My college roommate was the first to introduce me to the key concept of horizontal and vertical relationships. Even though I had been a Christian all my life and he was a relative new-comer to the faith, Jim had a grasp of the depth of God’s love greater than any of my peers.
We all understand what horizontal relationships are… those with our friends and family living this life and walking this walk with us daily.
And the vertical relationship is also easy to see when we look for it… between us and the triune God, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
And all of these relationships intersect in you… in your mind… in your heart. And really all of these relationships overlap don’t they? If you have put Jesus on the throne of your life, the relationships you have with people… the love you have, men, for your wives, the love you have women for your husbands and for your children, are driven by the true source of love, God. I John 4. “God is love.” If God rules your life, it’s all connected isn’t it?
I have to confess, the challenge for me is that my brain, my flesh, is often compartmentalized, with strong walls that don’t allow for crossover. And yet, Jesus wants ALL of me and he wants ALL of you. He doesn’t want to just live in one compartment on one side of the brain to be engaged just on Sunday mornings or just when I’m in trouble and need Divine help. He has saved ALL of my life, ALL of your life, not just a part of it.
And he did so in a manner that boldly demonstrates the need for Him in all of our horizontal relationships and our vertical relationship with God… by dying on a cross. What best shows us the need that both directions are interconnected? We can only have true and right relationships horizontally with friends and family… or compassion for total strangers… when we have a true and right relationship vertically, with the Father God and His son Jesus and the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.
There is scripture that best teaches this principle of vertical and horizontal relationships and you may be surprised to know that it’s two passages, both from the Old Testament… which, I think is so cool, because it foreshadows the Cross. The Hebrews called the first part of this passage the “Shema” – which loosely means “Listen Up!” – and the Shema is the still quoted by many Jewish people first thing in the morning, everyday. It’s found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear o Israel, the Lord our God is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. “That’s the vertical part. And the horizontal: From a long list of “do’s and don’ts” in Leviticus 19, verse 18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Does that sound familiar? Probably… When asked by one of the teachers of the law which is the most important commandment, Jesus put these two together. Mark 12:29-30 is his answer: Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.” (The Message).
Vertical relationships. Horizontal relationships. United at the Cross… where Jesus gave His all for us, because He loves us… and He desires that we see and experience all of our relationships like He does… from the perspective of the Cross.