"And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works," (Hebrews 10:24, KJV).
Are you being provoked? Are you provoking someone else?
We usually think of "provoke" in the context of annoyance or anger or irritation -- something negative. Although a thought-provoking question, article, or TV program can be a positive.
So what does the Bible mean by "to provoke unto to love and good works?" The NIV renders Hebrews 10:24-25: "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not neglect our church meetings, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near."
Provoke becomes spur, which can still harbor some negative connotations, but gets to the point of the matter. The word encourage in verse 25 helps clear things up in a more warm and fuzzy way. But I still kind of like provoke. Or better, spur. It's got more punch.
Spur, or provoke, is from the Greek word "paroxusmós" which has shades of meaning such as incitement, to call forth, to excite or stir up.
Another verse that sheds more light is Ecclesiastes 12:12: "The wise man’s words are like goads that spur to action. They nail down important truths... (TLB)."
Now we have goad added into the mix. Did you know that as Christians we are to goad each other on? Spur one another to godly action? Provoke each other into doing good words?
Ted Olsen, writing in Christianity Today, says, “The tragic glory of Christianity is that Jesus chose really sinful humans to be his body on earth. We will be scandalized by each other until he returns to fix things. In the meantime, we're supposed to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”
Too often Christian "encouragement" comes across more as stroking, coddling, and accommodating. It’s virtually anything except provoking, and so is essentially ineffective and useless. The word “encourage” means to instill courage, to inspire with hope, to build confidence. It's not about a nice pat on the head and a warm cup of weak tea. It's more like getting in each other's faces a little bit and sharing some strong coffee, bad breath in the face and all. Real Christian encouragement needs to be gutsy and provoking.
Hebrews 3:13 declares "encourage [provoke, spur, goad, excite, stir up, incite] one another day after day [in good works and godliness], as long as it is still called 'Today,' so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (NASV) [added].
Sweet milk-toast sentiments are nice, but real stick-to-the-ribs encouragement that incites us to Holy Spirit living is what the Bible calls for.
Go spur someone on today!