What was wrong with these people? Were they weird? Was it a cult? What was this strange expression they seemed to use?
Of course I knew that God or even Jesus could be called ‘Lord’, but never before had I heard God referred to so often by a group of people as ‘The Lord’. In the years since then, as I have studied the Bible, I have begun to understand why these Christians, whom I first met at University, used this expression so often.
‘The LORD’ is the most common way of referring to God in the Old Testament. When written in capitals, this word translates the Jewish covenant name for God, YHWH. Out of respect for God, the word cannot be spoken. Historically, we have often pronounced the word as ‘Jehovah’, when in fact it sounds more like ‘Yahweh’.
The New Testament gives us a more Trinitarian understanding of ‘The LORD’. It makes the remarkable claim that Jesus is Lord. In fact, as we have seen, whether someone can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ becomes the test of Christian authenticity (1 Corinthians 12:3). It also makes the claim that the Holy Spirit is Lord: ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’ (2 Corinthians 3:17).
God the Father is Lord. God the Son is Lord. God the Holy Spirit is Lord. But there is only one Lord: ‘One Lord … one God’ (Ephesians 4:5–6). The one Trinitarian God is Lord. The New Testament understanding of the Lord helps us interpret the Old Testament use of ‘The LORD’. The Old Testament enriches our understanding of what the New Testament means when it speaks of ‘The LORD’.
1. Praise the Lord in worship
‘Praise the Lord’ (v.45b) sums up this whole psalm. This psalm worships and praises God for who he is and all he has done for his people. The psalmist has rehearsed all that the Lord has done for his people. In this section he speaks of his protection (v.39a), guidance (v.39b), answered prayer (v.40a), satisfaction (v.40b), joy (v.43) and hope (v.44).
He writes, ‘they fell heir to what others had toiled for’ (v.44). Of course, this originally referred to the exodus. However, it is so often true in our own lives that we ‘fall heir’ to, or take possession of, what others have toiled for. I often think of this in relation to Alpha. So many people worked extraordinarily hard over many, many years to lay the foundations for Alpha – Charles Marnham, John Irvine, John Collins, Sandy Millar and Nicky Lee to name but a few. Those of us involved now have fallen heir to what others have toiled for.
Supremely, we see this verse fulfilled in Jesus. We have fallen heir to everything that Jesus achieved for us through the cross and resurrection. He did the toiling. We are the heirs.
Praise you Lord for all that we have inherited through Jesus Christ our Lord. Thank you that you have brought us out laden with silver and gold (v.37), forgiveness, peace, joy, purpose, satisfaction, fullness, hope, fellowship, freedom, love, power, guidance and light. Praise the Lord!
2. Honour the Lord in giving
Paul’s desire is to ‘honour the Lord himself’ (8:19). Here he seems to be referring to Jesus (see v.23). He wants to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord (v.21).
The context of this passage is money and giving. In his handling of the offering (v.19) he is determined first, to honour the Lord himself: ‘To honour God as well as we can, taking every precaution against scandal’ (vv.19–20, The Message). Second, he wants to avoid any criticism which might dishonour the Lord: ‘We don’t want anyone suspecting us of taking one penny of this money for ourselves’ (vv.20 –21, The Message).
Third, he is at pains to do what is right not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of people: ‘We're being as careful in our reputation with the public as in our reputation with God’ (v.21, The Message).
One of the ways in which we honour God with our money is through generosity. As someone has said, ‘We are cups filled from a spring. Others drink from us. They praise not the cups, but the spring when they see what God does.’
God has been so generous to us. Paul expects the Corinthians to be generous. He speaks of the ‘generous gift you had promised … a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given’ (9:5).
The enthusiasm of one group of Christians stirred up others hundreds of miles away even at a time without modern forms of communication. St Paul writes, ‘your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action’ (v.2). How much greater is the impact that we can have now with global communication. What a huge potential there is for any church to bring honour to the Lord.
Lord, help us in our finances, individually and as a church, always to honour the Lord, to do everything we can to avoid any criticism and to do what is right not only in your eyes but also in the eyes of everybody.
Lord, help us to be generous with our money individually and as a community. May our generosity reflect your extraordinary generosity to us. May it honour the Lord.
3. Know the Lord in relationship
The expression ‘The Lord’ appears at least eighteen times in this passage alone. God calls his people into a relationship with him. The prophet Isaiah foresees a time when ‘the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ (11:9b).
- Relationship based on faith
First, knowing God involves faith. The prophet Isaiah looks forward to a time where his people ‘will truly rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel’ (10:20). He goes on to say that on that day they will say ‘Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation’ (12:2–3).
Here, at the heart of the Old Testament, we see that faith (‘I will trust’) and salvation are strongly linked. The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that we are saved by our faith in the Lord (Jesus).
- Relationship based on respect
Second, knowing God involves holy respect for him. Isaiah speaks of ‘the fear of the Lord’. ‘The spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord – and he will delight in the fear of the Lord’ (11:2–3). If we fear God (in the biblical sense of holy respect) we need fear nothing and no one else. Isaiah calls the people of God to fear God but says ‘do not be afraid of the Assyrians’ (10:24). As Edmund Burke once said, ‘Those who truly feared God (which is of course quite a difficult thing to do) feared nothing and nobody else.’
- Relationship brought about by the Holy Spirit
Third, knowing God involves God’s Holy Spirit. Isaiah writes:
The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him,
the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit that gives direction and builds strength,
the Spirit that instils knowledge and Fear-of-God. (11:2, The Message)
When the Holy Spirit comes to live in our lives he brings us into a relationship of knowing God. For me, it was only when I experienced the Holy Spirit that the expression ‘the Lord’, instead of sounding weird, became amongst the most precious expressions in the world.
Isaiah is looking forward to a second exodus. The people of God are going into exile (as they did in 597 BC). But the Lord will bring them out (as he did in 538 BC). As they were brought out of Egypt, so they will be brought out of Babylon (Isaiah 13).
Once again, as Isaiah speaks into Israel’s immediate historical situation, the prophet (inspired by the Spirit of God) sees something far greater. Prophecy often has several levels of fulfilment.
His words were fulfilled in Jesus: ‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord – and he will delight in the fear of the Lord’ (11:1–3, see 53:2).
He goes on to speak about how he will be the perfect judge: ‘He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth…Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist’ (vv.3b–5).
His reign of justice and peace will reverse the results of the fall (see Romans 8:19–22). ‘The wolf will live with the lamb’ (v.6). This promise strains our imaginations in a conflict-ridden world – Woody Allen once quipped, ‘The lion and the calf shall lie down together but the calf won’t get much sleep’!
God has a global vision: The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide (v.9, The Message). So should we. William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, said, ‘I am thinking up a plan, that when it is hatched, will bring blessing to the whole wide world’.
Lord, thank you that Jesus has made it possible for us all to know the Lord. Thank you that one day there will be justice and peace. Thank you that the same Spirit of the Lord who rests on Jesus is given to us. Lord, give us the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and of power, of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. Fill us with your Spirit that we may seek justice on behalf of the needy and the poor of the earth. Help us to be peacemakers and to spread knowledge of the Lord until it covers the earth as the waters cover the sea (11:9).
2 Corinthians 8:19–21
‘He was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honour the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of others.’
It is interesting how seriously Paul takes the handling of the money. There seems to be something quite reverential about the carrying and administering of the offering. They seem to be very aware that money can cause huge problems, corrupting, deceiving or bringing misunderstanding. Many church leaders and churches have found themselves in trouble. Paul and Titus were ‘taking pains’ not only to do the right thing under God, but to be seen to do the right thing and not bring the church into disrepute. I know I need constant wisdom and a pure heart in all my money dealings.