Provoking One Another

If you are like me, you do not have to look for ways to provoke others; but rather I need to look for ways to NOT provoke: my wife, my children, my best friend(s), my work associates, my neighbors, fellow members of the Body of Christ and, to be sure, my Lord. What I am suggesting is that, as long as we are in the body, we will probably struggle against the “flesh”-our old nature, which naturally and without effort is in the provoking business. Only as we are “walking in the Spirit,” and bearing the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, etc. (Gal.5:16-23) will we not be provoking someone.

But, when the writer of the book of Hebrews admonishes us in Hebs.10:24 to “provoke one another to love,” he is, of course, using the word “provoke” in the sense of stimulating, encouraging others to do good for Christ’s sake in so much that His body is edified.

In the New Testament there are multiple ways of provoking one another to love: (1) Bear ye one another’s burdens,” (Gal.6:12); “Edify one another,” (I Th.5:11); “Esteem one another in lowliness of mind….” (Phil.2:3) Then, “forbearing one another,” (Col.3:13); and “Be ye kind one to another,” (Eph.4:22; “Prefer one another,” (Rom.12:10 ) and “Receive one another,” (Rom.15:7) and “By love serve one another,” (Gal.5:13); and “Be subject one to another,” (I Pt.5:5); and “Tarry one for another,” (I Cor. 11:33), not to mention “Use hospitality one to another,” (I Pt. 4:9) and “Comfort one another,” (I Th. 4:16).

In Hebrews 10:24 we are commanded to “Provoke one another to love and to good works.” Paul posits in his excellent I Cor.13 treatise on genuine love that love is the coronation of all Christian virtues, greater even than faith and hope.

You can’t be a believer without God’s love in your heart, but you can be a Christian without a full and free flowing of love in and through your heart and life.

Sometimes water ekes barely out of a bathroom faucet until, removing the seal and examining the filter inside, we discover that the screen or filter has become filled up with almost sand-like particles. We rid the filter of those minute particles and tighten up the seal again and water flows freely. So, with us!  Sometimes particles of sin or self clog up the filter of our heart and restrain the full and free flowing of love. It’s imperative that we keep the love flowing freely; nothing is more important in your Christian life.

We provoke others to love and good works by what we think.  Love is as much attitude as it is action. Paul declares that “love suffers long, is kind, envieth not, thinketh no evil,” etc. The way you love is governed by the way you think. Esther, wife of the Persian King, Ahasuerus, garnered an incredulous amount of love focused on her meeting with the King when she would plead for her life and her kindred Jewish people which faced extermination were Haman to have his way.  She fasted and prayed and implored her national yoke fellows to do the same preceding her bold appearance before the autocratic king. The mental, emotional, and spiritual energy focused on that meeting would have been incalculable. It was her love for God, for the people of God and, yes, for her husband-king that was in play through the whole of this prayer-bathed incident. Love won the day. Esther and her people lived; Haman was hanged.

So, we too can provoke to love and good works just by having the right (loving, prayerful, gracious) attitude as was Esther’s.

We can also let love “win the day” by what we say. Words are more powerful than swords or spears. “Thank you,” “I’m sorry,” “You go first, please,” and “What do you think?” are heart-rending utterances that are mountain moving, as also is “I’d like your advice,” or “How can I help you?” or “Please forgive me,” and surely “I love you.”

A word fitly spoken, the wise Solomon penned, is like “apples of gold in pictures of silver.” (Prov. 25:11) It is instructive to study our Savior as He stood before the puppet Pilate who interrogated Christ on His way to the Cross. To the governor’s question “Art thou the king of the Jews?” Jesus simply said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Can’t you imagine the fire-breathing answer that many of us who name His name would have hurled back at this Roman figure-head? Love won the moment and Pilate would say to the blood-thirsty mob, “I find no fault with him.”

Finally, we may provoke to love and to good works not only by what we think, and by what we say but also by what we do. We have at our disposal the earth-moving mechanisms of GIVING, BEARING, SERVING, FORGIVING, WAITING and SHARING. It is all done in the context of “Provoking one another to love….” Jacob, who had not endeared himself to his twin brother, Esau, twenty years before their tense reunion as recorded in Genesis 28, availed himself of this powerful provoking resource. Before ever meeting Esau face to face, Jacob sent gift after gift after gift; expensive, valuable gifts of livestock. The recounting of the story reads that as he prepared to meet his estranged brother, Jacob “took of that which came to his hand a present for Esau his brother.” (Gen.32:13)

Might we learn a lesson from the patriarch who had wrestled a night with God? Sometimes we can provoke to love and to good works with nothing more than a gift of that which “comes to our hand.” It worked without a doubt good works on the part of Esau who embraced the brother he had once vowed to kill. What might it do for us today?

Might we all be challenged to do what the inspired writer urged his first-century readers to do: “Let us consider one another to provoke (in a positive, Spirit-filled sense) unto love and good works.” (Hebs.10:24) It’s as simple as thinking the right thoughts, saying the right words and doing the right things.

And Jesus said, Let her alone: why trouble ye her? She hath wrought a good work on me.” (Mark 14:6)

(To be continued.)

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