“Provoke” and “love” are not usually associated. Paul explained that love is not easily provoked (I Corinthians 13:5). What then does the writer of Hebrews mean when he says: “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love…” Is this a contradiction?
Not at all! In his book, “Hebrews Verse By Verse,” William R. Newell wrote: “You say, consider one another to provoke, is strange language for Christian guidance. Yes, brother, if we turn to human reasoning and practice, there is plenty of considering others — their faults, their failures, in merciless criticism, which provokes. But this passage reads, ‘…to provoke unto love and to good works.’ How can we provoke one another unto love? By loving others constantly and tenderly. They will find it out, and will be provoked to return love. The same is true concerning good works. We provoke others to good works by constant good works toward them. As I look back through the years, my heart lights upon one and another, and another, whose tender love and constant goodness ‘provoked’ everyone to imitate them.”
How interesting that the Holy Spirit directed the inspired writer to use the word “provoke.” We all understand that word in its less pleasant usage. Some irritating person has “provoked” us into foolish action or a regretted response by continuing to do something displeasing.
Applying Newell’s explanation, we are faced with great opportunity. Just as our nerves have become frayed, causing us to want to repay in kind when we are irritated — provoked — so our hearts become full when others continually show love and good works.
Many Christians need provoking — pleasantly.