Martin Luther King, Jr.: 3 Dimensions of a Complete Life (Transcript)

Martin Luther King Jr. delivered this sermon titled “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life” at New Covenant Baptist Church in Chicago on April 9, 1967.

Below is the text of the sermon.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Martin Luther King Jr. – The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life Speech

TRANSCRIPT: 

I want to use as the subject from which to preach: “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life.”

You know, they used to tell us in Hollywood that in order for a movie to be complete, it had to be three-dimensional. Well, this morning I want to seek to get over to each of us that if life itself is to be complete, it must be three-dimensional.

Many, many centuries ago, there was a man by the name of John who found himself in prison out on a lonely, obscure island called Patmos. And I’ve been in prison just enough to know that it’s a lonely experience.

And when you are incarcerated in such a situation, you are deprived of almost every freedom, but the freedom to think, the freedom to pray, the freedom to reflect and to meditate.

And while John was out on this lonely island in prison, he lifted his vision to high heaven and he saw, descending out of heaven, a new heaven and a new earth. Over in the 21st chapter of the book of Revelation, it opens by saying, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. And I, John, saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven.”

And one of the greatest glories of this new city of God that John saw was its completeness. It was not up on one side and down on the other, but it was complete in all three of its dimensions.

And so in this same chapter as we look down to the 16th verse, John says, “The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.”

In other words, this new city of God, this new city of ideal humanity is not an unbalanced entity, but is complete on all sides. Now I think John is saying something here in all of the symbolism of this text and the symbolism of this chapter. He’s saying at bottom that life as it should be and life at its best is a life that is complete on all sides.

And there are three dimensions of any complete life to which we can fitly give the words of this text: length, breadth, and height.

Now the length of life as we shall use it here is the inward concern for one’s own welfare. In other words, it is that inward concern that causes one to push forward, to achieve his own goals and ambitions. The breadth of life as we shall use it here is the outward concern for the welfare of others. And the height of life is the upward reach for God.

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Now you got to have all three of these to have a complete life.

LENGTH OF LIFE

Now let’s turn for the moment to the length of life. I said that this is the dimension of life where we are concerned with developing our inner powers. In a sense this is the selfish dimension of life.

There is such a thing as rational and healthy self-interest. A great Jewish rabbi, the late Joshua Leibman, wrote a book some years ago entitled Peace of Mind. And he has a chapter in that book entitled “Love Thyself Properly.” And what he says in that chapter, in substance, is that before you can love other selves adequately, you’ve got to love your own self properly.

You know, a lot of people don’t love themselves. And they go through life with deep and haunting emotional conflicts. So the length of life means that you must love yourself.

And you know what loving yourself also means? It means that you’ve got to accept yourself. So many people are busy trying to be somebody else. God gave all of us something significant. And we must pray every day, asking God to help us to accept ourselves. That means everything.

Too many Negroes are ashamed of themselves, ashamed of being black. A Negro got to rise up and say from the bottom of his soul, “I am somebody. I have a rich, noble, and proud heritage. However exploited and however painful my history has been, I’m black, but I’m black and beautiful.” This is what we’ve got to say.

We’ve got to accept ourselves. And we must pray, “Lord, help me to accept myself every day; help me to accept my tools.”

I remember when I was in college, I majored in sociology, and all sociology majors had to take a course that was required called statistics. And statistics can be very complicated. You’ve got to have a mathematical mind, a real knowledge of geometry, and you’ve got to know how to find the mean, the mode, and the median.

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I never will forget. I took this course and I had a fellow classmate who could just work that stuff out, you know. And he could do his homework in about an hour. We would often go to the lab or the workshop, and he would just work it out in about an hour, and it was over for him.

And I was trying to do what he was doing; I was trying to do mine in an hour. And the more I tried to do it in an hour, the more I was flunking out in the course.

And I had to come to a very hard conclusion. I had to sit down and say, “Now, Martin Luther King, Leif Cane has a better mind than you.” Sometimes you have to acknowledge that.

And I had to say to myself, “Now, he may be able to do it in an hour, but it takes me two or three hours to do it.” I was not willing to accept myself. I was not willing to accept my tools and my limitations.

But you know in life we’re called upon to do this. A Ford car trying to be a Cadillac is absurd, but if a Ford will accept itself as a Ford, it can do many things that a Cadillac could never do: it can get in parking spaces that a Cadillac can never get in.

And in life some of us are Fords and some of us are Cadillacs. Moses says in “Green Pastures,” “Lord, I ain’t much, but I is all I got.”

The principle of self-acceptance is a basic principle in life.

Now the other thing about the length of life: after accepting ourselves and our tools, we must discover what we are called to do. And once we discover it, we should set out to do it with all of the strength and all of the power that we have in our systems.

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After we’ve discovered what God called us to do, after we’ve discovered our life’s work, we should set out to do that work so well that the living, the dead, or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.

Now this does not mean that everybody will do the so-called big, recognized things of life. Very few people will rise to the heights of genius in the arts and the sciences. Very few collectively will rise to certain professions. Most of us will have to be content to work in the fields and in the factories and on the streets. But we must see the dignity of all labor.

When I was in Montgomery, Alabama, I went to a shoe shop quite often, known as the Gordon Shoe Shop. And there was a fellow in there that used to shine my shoes, and it was just an experience to witness this fellow shining my shoes. He would get that rag, you know, and he could bring music out of it.

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