Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Softer Side of Provocation

“But let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.”    (Hebrews 10:24)

         Provocation has been saddled with a fairly bad reputation, and, for the most part, well deserved. Of the many times the word is used in Scripture, only two or three are in a favorable connotation. On numerous occasions, it was God who was provoked to anger. (The children of Israel were especially adept at this!) The same bunch could also elicit the same reaction from poor, old Moses; and on one occasion in particular, they caused him to “speak unadvisedly with his lips.” Fathers are cautioned in Ephesians not to provoke their children to wrath, making a bad situation even worse.

         On the other hand, though, provocation is one of several sins or faults that can be “flipped” to the right side. For instance, in1 Corinthians, we are encouraged to “covet…the best gifts” (12:31); and become addicted…to the ministry of the saints” (16:15). In chapter fourteen of Mark, the otherwise condemned trait of “waste” is commended by our Lord; and in Colossians three, Paul exhorts us to “mortify” our inclination toward sins such as fornication, inordinate affection, etc. The world says to acknowledge (even embrace) any immoral or aberrant proclivities we may possess, but God says to kill them.

         We women are often warned (and rightly so) of the danger of being provocative in dress or demeanor, in the more narrow, sensual meaning of the word. Then we read of the women of Israel who provoked jealousy in the heart of King Saul by magnifying David’s battlefield achievements over his own. And, of course, let’s not forget Eve’s infamous provocation of Adam in the matter of the forbidden fruit.

         Obviously, though, the inclination to the sin of wrongful suggestion lies within all of us—male and female. And if that be the case, my own suggestion is this: Don’t fight it…flip it!  Go ahead; be a provoker. As the Scripture in Hebrews admonishes, provoke “love” between friends and family instead of driving wedges; and even better, provoke others to love the Lord Jesus Christ by your own devotion to Him. Then, provoke “good works,” not by laying a guilt trip on people, but by unpretentiously showing them the reasonableness and joy of serving God.

         I have seen women whose constant nagging, cajoling, and whining turned a perfectly good man into a cowardly shadow of his potential. But, thank God, I have also seen seemingly mediocre men blossom into great men of faith, with the gentle, unobtrusive nudge of a good wife.

         Make no mistake; we all have the “gift” of provocation. The question is, “How will we use it?” 

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