Man is both commanded to provoke others and forbidden to provoke others. In Ephesians 6:4 parents are commanded, "provoke not your children to wrath," but Hebrews 10: 24 commands, "let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works." We, therefore, are to provoke, one another unto some things, and then are not to provoke one another unto other things. We should not provoke unto wrath, but we must provoke unto love and good works. It seems obvious, then, that "provoke" is used in at least two senses in the Bible; in a good sense ad in a bad sense.
GOOD SENSE -- The Hebrews were told to "provoke" unto love and good works. The word "provoke" here means "excitement." They were to excite one another unto love good works, or literally, they were to one another "unto a stimulation of love" and good works. (VINE, Expository Dictionary, Vol. 3, p. 228)
The word "provoke" sometimes meant "to or forward," "to excite, to stir up." The readiness of Achaia to give to relieve the poor saints in Jerusalem "provoked very (2 Cor. 9:2 -- King James Version). The American Standard Version renders it, stirred up very many." Their excited others to he likewise It would cause others "to be very zealous." In this sense, we must all be very provocative Christians. We must, by our love and good works, stir up others to be very zealous. We must excite them by our willingness to serve and give.
Paul said he sought to "provoke to emulation" (KJV) his countrymen, the Jews (Rom. 11:14) He hoped to stir them up, and sufficiently to excite them, that they would imitate his faith, life and works. In this good sense, we should all seek to provoke one another more.
BAD SENSE--But the word "provoke" is perhaps more frequently used in the New Testament with a bad connotation. Parents exe twice told to "provoke not your children" (Col. 3:21; Eph. 6:4). The word "provoke" here does not mean to stir up to zealous service of God. Parents should in that sense "provoke" their children. But when we are to "provoke not," the word means, "to irritate beyond measure," "to embitter," "to rouse to strife," "to make bitter," "to stir up what is evil in another."
Most of us have seen parents, or other adults, deliberately stir up a little child to a rage. This "picking at" such a little one is thought to be "fun," but it is open violation of scripture. Paul adds, "Let us not become vainglorious, provoking one another..." (Gal. 5:26). We are not deliberately "to stir up what is evil in another." Yet brethren will sometime taunt, heckle, aggravate, tease, and fan the fires of passion in another until there gushes forth from within him a torrent of sin. And some even delight in doing this. Such also is sinful.
However, as one matures as a Christian, he must attain that quality called "love" until he can become forbearing and longsuffering, and "is not easily provoked" (I Cor. 13:5). We dare not boast of how sharp a temper we have.
Let us all so conduct ourselves with one another that we will indeed "provoke unto love and good works," but will not excite or stir up that which is evil in each of us.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XIV; 37, p. 3
July 30, 1970