Adonai! It is the Hebrew word meaning ‘Master, Owner, Lord’. Abram, who had a progressive revelation of God, used it first when asking God for an heir (Gen. 15:2) . Moses used it but then angered God by His reluctance to obey (Ex. 4:10-14). Joshua used it when he fell on His face before the Captain of the Host (Joshua 5:14). And Jesus used the equivalent word (translated as the Greek ‘kurios’) when He said ‘But why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do the things that I say?’ (Luke 6:46). He wasn’t talking to unbelievers, He was addressing His disciples, those who call Him ‘Lord’.
The earliest Christians understood completely what it meant to call Jesus Lord because doing so could easily cost them their lives. Lord was a title used for divinity and therefore reserved for Caesar alone. To name Jesus Christ as Lord was to challenge the authority of Rome.*
There is no gentle way of putting this: Christ’s Lordship is absolute. He owns us. He paid full price for us and has the right of possession over us. Modern Christianity has become focused on a non-Biblical form of grace devoid of accountability in which Christ’s Lordship is often all but ignored. Those who take His Lordship over their lives seriously are ridiculed as ‘fanatical’, ‘super spiritual’ or ‘uptight’. The truth is that Jesus Christ chooses to exercise His Lordship through grace, but that choice does not nullify His sovereignty.
Adonai! It means ‘sovereign power, supreme authority, absolute ownership’. It is sobering to consider that Jesus is referred to as Lord (kurios) in the New Testament 700 times. Just to put that into perspective, He is referred to as Saviour (sotos) 20 times. When the two words are used together, Lord is placed first without exception.
What is it that we are assured every tongue will confess? It is that Jesus Christ is Lord! He who is God, the full and perfect essence of God the Creator, humbled Himself to become the full and perfect essence of man, the created. As man, He took the attitude of a loyal bondservant, obedient even to the point of death (Phil 2:5-13). We are to ‘work out’ our salvation within the framework of a holy fear towards Christ’s Lordship. This does not mean a return to the Old Covenant law, nor does it mean living continually under condemnation and fear of punishment. Put in the simplest terms, it means respect. It means not taking advantage of God’s grace to achieve our own selfish goals. If Christ as a man chose the role of bondservant to God, how much more should we?
We speak in terms of God having ‘given’ us those things we believe we own…. our lifestyle, our houses, our vehicles, our jobs, our possessions, even our spouses and children. A good master provides for His servants well, but all things belong to God, who is Possessor of Heaven and Earth (Gen. 14:19). We make our plans as though we are masters of our own futures and then ask God to place His blessing upon them. We ignore the fact that we have been purchased and are not our own. We live our lives independently, then pay God lip service by asking Him to ‘be with us’, (1 Cor. 6:19,20). Listen, it is not up to Him to be with us, it is up to us to be with Him. God is working within us to will and to do of His good pleasure, not our own. And sometimes being with Him means being somewhere we would not choose for ourselves. Sometimes it is not going to be immediately evident why something is God’s good pleasure when it is definitely not ours. Lordship means He doesn’t have to justify Himself to us.
A bondservant was not a hired servant, which was a lesser position. A bondservant was a highly valued possession of his or her master. The bondservant owned nothing at all because all he needed was provided by the master. The highest role of a trusted bondservant was stewardship (Luke 12:42). In the Kingdom God is owner and we are stewards. But we have been deceived by the world into preferring ownership over stewardship. We have been tricked into believing that we own things, when the reality is that things own us. That which we begin to call “mine” assumes a power over us that robs us of our freedom to obey our Lord and Master, and we eventually become its slave. And if He should require it from our hands, what a tug of war we enter into to surrender it to Him, its rightful owner. Why? Because we use possessions to define ourselves in our own eyes. This is what Jesus meant when He said those who try to save (keep) their life will lose it, but those willing to lose their life will save it (Luke 17:33). Whatever has been entrusted to our keeping must be held loosely before Him.
‘Lord’ is not a pet title intended to make us feel warm and fuzzy. It’s time to stop calling Jesus Lord unless we are meaning what we say and saying what we mean. To call Christ ‘Lord’ is an acknowledgment before Heaven and earth that He possesses us and that all we have, including every breath we take, is His. To call Him ‘Lord’ is to agree with Him that He, not us, has absolute authority over our lives. Those who are choosing to yield hour by hour to God’s ownership, learning through His grace what it means to be bondservants, have the right to call Him Lord. Those who continue to bask in His grace but deny His Lordship do not.
“But why do you call me Adonai and not do the things that I say?” Why indeed?
But now you have been set free from sin and are the slaves of God.
*”The Greek word for Lord is kurios, the word used by citizens of the Roman empire to acknowledge the divinity of Caesar. This title was never used of the emperors until they were thought to be deified through a religious ceremony; therefore, it was used as a divine title. Within the empire there was a test phrase used to check the loyalty of the people. It was Kyrios Kaiser, and it meant “Caesar is Lord.” Christians who would not say these words were later singled out from pagans and executed. In those days when a Christian insisted that Jesus is Lord he meant that Jesus, not Caesar, is divine.”( Boice, J. M.. Philippians : An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books)
Copyright Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2013