Provoke Somebody Daily, But at Least Do it the Right Way!

When we say, “Don’t provoke me”, it is usually another way of saying, “Don’t make me mad!” The dictionary says provoke means “stimulate or give rise to (a reaction or emotion, typically a strong or unwelcome one) in someone.” In this verse from Hebrews, the author offers us a different take on how to provoke one another. Instead of the word meaning antagonizing or harassing someone, he says we should think about this:

A New Way to Provoke

“And let us consider one another to provoke [each other] unto love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.“ (Hebrews 10:24-25, NKJV)

provoke for good

Why don’t we break this verse down and see if it provokes a reaction: “Let US consider one another…” The Christian walk is not supposed to be done in a vacuum. Almost everything about following Christ is designed to happen in community: when we start following Jesus we become children of God with new brothers and sisters; we are part of God’s family, and are the Body of Christ.

When Jesus described us as the light of the world, he didn’t say we are a candle set upon the hill; he said we are a CITY (a group of lights) set upon the hill—and he said we were set there for a purpose. “Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your GOOD WORKS, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Provoke How, Exactly?

Are we Christians known as a group for doing good works? Or for other, lesser things? What good are YOU doing out there in the world? Paul’s letters resound with the significance of being prepared for “every good work”. He mentions it at least 10 times, and sees it as the natural result of praying, of fellowship, and of being in the Word. And here the writer of Hebrews says that believers are supposed to provoke one another to love and to good works. (He evidently uses “provoke” in a different way than it has been applied in many of our churches, unfortunately…)

So it probably means that we should ask ourselves two questions: 1) Who in my life motivates me to do good works? Do my friends and associates inspire me to do good? Are you surrounded with people who encourage you to be intentional about demonstrating the love of God?

And 2) Who am I provoking to do good works? Are you encouraging and exhorting your friends and family to do good? If you’re not, then the writer of Hebrews says that you are missing out. I exhort you, therefore, brothers and sisters, to go out there and do good today! You really have no excuse and you ought to sit down and think of something good you can go do. There! Consider yourself provoked.

Inverse Provocation

People can provoke you by the things they do and say;
In fact I bet someone provokes you every single day!
Well, here’s a thing you never thought for provocation:
It’s also very useful to provoke our inspiration!
Do some good; encourage others to do some good as well,
And if we do, good works will spread. How far? Why, who can tell?
So, go and push someone: If we provoke them like we should,
Instead of spreading evil, we may end up spreading good.

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Leaving Villa Laura

It is a cool, perfect morning in Tuscany. The pale blue sky has been accented with wisps of clouds by some Artist’s technique that surpass even those of Michelangelo and Botticelli. Birds are singing cheerfully, for they will be staying home in Tuscany to revel in the blooms and rebirth of Springtime in Cortona. It’s interesting, the way the birds sing because it fits the atmosphere so perfectly– their melodious songs are not shrill or in conflict, but they seem to be designed to enhance the air of tranquility that we breathe here each morning. Each call hangs gracefully in the air as it blesses the ear, then leaves spaces for an answering complimentary series of notes that sing, “peace, peace” to all who listen. The first thing I saw out the window this morning was Buddy and Susan’s luggage out in front on the Villa, awaiting the driver taking them to catch a train to Rome. For some reason the sight of Buddy’s snappy straw hat sitting on top of the bags in the driveway accentuates my sadness over leaving. Each day he has announced a winner of the “hat contest”, of which he is the originator and for which he has been the sole judge. The judges’ decision each day has been dictatorial and final, and to be honest, somewhat capricious. I do not denigrate the hat contest because I never won a single day, nor do I second guess the judge’s decisions… But it was clear, as we waited breathlessly for the results to be announced each day, that I was going to finish at the bottom of the hat wearers, foiled each time by some small detail or new entrant. And one day, actually, my HAT won, but alas! I had loaned it to Brian that day… In the last announcement for the hat contest last night, after our Tuscan cooking class, Buddy announced the results of the final day, retiring the trophy to the Smiths, who had won three times. But then he added a “sportsmanship” award, given to the participant who, although he lacked talent, size, or speed, continued to compete with others better equipped and worthier than he. Imagine (as our Italian guides have said, Ih-MAY-gine) my surprise when I won! The prize was a straw hat Buddy bought from a street vendor in Pompeii, which I will treasure. The hat contest was just one of Buddy’s contributions to our trip, which was not only about Italy but was also about fellowship. We have a fairly diverse group who came together to explore Tuscany, and it has been fun to get to know them. Traveling in a larger group (even one full of Christian folks) can be dramatic or exasperating, but this band of tourists has honestly been a delight. The Villa Laura has been a place effective at promoting good conversation and goodwill. Francesco and Christiano, our chefs who were originally taught by their grandmothers, gave us a cooking lesson last night. After finishing our pizza and tiramisu, our group went into the Chapel and sang some hymns. Many of us had sung in choirs, or just sung in the shower, but as we sang together, magic happened. Harmonies were captured and interwoven, choruses were blended ethereally, and for a few minutes we were the songbirds of Villa Laura, complete with complimentary melodies that lifted us out of that chapel into other realms. For a few minutes, we were blessed with a very small glimpse of heaven, where our happy, harmonious voices will be lifted together in praise. I am not an artificially devout man (probably am not devout enough for lots of Christians who are), but those minutes we spent singing some great hymns of the past together in the chapel will stay with me as inspiration and encouragement. I know today’s modern churches have left hymns behind in favor of more contemporary sound, but I’m just gonna say it here: they have lost something important, and they don’t even know how much they are missing! It is sad to leave greatness behind. Seeing Buddy and Susan’s luggage reminds me that they are leaving to catch a train to Rome. From what we have learned about traveling in Italy, this is bound to be an adventure. Our eclectic band of fellow travelers will all be starting new adventures today, but I take solace in my last time hearing the songbirds of Villa Laura, knowing that as sad as it is to leave greatness behind, it is awesome to know beyond a doubt that there are even greater adventures ahead.

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