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Author: Ron Graham

Challenge and Change

—Emotion, commotion, promotion, devotion

I suspect that in this lesson I have tried to be just a little bit too clever. The heading is Notions, and the points are Emotion, Commotion, Promotion, and Devotion. How contrived is that? However I have left it that way, because it's easy to remember, and I want it easy to remember because the lesson is too important to forget.

Among those who claim to be disciples of Jesus, there are different notions of what true discipleship means and what characterises it. Among different groups, you will find very different expressions and styles of religious faith and worship, which can be broadly summarised in the points below...

1 Emotion

Some groups pretty much run on emotion. There is an air of excitement and expectation. In the church services, people are murmuring, "Hallelujah! Yes, blessed Jesus", swaying and clapping, laughing, weeping. Emotive background music and mood-influencing lighting may even be used. The emotion is often carried over into the homes and lives of the disciples. They live on an emotional high.

Of course, there are times when emotion is only to be expected. When Paul left the brethren at Ephesus, he "knelt down and prayed with them all. Then they began to weep loudly, and they fell on Paul's neck, and they were kissing him tenderly. They were deeply distressed... that they were not going to see his face again" (Acts 20:36-38).

There is nothing wrong with emotion and "getting emotional" is neither a sin nor a defect when there is something to be emotional about. For example, who doesn't shed tears at a wedding, a funeral, or a baptism, without good reason? What we are questioning, at the moment, is whether emotions are the essence of discipleship, or an indicator of how much on fire for Jesus his disciples are, and whether they are truly born again.

Christians are to be "fervent in spirit" (Romans 12:11) and "fervent in love" (1Peter 4:8). However there is no indication in the scripture that this has to be loud or showy.

So in this first point, we acknowledge on one hand the place of emotion in discipleship, but on the other hand we reject that a high emotional charge is what drives true discipleship, and that feeding people's emotions is really feeding Christ’s sheep.

2 Commotion

There is another kind of group that you may have encountered. This is where you seem to find the disciples always in the throes of some commotion. There are constant debates over issues. Personalities clash. People quarrel. While strife does not attract many, some do like it hot. But quarrels and dissentions are not Christ-like and are condemned (James 4:1, Titus 3:9-11).

Of course, there is occasion for disputes. Paul was involved in "no small dissension and disputation" (Acts 15:1-2). and in "sharp disagreement" (Acts 15:38-40). However these problems were sorted out and there was no nastiness.

Christian discipleship is characterised by "a gentle and quiet spirit which is precious in the sight of God" and we are to "let all be harmonius, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit" (1Peter 3:4,8).

So in this second point, we acknowledge on one hand that there may be occasion for dispute, yet on the other hand we reject that true discipleship is marked by controversy and commotion. Bickering about what is true and false is not the way to uphold the word of God.

3 Promotion

Now we move on to consider a third kind of group. Among these disciples, you are aware of the hard-sell atmosphere, a rigid top-down executive organization. The group is run like a marketing company. The organization and its projects are promoted by modern methods, and of course the crowds come and bring their money.

Of course, there is a place for good organisation. Paul was involved in organising a world-wide contribution for Christians affected by famine in Judea. This was a massive co-operative effort (Romans 15:26, ICo 16:1-6). Paul certainly promoted this project. However, when a church becomes a marketing group that promotes its products like a recorded music company, or a restaurant chain, it loses the character of the church that Christ founded.

Disciples of Christ "walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise (Ephesians 5:15) and live "blameless and above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom you shine as lights in the world" (Philippians 2:15). The disciple's personal example in good works is the way to promote Jesus Christ in the world (Matthew 5:14-16).

So in this third point, we acknowledge on one hand that there is a place for efficient organization and sound promotion in some things the church may need to do. However we reject that modern salesmanship and marketing methods are a mark to look for in identifying the true disciples of Christ. Rather the mark is exemplary living and enlightened attitude.

4 Devotion

The fourth and final kind of discipleship is characterized by devotion. The first church for example "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers...continuing daily with one accord" (Acts 2:42-47).

That, of course is a true mark of disciples of Christ. They are devoted to him, to his word, and to his kingdom. They "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33).

Devotion (unlike emotion, commotion, and promotion) is enduring and does not suffer from burnout. Devotion is the secret of "building gold" rather than "building straw" (1Corinthians 3:12). Emotion, commotion, and promotion do not win "favour with all the people" (Acts 2:47). Devotion, on the contrary, brings no disfavour upon the church.

So in this fourth point we have hit upon the correct notion of discipleship, a genuine devotion to Christ uncluttered by the world. This is what characterizes the people of God. If we are first and foremost devoted to Jesus, then we are disciples indeed, and we will avoid the excesses and disappointments to which the other notions lead.

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