October 24, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Philippians 2:9-11 (NIV)
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 acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The gospel announces that Jesus Christ alone is Lord. And that should give us pause. Jesus is Lord – not Caesar Augustus, not Donald Trump, and not Joe Biden. Whatever the outcome of our national elections, whoever is elected and whatever policies may prevail, they will not have the last word on our problems. That doesn’t mean the election outcomes don’t matter because they do. But it does mean that we shouldn’t give messianic status to an issue, a movement, or a candidate. Otherwise, we will always be disappointed, for idols always disappoint in the end.
One of the first choruses I learned as a new Christian was this:
He is Lord; He is Lord
He has risen from the dead
And he is Lord
Every knee shall bow
Every tongue confess
That Jesus Christ is Lord
Much like the early hymn from which our text comes, this chorus affirms the core Christian conviction that Jesus is Lord.
But what does that mean? Early on, I assumed it meant something personal, that Jesus is Lord of my life. And surely that is true. But it doesn’t take much to see that Paul’s writing points to a much larger reality. To use contemporary imagery, Paul is describing the public inauguration of a head of state. Not just any head of state, of course, but the ultimate authority of the cosmos. In an unprecedented and stunning reversal of expectations, the one who was crucified by the Roman Empire becomes ruler of all creation. As Isaiah’s servant song reminds us, “Thus says the LORD … to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, ‘Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves’” (Isaiah 49:7, NRSV).
In another passage, the prophet deepens the implications of what Paul means by “Jesus Christ is Lord.” He writes in Isaiah 45:22-23 (NIV), “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear” (emphasis added). Isaiah tells us that the LORD God is the only one to whom “every knee should bow … and every tongue confess.” And yet, that is the very language Paul applies to Jesus. Shockingly, Paul concludes that the LORD God has made Jesus of Nazareth “Lord” in that sense as well. In another unprecedented, stunning, and even incomprehensible reversal of expectations, the human being, Jesus, is marked out as the LORD God.
By making Jesus Lord in both those senses, God affirms and demonstrates who is the ultimate authority in the cosmos and what kind of authority will ultimately prevail. Jesus’ way of self-sacrificial love is vindicated in his inauguration as ruler of the cosmos. Love prevails and “endures all things” (I Corinthians 13:7b, NRSV). What might that mean for those of us who are committed to such a vision in a year plagued by pandemic and political polarization?
As I write this, those of us in the United States are in the final weeks of a presidential election unlike anything I have known before. Without a doubt, there are many essential issues at stake in this election. Some of us are concerned about the value of human life, religious freedom, and economic flourishing. Others of us are concerned about the weak and vulnerable, racism, and economic justice. These are complex and critical concerns that arouse and engage our deepest passions. And rightly so.
But in our passions lies a danger. And that danger consists in taking an essential passion and turning it into our defining allegiance. That’s another way of describing what the Bible calls idolatry. There is a danger in making our deepest passions into an idol. There is a danger in making the critical issues we care about into an idol. There is a danger in making our political agenda and affiliation into an idol. That danger exists whether we are conservative, progressive, or somewhere in the middle.
The gospel announces that Jesus Christ alone is Lord. And that should give us pause. Jesus is Lord – not Caesar Augustus, not Donald Trump, and not Joe Biden. Whatever the outcome of our national elections, whoever is elected and whatever policies may prevail, they will not have the last word on our problems. That doesn’t mean the election outcomes don’t matter, because they do. But it does mean that we shouldn’t give messianic status to an issue, a movement, or a candidate. Otherwise, we will always be disappointed, for idols always disappoint in the end. As the psalmist writes, “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God” (Psalm 146:3-5, NIV).
So, how do we give faithful expression to our deepest passions this election season without turning them into idols? That’s the subject of our reflection for tomorrow.
What does “Jesus Christ is Lord” mean to you in this election season?
Take some time to journal about your reflection above. Notice the thoughts and feelings that come into your mind as you write. Offer whatever you have written to God.
Lord Jesus Christ,
I too easily forget that you are indeed Lord of all, and that you have been given a name that is above every name. Remind me in this contentious and difficult season to not give in to fear and anxiety, but to trust in you who are our help and our hope.
We ask in your name. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Do Your Work in a Worthy Manner (Philippians 1:27–2:11)