Provoke is on a short list of words used daily, sometimes hourly, in our home.
Our two oldest are 15 months apart, so they have always shared close proximity of life, interests, and space. As such, it was not uncommon to hear an endearing dialogue from the playroom that went something like the following.
“Mom, he is proboking me,” screamed child one.
“I proboked him cubies he proboked me first,” retorted child two.
I was less surprised that they consistently provoked one another and more shocked that they learned so early to use the term appropriately.
From those early years up to the present, provoke remains part of our vernacular.
While studying Scriptures concerning Christian community this week, I was shocked to find the concept of provoking playing a prominent role in one commonly used verse.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10: 23-25.
In the preceding part of the letter to the Hebrew’s, the writer has providing compelling Scriptural evidence that the sacrifice of Christ, once for all, is sufficient to allow us to come near to God with confidence, no matter the state of our hearts or our lives. Having completed his theological argument, he moves into practical application for his audience.
Because the blood of Christ, unlike the blood of bulls and goats, is able to take away our guilt and the penalty of our sin, believers are urged to draw near with what is honestly in and on their hearts (Hebrews 10:22). They are also called to grip onto, to hold fast, to the common confession that we are forgiven, loved and freed in Christ (Hebrews 10:23). Lastly, they are called to carefully consider and take note of ways that they might stir one another up to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25).
The Greek word paroxusmos, commonly translated as stir up, is literally translated as provoke, stimulate, irritate, or agitate. Interesting, isn’t it?
As a mother, I never had to make my children think of ways to agitate or rouse one another. They provoked quite naturally; yet, here, the writer of Hebrews is asking this community of believers to carefully consider doing just that to one another’s hearts.
The Greek word katanoeo, translated as consider in Hebrews 10:24, is the same word used by Christ in Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. Consider the ravens, consider the lilies. Look carefully at them, study them, take note.
Think deeply about how to prayerfully provoke one another’s hearts towards love and good deeds.
This side of glory, even redeemed hearts tend toward entropy. Without proper provocation, human hearts settle into comfort, ease, selfishness, and short-mindedness. Thus, the writer of Hebrews charges the church to continue meeting together to jab one another, prod one another, lovingly but firmly poke one another on towards the Lord and the ways of His kingdom.
This prayerful provocation is not to happen incidentally, but is rather to be an intentional act of continually gathering together with genuine hearts (which means raw and real).
It’s as if the writer is saying, “Drag your heart, in whatever condition it is in, confidently into the presence of God and the presence of other believers. Help one another hang on to the gospel hope that you are welcomed in the presence of God even though you are wayward and worn. Think deeply about to agitate one another toward adoration. Stir each other’s settled hearts. Remind one another that the day of Christ’s return is coming soon, any day now. Provoke each other to press on.”
I love that the writer pairs two very different words in reference to intentional, regular Christian communities: provoke and encourage.
Our hearts need both. Some days we need a good gospel jab that gets us out of ourselves and back into the throes of communal living. Some days we need to be gently helped up and held up while others restore courage to our cowardly hearts.
If the gospel is true, and it is, then Christ calls us to prayerfully provoke and encourage one another towards the finish line. I pray that you have such a group of people in your life. If you don’t, seek one out or create one for the others around you. If you do, keep on keeping on. Don’t stop. The day is drawing near, and we are desperately needy of prayerful provoking.