11/12/17 ~ Provocation

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingI don’t know if you are a fan of the Bee Gees or not, but they wrote and/or performed literally thousands of songs. Of the songs that they wrote, over 2,500 other singers have recorded them. So you probably have at least heard a some of their songs and may even have some favorites. One of their catchy and popular love songs was simply titled “Words” and it includes the reminder that “words are all I have to take your heart away.”

If you are not a fan of the Bee Gees perhaps you have at least heard the old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” And you may also realize just how false that little taunt really is. That, of course, is the point of the love song. Words can reach out and touch a heart and turn it to the right things.

Words really do have power. They have the power to challenge and inspire us, and the power to hurt and discourage us. And that is why the study of the words of God is so important. “Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life” are lyrics that we sing to remind us as Christians of this very important lesson.

Take a moment to consider one of God’s extraordinary words, and both the bad and the good lessons that it offers to us:

Provocation

Have you ever used a stick to push someone or some animal along? Have you ever used words to provoke someone? Children may taunt someone with the intention of hurting their feelings and, sadly, adults may do the same thing. The word “provocation” means just that, trying to motivate them in some way by poking and prodding them.

In Deuteronomy, Moses uses the term several times to refer to the repeated disobedience of God’s people and how it caused Him to be angry (cf. Deuteronomy 4:25; 9:7, 18, 22; 32:16, 21). This would become a sadly repetitious theme in the relationship between God and His people as Judges 2:12 points out: and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the Lord to anger.

The time of the monarchy is all too similar to the time of the Judges as the kings, like the whole nation before them, repeatedly disobeyed God until they provoked Him to bring first the end of Israel and a few years later the captivity of Judah.

Provocations! Disobeying, dishonoring and ignoring the Lord and His will until such time as He would be fed up and punish them.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul did not want to take John Mark on the second missionary journey after Mark’s desertion on the first journey. The word that Luke used of the angry dispute between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:39) pictures an explosion. This provocation was so great that Paul and Barnabas split up for a time.

Sometime later on that very same journey, Paul would again be provoked as he observed the multitude of idols in the city of Athens (Acts 17:16). Like God when Israel and Judah chose to worship the false gods of the nations around them, it was appalling to see the extent of their provocations of the Lord Himself.

It’s often said that preachers’ lessons are directed at themselves as much as anybody else. Certainly, Paul understood that principle as he wrote his letters. Perhaps that is partly why he chose this same word of great provocation to be a reminder to us all in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked.

As strong as this word is in the negative form it is also used in a positive way with an equally strong lesson from the Holy Spirit. In Hebrews 10:24 we are urged by God to …consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Some translations actually use the literal translation of provoke.

How much effort do we give to encouragement? Have you ever been really good and angry, incensed and downright explosively angry? That is exactly how much effort God expects us to put into our positive encouragement of His people! What a thought! Explosively good and positive for God!

One last picture from God’s word to keep this all in the proper perspective comes from the Apostle Peter. Certainly, Peter knew about an explosive attitude and at times could be as volatile as any of us. Yet he writes to us to sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Think about that a moment. What follows involves us actually treating our God as the Holy Lord that He is!

Okay, so what’s the rest of Peter’s point? Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15).

We are called to BE the dynamite of God; His power used in this world of spiritual battle against the forces of Satan. And yet we use that very power for good in encouraging our fellow saints to serve and fight the good fight.

May we always be provoked to love and serve our Savior!

— Lester P. Bagley

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