Provoke One Another

Some people hardly cast a shadow in passing. But concerning Joshua we read: “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua…” (Jos. 24:31).

We live in a materialist society obsessed with simple facts and giving precious little time to weighing the deeper meanings that often underlies them. We race to memorize formulas and definitions, to classify, codify, and then, having done so, seem content to move immediately on to new subjects. Scholastic achievements are measured on the simple regurgitation and occasional application of quickly memorized numbers or dates. We reward and promote based on an individual’s ability to retain these fragments of raw information; rarely do we encourage careful processing of that same information for its true significance.

In contrast to our culture’s approach, the Lord Jesus often called on His listeners to pause; to think carefully and more deeply about something with which they were already very familiar and which His listeners imagined they fully understood. In Luke 12, we find Him asking for a renewed consideration of the ravens (v. 24) and then again of the lilies (v. 27); in each case, there was something about these relatively simple things that had escaped casual review and needed more thoughtful weighing. Likewise, in the opening verse of Hebrews 3, we find the writer there asking that his audience consider the Lord Jesus afresh, because there were many precious things about Him and His work that lay beneath a simple surface knowledge.

The Call to Consider

Strong’s Concordance indicates that the word which we have translated for us in these passages and others as “consider” means to “perceive fully.” That same word is used in a verse that is worth lingering over for a few paragraphs:

“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Heb. 10:24).

In Hebrews 10, the object is not ravens or lilies or even the grandness of the Lord Jesus. Instead, the subject at hand is one another—our fellow believers in Christ. The implication of the injunction to consider is that we should pause and begin to think about each other in far deeper ways. If we are obedient to the call of the Lord, we must move beyond simple surface knowledge because just below the surface, there are significant things about our brothers and sisters which have escaped our attention thus far. These attributes should not be allowed to escape our careful and prayerful assessment any longer.

In our immediate context, considering someone is more than simply disciplining our memory to recall a name (hard though that may be for some of us) or mundane details such as where a brother or sister like to sit in the meeting. Considering someone is more than the discipline of a prayer life that involves the laudable routine of working through the assembly phone list to ensure no one is missing before the throne of grace. Considering someone is more than constraining our fallen emotions and striving to think well of or desiring the best for a difficult brother or sister. These are all commendable activities which ought to be pursued, but this verse encourages us to do something else as well.

Considering is a purposeful setting aside of time and the application of true mental focus with a particular goal or outcome in mind. Considering is the act of shutting out distractions and truly seeking a deeper significance and a deeper knowledge than what was previously held.

Assuming, then, that we are willing to be obedient and to focus our mental energies on each other, that we begin to occasionally pause and deeply think about each other, a fair question occurs: what is it about our brothers and sisters that we ought to be considering? What is the goal of all this consideration?

The Call to Provoke

The latter portion of Hebrews 10:24 is clear enough about the desired end result of all this mental exercise: it is to lead to provocation. To provoke someone is to take a deliberate action which produces an immediate and directly related response. If there is no response, clearly additional provocation is in order; we are to provoke until the desired response is in evidence. Anyone from a large family likely understands provocation fully. This is the approach older brothers routinely use in their dealings with younger sisters on long, hot car trips.

We are to be forgiven then if we tend to see provocation as a negative thing but it isn’t always so. Provocation can also be a positive effort. For example, it might be said that the doctor provokes a patient when he taps their knee with a reflex hammer; he taps and adjusts and taps again until the patient responds. Their response is a sign of health and good function.

In the same way, the provocation referenced in our passage is intended to produce the response of “love and good works,” not frustration or friction. If you find you are making your brothers and sisters angry or distant by the actions you take, you’ve not thought deeply enough! Our verse in Hebrews 10 can be understood as follows: Actively and deliberately set aside time to spend thinking about the nature and abilities of particular other Christians you know. After this time of intentional and careful consideration, begin intentionally doing those things that will induce these other Christians to love more strongly and to work more diligently; you are to find ways or words that prompt your brothers and sisters to do things that make them more productive for Christ and bring a greater unity to the local fellowship.

Provocation can take many forms, of course, and it is far outside the scope of this article to list all the possible styles and methods that conceivably fall within the range of our verse’s instruction. Different believers will often proceed in distinctly different fashions depending on particular gift, temperament, and existing relationships. Nonetheless, each of us has an obligation before the Lord to intelligently provoke others in good and godly ways. The vital thing is the intended gracious outcome of careful forethought rather than any one particular method. Some may be provoked by our service to them, some by our example with them, and some by our leadership of them. Provocation may be entirely verbal or it may be unspoken. But scripturally, we are to be those who are thoughtfully in the business of provoking others to ever greater heights of service and devotion.

The Call to Haste

In closing, there is an interesting addition to this idea that follows in verse 25 of Hebrews 10. There we read, “and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

Perhaps the very idea of consciously choosing to set aside time to think carefully about various brothers and sisters and their specific areas of service, to pray about them, and to decisively act to enable and encourage them, is a foreign concept to you. Alternately, maybe you have long been a Christian who has carefully pondered ways of bringing the best out of your Christian family. Perhaps that tendency has been a hallmark of decades of faithful service. That’s a great—and rare—thing.

But regardless of your diligence in these things, some 2,000 years ago, the writer to the Hebrews predicted a vital need for thoughtful consideration of each other and the resulting healthy provocation it was meant to produce. He added that the need for this consideration and provocation would only escalate over time as the return of the Lord approached. He knew that some would grow cold and alienated and forsake regular gatherings and that one of the great bulwarks the Lord erected against indifference was and remains the provocation of thoughtful saints.

What is needed now and what will increasingly be needed in the dark days that lie ahead before the morning star finally arises is a renewed and growing commitment to consideration of each other and a willingness to follow through.