Each sermon is published in large print for use in preaching, and for easy reading by several people gathered around the computer monitor.
GROWING BOTH VERTICALLY AND HORIZONTALLY
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
28 JANUARY 1990
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
John 3:3 and 5
Galatians 5: 19-25
1 John 4:20-21
Preparation: 1 John 4:20-21
20. If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.
21. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
Concerning our preparation, we could say the same thing about those whose lack of unconditional love that causes so much pain, suffering, death, and destruction to the rest of God's creation, including the animals and the environment.
Our sermon this morning is entitled, "Growing Both Vertically and Horizontally."
From the very moment of conception, we begin to grow.
As our original cells begin to divide, we seem to be growing in all directions at once.
Then, we begin to grow more dimensionally, and we take on the shape of our body in miniature.
And then when we are born, we are measured and weighed so that others can talk about us as to how "long" we were or how much we weighed.
As time begins to pass, we continue to grow mostly in a vertical direction.
Then comes that day when we stop growing vertically, and many of us begin to grow horizontally – some of us more than others.
Our spiritual growth is much the same, except we do so in reverse order most of the time. First, we usually grow horizontally into the ways of the world.
We learn to do what everyone else is doing, and we learn from each other; but not all of what we learn is of God.
We may do many "good deeds" that are not really all that "good" in the sight of God: such as removing Bible readings and prayer from our schools, so that we won't offend anyone.
The so-called "good" result of this supposed "good deed" has been to increase the moral decay of our society.
Therefore, unless and until God is the central focus of our growth, just as plants grow toward the sunlight, we, like the plants, will produce little or no truly good fruit.
The key to this conversion is our desire to love and be loved, not in a physical sense, as the world views love, but in a very deep, pure, honest, and sacrificial love.
This kind of unconditional love can only originate with God.
It is our search for this love that leads us into the world and to accept its ways; but no matter how much we enter into this worldly love and acceptance, we are never completely satisfied.
It's our hunger for this unconditional love, and our failure in finding it, that leads to frustration and to much of our overeating as a way of saying to ourselves, "It's okay to eat, for it will satisfy me, and I'm worthy of it."
And sometimes the opposite occurs, and we want to punish ourselves because we think we are not worthy of any good thing, because it's our fault that things are the way they are; so we starve ourselves, or commit suicide, or even hurt someone else.
These feelings are not of God, and they are false; for this pure, unselfish godly love is all around us, like electricity, but in order to receive it, we must plug ourselves into it.
Jesus Himself tells us how to plug ourselves in.
Let's begin by looking at Matthew 22:34-40 and hear how Jesus answered a Pharisee's question:
34. But when the Pharisees heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they gathered themselves together.
35. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,
36. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"
37. 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.’
38. "This is the great and foremost commandment.
39. "The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
40. "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."
Jesus, in quoting the greatest of all commandments, changes one word. In Deuteronomy 6:5 it says:
5. "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
This verse says "with all your might"; and Jesus said "with all your mind." Why did he change it?
The Hebrew word for might, meh-ohd, means that we are to love the Lord our God with an urgent wholeness. We are to love Him with every part of our being and with every thing we are, and with every thing we possess; and we are to do it right now, not even one second from now. Our love is to be unconditional and immediate.
We are not to think about when we are to love God, or to what extent we are to love Him. We are to love Him wholly and constantly with no exceptions.
Thus, Jesus is telling these religious leaders that they are to quit thinking and reasoning about what is going on around them and about their own position. They must stop looking at God with only "head knowledge." They must love with their minds, which are controlling their might, or meh-ohd.
And this only happens when we let go of our own pride and truly seek God.
This only happens when we are truly born again, for we must gain new vision and insight. We must be willing and able to see the kingdom of God in the here and now; for to live in this kind of godly love also requires us to live in the kingdom of God.
And this is exactly what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:3 –
3. ..."Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Nicodemus was trying to use his mind to reason his way to God.
He was trying to work his way into heaven, and Jesus was telling him to let go of all that and to just believe.
Our physical birth and our physical life will never lead us to either heaven or to a personal relationship with the Lord our God.
This is what Jesus tells Nicodemus in verse 5:
5. ..."Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
Unless we are born both of the water of the womb, in our physical birth, and
of the Holy Spirit, in our spiritual rebirth, we cannot enter into the kingdom,
and thus we are incapable of expressing true godly love back to God, or to our
fellow human beings, or to the animals, or to the environment in which we all
live and depend upon for our physical well being.
What we have to do is to open our hearts and minds to accept, on faith, that our Christianity is relevant only when this unconditional Godly love is infused into all spheres of our human existence.
In other words, just as we left the womb of our mothers, never to return again, so are we to leave our physical world, never to return again, when we enter into the kingdom of God.
Now I am speaking spiritually.
Just as we hopefully love our mothers after our birth, so are we to love God's creation of the world, and those in it, after our rebirth.
And just as we would die, if we entered back into the watery conditions of the womb, so will we die if we enter again into the ungodly conditions of the world.
We are in the world, but we must separate ourselves from the conditions of the world; however, we are not to separate ourselves from loving those who are still caught in the world.
We also are to love those who are in the kingdom.
When a person enters into this personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and enters into the kingdom, that person is also to be Godlike in all their relations.
Yes, all their relationships, not just some. We are to be Christ like in all our relationships.
What we are being told is that unless, and until, we establish our vertical connection with God, we cannot establish Christ like relationships with others along the horizontal plane of this earth. We cannot separate one from the other.
Do you remember some time ago when we talked about the Christmas gift, or fruit basket, we receive when we establish this personal relationship with God?
The fruit basket is full of all different kinds of fruit, and everyone who accepts this gift, gets all of the fruit. None is left out. We get it all.
In Galatians 5:22-23 we are told what kinds of fruit we get. Remember that all the fruit that the Lord gives us is of the best quality.
22. ...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23. gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Is there anyone gathered here this morning who truly doesn't desire these things from God and from our fellow human beings?
I didn't think there was!
But what about the ways of this physical world, and the people who are bound to this world in the flesh of their physical bodies?
What are those conditions?
Let's move up to verses 19-21 and see.
19. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
20. idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,
21. envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Do you see the connection to the kingdom of God?
I pray so!
And I also pray that there isn't anyone here who truly desires any of these things.
Sure, we all slip into some of these things at one time or another; but if our hearts' desire is not to do so, and it truly bothers us when we do, then we are still in the kingdom, and the Holy Spirit will strengthen us to overcome our fleshly shortcomings.
Then in verses 24 and 25 we see the reason, and the challenge, for our vertical and personal relationship with God:
24. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
In our horizontal relationship within the world.
We can't do this with physical effort, no matter how hard we try.
It only takes our unconditional love and trust of the Lord, and then we can have all of the good and everlasting life.