Recently I was able to preach on the word “covenant”, specifically connected to how the author of Hebrews addresses God transforming everything in Jesus Christ. As we begin a new year, it’s a time when most of us examine our lives, and re-affirm those things that matter deeply to us. Many who want to live in response to the Love of God revealed in Jesus use these early days in the year as a natural time to renew our commitments, especially in response to the covenant Love God offers to us. I was encouraged once again by God’s desire that we would be able to “know Him” in ways we couldn’t previously. (Hebrews 8:11)
In following the threads woven by the author of Hebrews, there was one text that stood out to me in a new way this time. In Hebrews 10:24 we’re encouraged, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,” I’ve read this before, and haven’t spent much time considering it because the meaning seems pretty obvious. But just beneath the surface, there’s an invitation to pause and consider the author’s choice of words.
Most of our best translations easily help us understand by saying something like “spur one another on”, “provoke each other”, or even “stimulate each other”. Some others say things like “motivate one another” or “encourage one another” toward Love. If the author had just wanted us to be “encouraging one another” to be more loving, he could have easily used words similar to the ones he uses in Hebrews 10:25 or 13:19. But here in 10:24 he purposefully uses a particular action (to irritate sharply/provoke) as a noun (something to be considered). The noun itself is only seen one other time in this form, over in Acts 15:39 to describe the “sharp disagreement” between Paul & Barnabas that caused them to part ways. The verb form is found in Acts 17:16 (the spirit of Paul was being provoked by the idols he saw in Athens) and 1 Corinthians 13:5 (Love is not easily provoked). This is an irritating provocation that we are unable to ignore.
In this play of words, we’re invited by the author to consider how we can be the kind of active presence in our world that provokes/stirs up/compels Love (agape) and good deeds. Much attention is given in our era to how businesses or even influencers can post content that “gets a response”. It also makes sense that we would desire responses that are measurable/quantifiable. But are we being purposeful as to the kind of responses we are attempting to draw out from those around us, or those who consume what we’re sharing? As enjoyable as it might be to complain about something we have the right to complain about – is it provoking others toward Love? As desirable/easy as it may be to comment or share or join in a conversation with others – is our involvement giving others permission to continue in a direction other than Love?
Into all of this, what would it look like for us to be those who “provoke/irritate/disturb” one another toward Love? There may be as many responses as there are people – which is why we need so many beautifully different and complex members/parts of one Body in Christ. But as the author urges, we get a sense that this isn’t something that will happen accidentally or inadvertently. This is something we must be purposeful about.
Several years ago, I was serving on a mission trip to Joplin, Missouri. We had a great time, and I believe we were a small part of blessing the community as they recovered from seriously damaging tornados. We cleared debris, demolished unsafe homes, and prayed together over the area. When we came home, and the dust settled, I realized I’d brought home a souvenir from all our work outdoors – scabies. I’ll let you google how horrible these little bugs can be on your own (it’s disgusting), but I’ll sum it up by saying: It was an itch I could not leave unscratched. Those little bugs burrow and irritate in ways I’d never experienced before. I have pretty strong will-power when it comes to mosquitos, but the irritation level of these things had me near tears, desperate for relief.
This is what came to mind as I prayed over Hebrews 10:24. How irritating are we being in the direction of Love? Does our presence, and do our words have such an impact on those around us, others cannot help but respond in a Loving way?
Special Note: This does not mean we go around like flower children, always smiling and handing out dandelions (although I love smiles and dandelions). Sometimes to Love someone (in the way of Christ, who is the living revealing of Love) means to invite uncomfortable examine in the gracious presence of the Holy Spirit that provokes actual Love, instead of the fluffy stuff our world sometimes misinterprets as Love.
So there you go. Where/how can you be more irritating this week? Would you pause for a moment even now, inviting the Holy Spirit to think with you over the past 24 hours – and how you may have provoked others in thought or emotion?