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The Beloved Community

• Efrem Smith

The church needs to be positioned as an agent of God’s love in the world. People decide which church to attend based on a lot of things (location, denomination, who’s preaching, etc.), but they stay in a church because there is love. What does this love look like? Efrem offered us four elements of what it means to be “the beloved community” and a force of love in the world. To illustrate the kind of life being advocated, he used a humorous but poignant comparison between Batman/Batgirl and Superman/Wonder Woman. Efrem’s challenge was to understand that we were born to live as children of God. We are intended for great things in this world and beyond.

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It’s always good to have Efrem Smith back in the pulpit! This week he preached on the topic: “The Beloved Community” and drew heavily from I John chapter 4:7-21. He read a portion beginning at vs. 7 and then relayed a story to us about a young man he visited in a local school recently. This young man had transferred in and was struggling. He was bright, competent, able, but not doing well. Efrem met him in the school cafeteria and said: “I know you don’t know me, but I am willing to listen…” The young man told Efrem that his parents were splitting up. On top of this, his father found out he was not the biological father and wanted nothing to do with this young man. It was to be a complete break in the relationship between the man who had performed the role of father all these years and this young man. Efrem wrestled with what to do next? Talk about his grades, tell him to be on time to class, report statistics about African American men? Tell him he needs to get saved? What? Efrem knew that what this young man needed was love and a connection to a heavenly father.

The church needs to be positioned to be an agent of God’s love in the world. People decide on what church to go to based on a lot of things (location, denomination, who’s preaching, etc.), but they stay in a church because there is love. What does this love look like? Efrem offered us four elements of what it means to be “the beloved community” and a force of love in the world.

The first element of being the beloved church is that we must be loving. To be loving, we must be “beloved.” “Beloved” means: “dearly loved,” “well loved,” “loved on real good.” This love, this source of our love comes from God alone (I John 4:7). So being loving involves both being loved by God and loving someone else. God’s love overpowers us and moves through us. It becomes infectious and spreads through our lives to others. Efrem gave a powerful example of how this applies by sharing a bit of his recent wedding messages. He expresses to both parties involved, that “You do not have the power (in and of yourself) to love your spouse the way God wants your spouse to be loved. Now do you all want to go on with this?” Of course, he goes on to say: “The best shot you have at putting together a godly marriage and sustaining till death do us part is if you get up in the morning and ask God to love your spouse through you today. Say to God, “love my spouse through me today. I can’t love him/her in my own power.” Otherwise, we will try to do it in our own power and we will burn out. We will get to the point where we’ll say, I can’t love them anymore… When we realize where love, gifts, strength, etc. come from we’ll realize we need the giver of these things to give love to others. Only God’s infinite resources can love us however we are. To be the beloved church we have to be loving, and we can’t get that in our own power.

The second element of being the beloved community of God is found in I John 4:12, 15. We must abide. Stay. Endure, persevere, be in it for the long haul. Sustain. Plant ourselves in the soil of God’s love and as God rains on us, we will grow. We need to be an abiding believer who have “staying power”. Efrem told the story of a man who survived the tsunami because he grabbed onto something that wasn’t movable. He hung on and survived the storm. God’s love is like that. God’s kingdom has staying power. Grab hold of God’s love and don’t let it go. It won’t move.

The third element is found in vs. 13. We need to be a “confessing church”. There are two parts to this. We boldly proclaim and confess Jesus as Messiah, Lord, and Redeemer of the world. And to do this, we must be able to confess that we are messy people. As Efrem put it: “We are flawed, we are not right. We need help. We point to external things as an excuse for our not holding onto something eternal.” Many people feel that the church is not a safe place to confess. They’d rather go to a counselor. Its safer. If the church creates an environment where its not safe, people will not come and confess. And we will not be able to be the beloved community that God desires us to be. Efrem put it like this: “Confession should not feel like we are on the stand at a trial. Yes, there are consequences in confession, but… Why can’t there be healing, restoration, love… Can I recover? Can I been redeemed? Can I be a new creature? Can I be restored? Will you walk with me through the pain? Even if I go to prison, will you at least come visit me? Where is that church at?”

And finally, the beloved community is referred to in vs. 17 as the community that God is in the process of perfecting. We are to be perfected, completed, finished, consecrated, made whole by God. That is the goal and destiny of the Christian Church. As a Christian, you and I are on the road to wholeness, to perfection. Efrem recalled a wise pastor’s words: “A Christian is one who stays on the road to become one.” You can come to Christ and have your salvation secure, but still live hell on earth. Let’s be and stay on the road that leads to completion and restoration.

To illustrate the kind of life being advocated, Efrem contrasted Batman/Batgirl vs. Superman/Wonder Woman. If you know the difference between these characters then you know what it means to be a beloved son or daughter of God. Consider Batman. His parents were killed before his own eyes as a young child. The anger, pain, doubt, fear motivates Bruce Wayne to fight evil. He maximizes his own abilities, he wears a mask to hide his true identity, and he fights fueled by the source of pain within himself. Bat girl too, hides her real identity behind a mask. Her real name is Barbara but she uses “batgirl” to try to be glamorous, sexy, cute… but she’s not being who she really is. People go to church and work like this… even pastors! We wear our masks and use our “powers” that we learn over the years. Then we try to be our real selves at home for a few hours when we get the chance, but we are not living out of our true source of life.

But not superman! He’s knows he’s a citizen of another realm. His superpowers come from another realm. He knows where his source is. He was borne to do the things he does! He was borne to fly! He would be the same with or without his outfit. He wears no mask. The same is true of Wonder woman. She was born a Wonder Woman. She to is from another realm. She was born wonderful.

Efrem’s challenge was for each of us to understand, we were born to live as children of God. We were intended for great things in this world and beyond. Do we know who we are? Or are we putting on masks and trying to be something that we created…something that cannot last and cannot fulfill us. Let’s not afraid to get on our knees before God and get our power source right. For perfect love casts out all fear.

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Focus Scripture:

  • I John 4:7-21

    Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

    This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

    God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

    We love because he first loved us. If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen. And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love one another.

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