“Provoking” Love and Good Works

In Hebrews 10:24, the King James Version reads, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works”. Did you know there are no less than four Greek words translated by the English word “provoke” in the King James Version? They range in meaning from to rouse to strife; to irritate beyond measure; to provoke bitterly; to be very zealous; to be greatly excited (Young’s).

So we just might conclude that the Hebrew writer is telling us to irritate one another until everyone is doing what they ought to be doing. But a little study will show that the Greek word for “provoke” in Hebrews 10:24 can be used in two very different ways. First, it can mean to dispute in anger; secondly, it can mean incitement to good (Thayer’s). The obvious meaning of the Hebrew writer is that we, by our words and actions, should incite one another to [do] good. This idea is borne out in other translations of Hebrews 10:24:

  • And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works (New King James Version).
  • And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds (New American Standard Updated).
  • And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds (New International Version).

How is this best accomplished? The Hebrew writer said the best way to incite good in one another is to consider one another”. To “consider” means to observe fully (Strong’s). Commentator Adam Clark explains, “Let us diligently and attentively consider each other’s trials, difficulties, and weaknesses; feel for each other, and excite each other to an increase of love to God and man.”

There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to showing love for one another. No one holds the template for the best way to do good works. That being the case, we shouldn’t expect others to always do what we expect them to do. Having such high expectations of one another will only lead us into disappointment and dissatisfaction.

Instead, we ought to “consider” that our fellow Christians have circumstances in their lives that prevent them from always doing exactly as we think they ought to do. What’s more, our brother or sister, in some cases, may have a better approach to showing love and doing good works that we do. Paul said the body of Christ is made up of “many members” (1 Cor 12:12, 20), and the members “do not have the same function” (Rom 12:4). The word “function” means a doing, deed or practice (Vine’s). Paul simply means that members have different ways of carrying out their duties to the Lord—some of which are common to all—because they have different abilities, opportunities and responsibilities in life.

All of us should prioritize our actions, putting the Lord’s will first, and then act accordingly. If we fail to act it is because we refused to obey the command in Hebrews 10:24, and not because we refused to conform ourselves to someone’s personal standard of love and good works.

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