Within the modern climate of social interaction, provocation takes the spotlight. Human nature will always be prone to provocation; however, the current generation seems to be making it into an art form. Testy seekers of grandstanding lurk in the background of social media, political speeches, television shows, and sermons waiting for the opportunity to pounce. As soon as any provoked person proclaims some form of offense, the accused must bow to the demands of the provoked while the world obligated to listen and side with the offended watch the humiliation. Every person in the public eye avoids the provocation of others like death’s sickle! Such fear creates a generation of people who refuse to take a stand on anything unpopular or confront minority conflict, and none cannot afford to tell the unfavored truth! The Christian might think such attitudes differ within the church, that surely the learned, mature Christian would not allow themselves to get caught up in the overly sensitive world, but even members of the Lord’s church are not immune to quick provocation (James 3:1-6). The Christian will never be able to stay motivated in the church without the right mindset and the proper preparation of study.
The Bible speaks of two forms of provocation that all Christians must be able to understand in order to build and protect their relationships within the brotherhood. The first form of provocation is to provoke unto jealousy, anger, and wrath (Rom. 10:9; Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21), and the second form is to provoke unto love and good works (Heb. 10:24). The word “provoke” as it is used in the Greek simply means to incite or stir. The word itself does not imply either the negative or positive, the context is everything. The saints’ actions and words toward each other can be a great exhortation to build up in the faith or to tear down and discourage each other to the point that a Christian feels not wanted in the church.
Michael Shanks, the author of Muscle and a Shovel and When Shovels Break, mentions in his latest book a survey that his congregation organized in order to reach out to those who had fallen away from the church. In the survey, brother Shanks found that the majority of people interviewed left the church not for the sake of false doctrine, but for how the members treated them when they attended the assembly (i.e., someone hurt their feelings). How one gets treated by the brethren should not chase that person away from God (Rom. 8:35-39). Nevertheless, how Christians provoke their brethren obviously has a great effect not only on the brethren’s spiritual life but also on the Christian’s spiritual life.
But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.1 Thessalonians 4:9
Consider how God instructs His followers to provoke the brethren toward a positive exhortation.
First, the proper mindset. God designs the church to work together as a single, united, and familial unit. Christ states, “For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mat. 12:50). The church is not just an organization that people may view as a separate entity from their own lives. The church is one’s family. One would not tell their children to get up because we are going to ‘family’ today. Neither should Christians think that they are ‘going to church’ (as in a specific time and place) because the words imply that the church is a separate organization from where they are located. Christians are the church, and they are the family; the church is always with the Christian and exists together in any community where the Christian lives. Once members of the church think right about their brethren, they can provoke them to love by treating them as they would want to be treated by their family (Mat. 7:12).
Second, the proper preparation of study. Love and impartiality are key (1 Cor. 13:1-7)! The Christian family should always give their brethren, their family, the benefit of the doubt when accusations or negative provocations arise, rather than assume they are guilty of the accusation just because of who made the accusation or because several people may hold something against that brother or sister (1 Tim. 5:21). Christians should never judge by partiality of one brother over another brother. James writes of this attitude and asks, “Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts” (James 2:4)? If one cannot judge others impartially, then no doubt, one cannot self-examine objectively. As such, Christians should be involved in their brethren’s lives enough to know if they are struggling with sin or temptation, but members should never judge based on appearances (John 7:24). It is not the Christian’s job to police each other. It is one thing to notice a problem and quite another to go looking for problems. The church was given authority from God to judge each other during conflicts or when one of the saints are being overcome by sin (1 Cor. 6:1-4; Gal. 6:1). However, such authority should always be used with caution by what one says and how one says it (Col. 4:6; Titus 1:13).
While these steppingstones only begin the study, such ideas provide a solid foundation to get started. Let each Christian encourage their brethren to do good and acknowledge the fruitful work that they do, so the ministry of God may flourish.