Biblical expressions of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the Christian faith…..

One recurring theme that I find myself teaching the women at Bethel Village is the Great Commandment – Matthew 22:36-39- “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? And He said to him, ” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” We talk regularly about the two dimensions of the Christian faith- the vertical relationship with the Lord and the horizontal relationship with others that are reflected in the two axes of the Cross.

When one examines the ten commandments (Exodus 20:2-17, Exodus 34:11-27, and Deuteronomy 5:6-21), it is apparent that the first 4 reflect how we are to relate to God Himself (the vertical dimension); the following 6 reflect how we are to relate to others (our neighbors- the horizontal dimension).

1. You shall have no other gods before me.
2. You shall not make for yourself an idol.
3. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God.
4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
5. Honor your father and mother.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10.You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

When explained this way, almost everyone can grasp the two dimensions and see how important each is in one’s Christian growth. Last week, though, as I watched again the national simulcast video of the Purpose Driven Life, I heard Rick Warren say something that I’d not caught before.

He noted that John 3:16 is perhaps the most widely recognized and known scripture: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Obviously, this scripture refers to that vertical dimension, originating in God’s love for us and reflecting the benefit of our belief in Him, eternal life. But then Rick Warren refers viewers to 1 John 3:16: “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Hitchiking on that vertical dimension, originating with His love for us, Christ then transitions to the horizontal dimension again – our responsibility to love our brothers and sisters in Christ because of His love for us. I love how these two verses compliment and complete one another, just as the Great Commandment brings unity and harmony to the Ten Commandments.

This shift in our thinking about the Christian life – from being exclusively about our relationship to the Lord to also being about our relationships with others – is something that we have to constantly be exemplifying and teaching with our students. Many of them are caught up in very self-centered thinking, and even that is often not very loving. So it is a challenge for them to get beyond themselves…..to learn selflessness. I guess in that respect, they are no different from the rest of us.

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