Three Dimensions of a Complete Life



This sermon is one draft of Dr. King's "Three Dimensions of a Complete Life." It was first delivered by Dr. King to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
Another version is entitled, "The Dimensions of a Complete Life." The first dimension is concerned with the well-being of the self. The second dimension is concerned with the well-being of others. The last dimension is concerned with reaching towards God.
As Dr. King implies, if all of these dimensions are equal, then a complete life will be obtained.

Digital Archive brought to you
by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Three Dimensions of a Complete Life
Transcripts & Translations


?The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life? The Length and Breadth and the Height of it are equal- Revelation 21:16 Many centuries ago out on a lonely obscure island called Patmos, a man by the name of John caught vision of ?the new Jerusalem? descending out of heaven from God. One of the greatest glories of this new city of God which John saw was its completeness. It was not partial and one sided, but in all three dimensions it was complete. So in describing the city, John says, ?the length and breadth and the height of it are equal.? In other words, the new city of God, the city of ideal humanity is not up on one side and down on the other; it is not an unbalanced entity; it is complete on all sides. Now John is saying something quite significant here. For most of [Page 2] 2 us the book of Revelation is a very difficult book, puzzling to decode. We see it as a great enigma wrapped in mystery. Now it is true that if we look upon the book Revelation as the record of actual historical occurrences, it is a very difficult book, shrouded with impenetrable mysteries. But if we will look beneath the peculiar jargon of the author and the prevailing apocalyptic symbolism we will be able to find there man eternal truths which forever challenge us. One such truth is the truth of this text. What John is really saying is that life at its best and life as it should be is the life that is complete on all sides. There are three dimensions of any complete life to which we can fitly give the three names of this text, Length, Breadth and Height. The length of life, as we shall use it, is not its duration, not its longevity. It is rather the push of a life forward to its own personal ends and ambitions. It is the inward concern for ones [Page 3] 3 personal welfare. The Breadth of life is the outward concern for the welfare for others. The height of life is the upward reach toward God. These are the three dimensions of life, and without the due development of all no life becomes complete. Life at its best is a great triangle. At one angle stands the individual person, at the other angel stands other persons, and at the tip top stands God. Unless these three are concentrated, working harmoniously together in a single life, that life is incomplete. Let us turn first to the length of life. We have said that this is the dimension of life in which every man seeks to develop his inners powers. This is really the selfish dimension of life. There is such a thing as rational and moral self-interest. As the last Joshua Leibman said in an interesting chapter in his book entitled [Underlined: Peace of Mind], we must first love ourselves [Page 4] 4 properly before we can adequately have others. Many people have been plunged across the abyss of emotional fatalism because they didn?t love themselves. So every person should have a concern for self. He should set out to discover what he is made for. There is a bit of latent creativity within all of us seeking to break forth. It is our responsibility to discover this center of creativity. After one has discovered what he is called for, he should set out to do it with all of the power that he has in his system. He should seek to do it so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better. Do it as if God almighty ordained you at this particular moment in history to do it. Whatever your life?s work is, never consider it insignificant. If it is for the uplifting of humanity, it has cosmic significant, however small it is. If you are called to a little job, seek to do it in a big way. If [Page 5] 5 your life?s work is confined to the ordinary, seek to do it in an extraordinary way. If you discover that you are called to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michael Angelo painted pictures, like Beethoven composed music and like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, ?here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.? This is what Douglas Mallock meant when he said: if you cant be a pine on the top of the hill, be a scrub in the valley- but be [Crossed out: the] the best little scrub by the side of the hill, be a bush if you cant be a tree. If you cant be a highway just be a trail. If you cant be the sun be a star. It isn?t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are. Set yourself earnestly to discover what you were made to do, and then set yourself [Page 6] 6 earnestly to do it. This clear inward push to the end in the length of a man?s life. But we cannot stop here. It is true that many people never get beyond this first dimension. They brilliantly develop their inner powers, but they live as if nobody else lives in the world but themselves. Other persons become mere steps by which they climb to their personal ambitions. There is nothing more tragic than to see a person bogged down in the length of life, devoid of breadth. So if life is to be complete we must move beyond length to what we have called breadth. I have ventured to call this quality of breadth in a mans life its outreach for the welfare of others. A man has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizon of his particular individualistic desires and embrace the broader concerns of humanity. One day a young man came to Jesus [Page 7] 7 inquiring the meaning of neighborly love. This question could have very easily been left in the abstract. But Jesus immediately pulled the question out of mid-air and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jerico. And he talked about a certain man who fell among thieves. Of the three men who passed this robbed [and] beaten man, it was the man of another race who stopped to help him. Jesus implied that this good Samaritan was the type of person who would inherit the kingdom. The Samaritan was great because he was able to project the ?I? into the ?thou.? The question that each of the other two men asked was: ?what will happen to [Underlined: me] if I stop to help this man?? The question which the good Samaritan asked was: ?what will happen to [Underlined: this man] if I do not stop to help him.? The Samaritan was great because he possessed the capacity for a [Page 8] 8 dangerous and costly altruism. He had the amazing ability to surround the length of personal self interest with the breadth of brotherly concern. He had not only ascended to the height of economic security, but could condescend to the depths of human need.
View Tags