Jesus is Lord. That’s the claim at the heart of Christianity. But “lord” is a term that long predates Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Greek kurios has several meanings.
Jesus’ conduct hardly ever looked like the most important ones.
Kurios can mean nothing more than “sir,” a term of respect addressed to social equals or superiors.
It can also mean owner. Owners have certain rights over what they own. The owner of a farm, for example, has exclusive rights to what grows in it. He has the expectation of profiting from it. He can choose to sell it. No one else has those rights over that same property.
Kurios also means master, someone to whom some service is due. That is, a master has servants who must do his bidding.
That farmer might have servants to do the hardest labor. And he owes them nothing more than their wages.
But kurios especially refers to a king or other ruler. And kings have often thought of themselves as special and set apart, deserving of a level of service no one else could claim.
Lords in the sense of masters give orders and expect immediate obedience. They quickly punish whoever fails to do their bidding satisfactorily. They often regard themselves as more important than other people.
Historically, they have done no menial work themselves. Sometimes including even dressing themselves or picking up something they dropped on the floor.
Flouting lordship by serving
Jesus is the only man who ever walked the earth who is also God. If anyone has ever deserved to be treated like a king—to have his every whim carried out by someone else—it would have been Jesus.
Of course, in his earthy ministry, he had disciples and gave them orders. They did their best to obey him. They regarded him as a lord the same way any other man’s servants would. But Jesus didn’t punish or abuse them when they failed to satisfy him.
According to Philippians 2:6, Jesus was equal to God but did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Grasp can mean seize by force, but since Jesus was in the form of God to begin with, it can’t mean that here. Whenever we use a pen or a hammer or some other tool, we have to grasp it. Jesus, as a human, chose not to use his equality with God as a tool. He emptied himself of it. He laid it aside.
Jesus exercised his lordship by acting like a servant. God the Father gave him his orders and Jesus obeyed perfectly.
Anyone who wanted anything from the Lord Jesus could interrupt whatever he was doing. Just look at how much ministry he did while he was on his way to do something else.
Jesus underscored the importance of service by washing his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. Jesus took his role of servant so seriously that he offended his closest associates. In a final act of obedience, he willingly suffered a humiliating and painful death.
Then, he rose from death and took back all the divine tools he had laid aside.
The mind of Christ and what it means for Christians
When we call Jesus Lord, we mean something different from what the word ever meant before. Caesar claimed to be lord and early Christians denied that claim. They claimed exclusively for Jesus everything Caesar claimed for himself––and suffered persecution for it.
Scripture tells us that anyone who confesses that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead is saved. Saved from the consequences of sin and of being in rebellion against God.
But Jesus declared that not everyone who says to him, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Those are apparently people who mean nothing more than “sir” when addressing him as Lord. They think he ought to be pleased with whatever they take into their own minds to do for him.
There’s all the difference in the world between people calling him “sir” and people acknowledging his right to be obeyed as the supreme and rightful Lord of their lives.
In Philippians 2:5, Paul commands believers to have the same mindset as Jesus did. No earthly lord would ever tolerate that! Earthly lords have the mindset, “I’m superior to you.” They would view anyone who approached them with the same mindset as a rival and threat.
But it’s in that same passage where Paul says that Jesus didn’t regard equality with God as something to be grasped.
Here’s the mind of Christ that we’re supposed to have:
- Don’t cling to status and privilege if doing God’s will demands otherwise.
- Don’t exalt yourself. Instead, expect God to exalt you in his own time and way.
- Love others even under the greatest provocation.
Jesus is Lord. Not only that, Jesus is Lord of lords. Anyone who desires to be one of the lords Jesus is Lord over must exercise lordship according to his example and not the world’s.