Christians and Bible study concept. Group of discipleship Studying the Word Of God in church and Christians holding each others hand praying together

Every Vertical Needs a Horizontal

Christian Growth

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (John 15:4, NKJV)

The realization that “There is nothing, save the selfish heart of man, that lives unto itself”[1] dawned on me slowly. There I was, face to face with the truth that my spiritual life could actually be a selfish thing if I did not take from God’s hand for the purpose of giving His love to others. The horizontal and the vertical connection are both part of His majestic law.

Christians and Bible study concept. Group of discipleship Studying the Word Of God in church and Christians holding each others hand praying togetherJesus and nature teach us the law of life for the universe, the law upon which all other commandments are based. That law is that all created things take from God what they themselves need, in order to give to others what those others need. Each of us is created to be a conduit of God’s love, mercy, justice, freedom, and grace to others. However, this flow can take place only when we are connected both with God and with others.

This concept of the connection is so beautifully illustrated in John 15. Truth in this passage is so much more than just about our having an “abiding” devotional connection, and bearing the beautiful fruit of the Spirit— “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control.”[2] That beautiful fruit is destined to result in the fruit of other lives being touched by the love of God. That two-way connection then fulfills the law of the universe.

Jesus was the perfect fulfillment of the law of God. “All things Christ received from God, but He took to give. So in the heavenly courts, in His ministry for all created beings: through the beloved Son, the Father’s life flows out to all; through the Son it returns, in praise and joyous service, a tide of love, to the great Source of all. And thus through Christ the circuit of beneficence is complete, representing the character of the great Giver, the law of life.”[3]

We, as a finite cog in this working of the universe, are also meant to have the Father’s life flow through us to others. Our connecting with the vine flows into the lives of others, building us, but also increasing the flow of “praise and joyous service, a tide of love,” back to the Father.

My being a growing disciple implies that there will be growth of other disciples around me. In the classroom, this principle helps to keep me focused on what my connection with God brings into the lives of others, not just on how it helps me to endure their shortcomings and foibles. Every vertical connection of mine becomes a horizontal connection through which I can share God’s love with others.

A wonderful personal and classroom tool that enriches these ideas for me is Together Growing Fruitful Disciples. Helping students and colleagues assess their own connection with God opens up plenty of opportunity to explore how your mutual environment measures up to Jesus’ assessment criteria for His disciples: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”[4]

In conclusion, here is a related object lesson idea.

Materials needed: Container for water; water; PVC pipe joint; some extension pipe for each opening would be useful; some material that could clog the joint and block the flow of the water; a second (or more) container to catch the water flow through the joint.

Instructions: Take a small watering can or other container. Decorate it with a heart to represent the heart of God. Fill it partially with water to represent the selfless love of God. Put a clogging substance into the PVC joint. Slowly pour the water through the pipe (preferably with a few inches of extender pipe connected to each opening). Discuss how much better the water flows without the clogging substance. A more extended lesson could be drawn from more than one tier of this water flow.

[1] White, E. G. (1898). The Desire of Ages (Vol. 3, p. 20). Pacific Press Publishing Association.

[2] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ga 5:22–23). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] White, E. G. (1898). The Desire of Ages (Vol. 3, p. 21). Pacific Press Publishing Association.

[4] The New King James Version. (1982). (Jn 13:35). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.


Kathy Beagles Coneff, PhD, now retired, consults with ministries on their curriculum needs. She was previously a professor of religious education at the SDA Theological Seminary, an English teacher, as well as an editor of Bible study guides for ages 10-18, USA. She has personal resources available at

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