Vertical and Horizontal Fellowship

“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” I John 1:3

Life is essentially a matter of relationships, not accomplishments or circumstances. Nothing brings greater joy to my life than the people God has providentially placed in my life path. A child’s little hand on the back of my neck, the embrace of my wife, interaction with friends, the laughter of home life – ah, nothing compares to this. Relationships provide unparalleled fulfillment. By the same token, nothing brings greater heartache than the breakdown of those relationships. Neither health problems or financial difficulties hurt quite like conflict in a marriage, or the loss of a life-long friend. When relationships don’t work properly, the pain is indescribable.

If the relational dimension of life is important on the human level, it’s even more critical on the divine level. The highest kind of life, i.e. “eternal life,” is defined by the Lord Jesus in terms of a relationship with God: “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent” (Jno. 17:3). Ultimate joy is the product of a right relationship with God. Ultimate misery, moreover, results when that relationship with God is impeded by sin.

In every sense, whether in terms of one’s legal position with God or in terms of daily Christian experience, it is impossible to maintain right relationships with other people unless a person first has a right relationship with God. Fellowship with God, the vertical dimension of life, is prerequisite to fellowship with other people on the horizontal plane.

When Jesus summarized the Law in terms of “loving God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength” and “loving one’s neighbor as himself” (Mt. 22:37), he specified a sequence of priority that cannot be reversed without serious consequence. The person who puts “loving people” before “loving God” will inevitably circumvent Scripture to please others. It is only when my heart is right before God that I am equipped to properly interact with others. When two people are each in fellowship with God, they have the resources for a fulfilling relationship with one another.

– Michael L. Gowens