses a standard Greek greeting of the day. He introduces himself not as a self-made man but as one who has been called by God as an apostle of Jesus. Then he identifies the recipients of his letter - in this case it is the people of the Church in Corinth and Paul offers them the peace and grace of God in Christ.
If you read the other letters in the New Testament you’ll find that most of them begin in a similar fashion, but what does the introduction to 1 Corinthians mean for us today? The introductions to the New Testament letters are often overlooked as people read and study the content of the letters, but if we examine more closely Paul’s use of words in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians there are many lessons we can apply to our lives today.
In these brief nine verses, Paul refers to Jesus as Lord six times. The Lord Jesus Christ was a title given by the first disciples of Jesus, and this title has continued in the Church ever since. It was an important title in those days. It was a title of honour and respect, and just doesn’t seem to have the same impact in today’s world. But in the 1st century, addressing Jesus as Lord, or referring to Him as Lord by Paul and his contemporaries had life changing implications for them.
Just what is the title Lord, and what does it mean? A couple of dictionary definitions are “one having power and authority over others, a ruler by hereditary right or pre-eminence to whom service and obedience are due”. In much the same way as we would address people in a formal setting as sir or madam today, addressing someone as ‘my lord’ in ancient times was quite normal, but of course in Paul’s letters he is referring to Jesus as the Lord (with a capital L if you like).
So what do we mean when we call Jesus ‘Lord?’ It means that He has power and authority over our lives and that we owe Him service, obedience and honour. We use the word Lord in that context often. We have the Lord’s Prayer, the Lord’s supper, Sunday is often called the Lord’s Day. In the book of Genesis alone, God is called the ‘Lord God’ nearly 200 times.
Referring to Jesus as Lord is not something to be taken lightly. It is far more than just a title. It is a title of honour and respect and should be used as such.
Paul and the people of his day certainly didn’t refer to Jesus as Lord lightly. We need to remember the political culture of the day. Paul lived in a time of Roman dominance in the world. Rome had conquered most of the then known world from Britain in the west to India in the east. The entire coastline of the Mediterranean Sea was under Roman control, and everyone under Roman rule was expected to pay homage to the emperor, which in the time of Paul was Nero. The emperor was to be lord in the lives of the people. Along with the emperor there were other governors and leaders in the various regions that required your service and honour. Pontius Pilate is the most well known Roman governor.
In those days the Emperor not only received the political allegiance of the people, but their spiritual allegiance too. They regarded themselves as more than mere men. In fact, for the next 400 years many of the Roman emperors claimed to be a living god on earth. Initially all Roman emperors were deified after death, but it wasn’t long before emperors like Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Constantine I claimed to be living gods, and demanded that they were to be worshipped as such. Subjects of the Roman Empire were allowed to practice their own religions, such as the Jews in the 1st century, but there was a condition to this: You could have whatever religion you wanted as long as you paid homage to the Roman emperor as lord and god.
Of course, this created a huge challenge to the early Christians. In fact, it made emperor worship impossible, because they knew and believed that you cannot serve two masters. As they chose to make Jesus the Lord of their lives they took tremendous risks.
Firstly, calling Jesus Lord just made no sense. Just imagine this conversation in the 1st century: “You mean to tell me your lord is a Jew, born in a barn as a peasant and put to death as a common thief?” The early Christians faced a lot of ridicule from their own people, and Paul understood this dilemma, and he addresses it later on in 1 Corinthians 1: “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. Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” He encouraged his readers to stand firm in the face of the ridicule they faced because of their faith, and so must we. Paul said that the good news of Christ was foolishness to those who were perishing. To those who were not Christians the idea of a crucified Lord was ludicrous. Calling Jesus Lord could cause you to lose your credibility, and you ran the risk of being ostracised by society to the extent that you could even lose your family and possessions. All the material things you had were at risk when you made Jesus Lord of your life.
But there was an even greater risk for Paul and his fellow-Christians. Making Jesus Lord of your life could cost you your life. Paul and his contemporaries were teaching and preaching in the time of Nero, a time of tremendous Christian persecution. Nero would use the Christians as scapegoats for the things that went wrong in the empire. If there was an outbreak of disease or the economy collapsed, it was the fault of the Christians. So Christians were hunted down, imprisoned and killed. Many people in those days who said “Jesus Christ is Lord” were put to death for making that claim.
But why was making Jesus the Lord of your life so offensive to the emperor and therefore so dangerous? The answer is that you can only have one Lord in your life. You can only serve one master, so if Jesus was your Lord that meant the Roman emperor was not. ‘Jesus is Lord’ was a radical, counter-cultural statement back then. It was a statement in defiance of an empire. It took a lot of courage and faith to make such a statement. And it still does.
The magazine Christianity Today estimates that up to 100,000 Christians are dying each year, simply because they claim Jesus Christ is Lord. It’s also been estimated that 70 million Christians have been martyred since the time of Jesus. Each week we include a prayer request from the Open Doors ministry in our bulletin. This is your opportunity to continue to pray for those persecuted for their faith.
For now, in our country, we are still able to live out our faith in the public eye. But there are no guarantees that things will stay that way. There are some who are trying to change things in our country today. All over the world the Christian faith faces the challenge of secularism, and is also being violently opposed by the poison of radical Islamic ideologies. Practicing our faith and living it out will not become easier. It will only become more difficult. Trying to have a Christian student expelled from UCT for making a Christian statement on Facebook is just the start, so we need to remain vigilant as we claim that Jesus Christ is Lord.
But what else does it mean to call Jesus Lord in our times?
Our belief that Jesus is Lord means that we owe a debt of service and obedience to Him. And how do we do that? Jesus gives us the answer, and you’ll remember Paul Sithole quoting these words when he visited us a couple of months ago: “The King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)
The point is that saying the words ‘Jesus is Lord’ is one thing, but putting that statement into action is another. The Christian faith is something we do, as well as believe.
James 2:14-17 says, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
We serve Jesus as we help the poor and speak out against injustice. We live each day more and more like Christ. This is how we offer service to Him. We love one another as Jesus loves us. We love our neighbour as ourselves. We forgive as we’ve been forgiven. These are the simplest things to say yet the hardest things to do. God is love, and so to serve God and pay homage to Him in Christ we too must love. We love and serve one another. Saying that Jesus is Lord is not enough - it must be backed up with actions. We must live out our faith each and every day.
Making Jesus Lord of our lives means denying the other lords in our lives. These lords are not emperors or presidents, but things like greed, selfishness, anger, hatred, racism, sexism, and anything else that divides us rather than unites us. These lords are the kind of things that try to take the place of Jesus in our hearts. Plus of course, we face the lure of material things. In the words of Madonna, we’re living in a material world, and our love of material things above love for God and each other easily prevents Jesus from becoming lord of our hearts.
Our natural inclination is to look inwards. It is not in our nature to consider others before ourselves, so this is why we need to abide in Him, and constantly submit our lives to the Lordship of Jesus, in order to prevent others lords from taking over our lives.
Saying that Jesus is Lord also means we are to break down the barriers in the Church that separate us from our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to be connected to and unified with Christians all over the world. The divisions created by denominalisation in the Church must be confronted. Jesus is Lord of the Church, not Lord of the Presbyterians or Lord of the Baptists or Lord of the Methodists. Before He went to the cross Jesus prayed we would be one. As the unified Church of Jesus Christ we are to overcome our foolish divisions and bring ourselves together as a unified front facing the darkness of this world. We are called to be one Church, united as children of God under the Lordship of Christ. That is what Jesus is Lord means for us today. It is not just words, but actions and life that matters most.
Jesus is Lord. It’s such a simple statement, but it carries such significance. It did for the people of Jesus’ day, and still does now, 2000 years later. Jesus is Lord means joining together as His family, it means acting and behaving in a certain way. It means having the love of Christ in our hearts.
If you have already claimed that Jesus Christ is Lord, my prayer for you is that by His grace He would keep you close and keep you faithful to Him. If you have yet to do so, then you need to know this: one day you will bow the knee and say Jesus Christ is Lord.
Our reading from Acts 2 today again: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” God has made Him both Lord and Christ, and I close with Paul’s words in Philippians 2:9-11: “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.”
Those words are both a promise and a warning, depending on whether Jesus is your Lord or not.
One day, at the name of Jesus every knee will bow. The time is coming when every knee will bow before Jesus in recognition of His sovereignty. Those who bow before Him today, in this age of grace, are saved and born from above. But those who bow before Him on the day Paul is describing in these verses will not be doing so in repentance and faith, but in a mere admission of the true identity of Jesus, an admission that will be immediately followed by eternal condemnation. There are no atheists in hell. Everyone who is there and who will be there knows these words to be true: Jesus Christ is Lord.
“Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This Saviour, born in poverty and rejected by His own people, will be universally recognised in His glory. This ultimate acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord will be expressed not only by the bending of the knee, but by word of mouth. And as Christians we will identify with Him in His glory. Because when we finally stand before Him in His glory and we see Him face to face, we will lose that last trace of the old sinful nature that we struggle with daily, and we will be glorified with Him. We will be conformed to the image of God’s Son. And for all of eternity we will proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Paul lived during the time of the Roman Empire when people were expected to proclaim the Roman emperor as Lord.
Discuss some of the challenges the early Christians faced by refusing to worship the Roman emperor.
We live in a country where we are free to worship Jesus if we choose to, but in which ways do we not acknowledge Him as the true Lord of our lives?
Apart from saying the words “Jesus is Lord,” how else are we able to proclaim that Jesus really is the Lord of our lives and of the Church?
What are some of the struggles you face in proclaiming that Jesus is Lord – both in your words and actions?
Read Philippians 2:5-11
1st century Christians faced a lot of ridicule for claiming that a man born as a peasant and executed like a common criminal was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We still face criticism and ridicule for putting our faith in Jesus today.
How do you deal with such ridicule and scepticism?
Verses 10 and 11 contain both a promise and a warning.
Discuss these in your group, and how they apply to both Christians and non-believers.
Close by praying for those who are still persecuted for their faith today, particularly for Christians whose lives are at risk for proclaiming Jesus as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.