Cells employ elaborate mechanisms to introduce structural and chemical variation into chromatin. Here, we focus on one such element of variation: methylation of lysine 4 in histone H3 (H3K4). We assess a growing body of literature, including treatment of how the mark is established, the patterns of methylation, and the functional consequences of this epigenetic signature. We discuss structural aspects of the H3K4 methyl recognition by the downstream effectors and propose a distinction between sequence-specific recruitment mechanisms and stabilization on chromatin through methyl-lysine recognition. Finally, we hypothesize how the unique properties of the polyvalent chromatin fiber and associated effectors may amplify small differences in methyl-lysine recognition, simultaneously allowing for a dynamic chromatin architecture.