Do you provoke people? In Webster‘s Dictionary, one definition of provoke is to anger, irritate, or annoy. It also means to create disputes. But then there is another definition—to excite to action or feeling, to stir up, call forth, stimulate, to influence.
In the Bible, there are several places where the word “provoke” is used and there are several aspects to this word. In the Greek, one of the definitions is incitement to good, to stir to action.
With that in mind, consider Hebrews 10:23–24: “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.”
Provoke unto love
A word can have several meanings, especially in the Bible. It can convey different things depending on the context and how it is used.
When the Bible says, “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works,” it does not mean that we do that by haranguing, nagging, or threatening. Ridiculing and making fun of others is not effective in trying to inspire them to do great things. One of the most important ways we can encourage, galvanize and provoke others to do good is by example.
Whether we are parents relating to our children, or neighbor to neighbor, or on the job interacting with our fellow workers— the best way to stimulate and move people is by our example. The Bible clearly shows that.
In Matthew 5:14–16 Jesus Christ said: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it gives light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
“Let your light shine” refers to our example. When we are around others, the greatest way to provoke them to love and good works is by being filled with love and good works ourselves. We show how it is done, and they can follow suit.
Provoke with words
Proverbs is full of the principle of provoking others to the right kind of action by example. Notice Proverbs 12:25: “Heaviness in the heart of man makes it stoop: but a good word makes it glad.” By taking the time just to talk to somebody who might be down and in a tough situation, you can inspire them, uplift them and provoke them to have hope.
“A good word makes it glad”—this is not nagging or criticizing, which will only cause anger, discouragement and despair. But a good word with a warm smile will lift their spirits. A dialogue can get started between you and them, which will lead to your being able to successfully encourage them to get in gear and get moving!
Proverbs 17:22 explains: “A merry heart does good like a medicine: but a broken spirit dries the bones.” When you are happy, it spreads. We can make people perk up and aspire to higher and better things just by our example, just by our optimism when spending time with them.
Look at Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Some think this means that we are to grate on one another. They believe that when we confront and debate, we are sharpening up each other. That is not what that scripture means at all.
When you sharpen a hoe to work in the garden, you get a file to sharpen the blade. If you are going to chop down a tree, you don‘t sharpen the axe with an axe. You use a file to sharpen the blade of the axe so you can fell the tree.
This scripture is talking about an individual who provokes another to love and good works by sharpening his awareness. He does this by example, by a word here and a question there. It sharpens the individual‘s focus. He starts to think clearer and sharper because one person, who is level–headed and thinking straight, sharpens the other person into thinking straight, like a file sharpens an axe.
The genuine article
We can have a real impact on others for the good, but not with some kind of phony technique we come up with. It must be genuine and heartfelt. If we are sincerely living the way of true Christianity, others will pick up on that.
People who are constantly concerned and caring and setting the right example by being happy and positive and filled with hope, rub off on others. Just by being respectful and offering a word of encouragement, they encourage others to be stronger. Instead of pulling them down, they steady and strengthen them.
The “golden rule” is a case in point. In Matthew 7:12, it states: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” For instance, suppose someone insults and embarasses you in front of others. They might cut you down or divulge personal information, thus betraying a confidence.
Instead of giving in to the natural human urge to get even and treat them the same way or even uglier—you react calmly. You handle the situation with class and maturity. By your example, you take the high road and show them and everyone else who witnessed this rude incident, that there is a better way to conduct ourselves. That is treating others the way you would like to be treated and fulfilling the “golden rule”!
By returning good for evil you can inspire others to do likewise, instead of promoting disrespect and meanness, which wounds others and poisons relationships. Retaliation is not the answer. That only provokes others to even more anger and ugliness. Showing them the right way through example and calm resolve will inspire others to react to this kind of situation in a more mature way—cultivating peace and harmony.
Provoking others in the right way, is a positive thing that incites action and inspires determination. It galvanizes and stirs up hope and energy so that others can get moving in the right direction to achieve better things.
Influencing and encouraging others to reach higher and to go further, is one of the most powerful expressions of our love for our neighbor. At the heart of doing this effectively is example, example, example.
That is how to provoke others to love and good works!