Considering and Provoking One Another

May 3, 2015 / No. 3774

Dear Radio Friends,
If you have your Bibles, I ask you to open with me to Hebrews chapter 10, where we will be considering verse 24. “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.” This is the third exhortation in this brief section in Hebrews 10:19-25, which we have given the title “A New Testament Call to Worship.”
After setting before New Testament Christians a unique privilege of constant access to God, the writer calls us, first, to draw near to God; second, to hold fast to our profession; and now, third, to consider one another and to provoke unto love and good works. Really, this exhortation continues in the next verse in the words “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
In these two verses, we have really come to the main point of the writer, the thing that he really wants to get at. He is addressing two dangers in the New Testament church that are still very common today. The first is a spirit of individualism among Christians, which says, “I am saved, I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and that is all that matters. I don’t need the church.” That is addressed in verse 25 when he says that as Christians we must not forsake the gathering of ourselves together as the manner of some is. This danger we will address when we get to verse 25 in the next two messages on this section.
Today, we want to focus on verse 24, which addresses another danger in the church also very common today. It is this: that every Christian wants his own personal ministry and place of prominence and recognition in the church. This was a danger in the early church, too. For example, you have the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. They sold a piece of land and, because they wanted recognition, lied about the amount they had received as payment for the land. Or you read I Corinthians and it is about different members in the church coveting positions and gifts of other, more prominent members. And this is a great danger in the church today, too. The modern church, in many ways, is overwhelmed by this problem. In many circles the church has lost its focus altogether. Instead of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is called to do, the church has become a place where people find fulfillment in all kinds of ministries. And the text that we look at today addresses this by laying before us the ministry and the calling that every believer has. This is not a ministry just for a few people, for the pastor, or for the more out-going members of the church, but, if you are a Christian, no matter who you are, this is your ministry and this is your calling. That is why the verse begins with the plural: “Let us,” that is, all of us, as Christians together, do this.
What is this ministry and calling to which we are all called? It comes in two parts in the text. First, we are to consider one another and, second, we are to provoke one another to love and good works.
The English words, “one another” are very important in the New Testament. This is the Bible’s answer to the spirit of individualism that says, “I don’t need other Christians, and I’m not going to contribute anything to the lives of my fellow believers.” In the Greek, this is one word, and it is used more than a hundred times in the New Testament. As Christians, we are to love one another, pray for one another, bear one another’s burdens, forgive one another, be at peace with one another, not speak evil of another, and so on.
You see, our sinful nature is selfish. In our natural pride, we think of ourselves more highly than others and we put our own needs and happiness first. We ask the question: “What’s in it for me?” But in true Christianity there is no room for this because we follow a Savior who humbled Himself. In Philippians 2, He became a servant to His people. And He calls us to do the same: to look not on our own things but the things of others and to esteem others better than ourselves.
And here, in Hebrews 10:24, it is put this way, “Let us consider one another.” Or we would say, be considerate of one another. When you consider something, you focus on it, you observe, you investigate it, you give it a thoughtful and thorough and close examination so that you can have a clear understanding of it and draw an accurate conclusion about it. This is a word that Jesus uses in Luke 11 when He says, “Consider the lilies,” and “Consider the ravens.” He means, stop and think about them, meditate on them. And this is the idea here. We are to consider one another, that is, we are to give intentional, on-going thought to others, to be sensitive and sympathetic.
From a practical point of view, how does that look? It means that, as a Christian, I think of others whom God has placed in my life. Perhaps I make a mental list of them all. And then I take one of them and I set aside time to think about that individual, to put myself in his or her shoes, to try to understand him or her. And that, of course, means that I have to know others. I have to interact with these other Christians. I have to fellowship with them in order to get to know them. You see, that is an important part, an aspect of being in a church. We do not just come together in a church for worship and then leave, but we talk to other believers, we get to know them and their lives and their concerns. Then, beyond our fellowship, when we are not together, we can continue to think about them.
That means I am not always going to be thinking about myself, my life, my concerns, my struggles, and my joys. But, instead, I live the life and the joys and the questions and the struggles of other believers. And when I am done doing this for one individual whom God has put in my life, I go to the next one. Perhaps you can do this by going through your local church directory and think about and pray for each of the different members. That is the calling here to consider one another. It is the ministry that you are called to in the body of Jesus Christ. God has put believers together in the body. All the members are there to help one another. They all need one another. And because we all need each other in the church, we must consider one another.
How much do you do that? How much do you prepare, as you go to worship with God’s people, for meaningful conversation with them? How much do you think about other members in the church between Sundays? And when you do think about them, is it this loving and sympathetic consideration of them? We cannot be Christians and be selfish. That is the first thing here.
But then there is a purpose. This considering of one another leads to action—to provoke one another unto love and good works. To provoke someone is to incite them or motivate them or move them to action—to stir them up, to spur them on. We can think of a coach on a sports team. He provokes the team, he moves them, he motivates them. Or we can think of a good boss in the workplace who similarly motivates people.
Now, we can easily provoke people in the wrong way, by moving them to sin. For example, Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.” That is, by injustice and bad example, a father can stir up resentment in his children to himself and, ultimately, to Christ. And all those in leadership and with authority must be very careful of this. This is something that any one of us can do. To change the words in the text to the opposite, we can incite or provoke others to hatred and evil works. We put pressure on them to sin by our conduct or lifestyle, by our conversation or by our sinful and divisive behavior.
But here in the text, it is put positively. Not only do we have a capacity to provoke others to sin, but, as Christians, to provoke to love and good works. Love is the outstanding characteristic of the Christian. We are to incite one another to love. Love is an action. In I Corinthians 13 love is described with fourteen different verbs or action words. Love is patient, kind, long-suffering, not easily provoked, not envious, not puffed up, and so on. Love is sacrificial. Love does not put itself first. We are to incite to love and to good works. This is really another way of saying the same thing. But the emphasis now is on sanctification, on living a holy life. And though the Bible does not teach salvation by good works, it does teach good works. And this is, in fact, the purpose of our salvation. Think, for example, of Titus 2:14: Christ “gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” This is our place and ministry to fellow believers—to stir them up to love and to good works.
What a very encouraging thought for every Christian. Perhaps you have been the occasion for dragging someone down into sin in conversation or lifestyle. And you are discouraged about your place in the body of Jesus Christ and you want to withdraw from other believers. But now here we see that every one of us, as a believer, has not just a calling, but the ability to be a positive influence on other members of the body of Christ.
How do we do that in more practical ways? I want to give three different ways that we can do this. But, first I want to say this: You cannot effectively provoke others to love and good works if you do not first consider others. There are those two verbs in the text. And the second one follows the first. Before you can provoke others to good works, you have to be considerate of them. You have to love them, you have to sympathize with them, you have to understand them, you have to enter into their life.
I say this because often times there are in the church members whose only contribution to the body and the lives of others is to go around rebuking other members. They never converse with others, they never enter into the situation of others. And yet, they are always ready to rebuke and to exhort. Yes, there is a place for rebuke and for exhortation between Christians. But this is in the context of love in the body. It needs to be tempered by a loving consideration of fellow members. Usually, rebuke and admonition do not go well in the church because it is not done in love. There is not first consideration. The truth may be spoken, but the truth is not spoken in love. For a good example, we could think of Jesus’ own treatment of His disciples. Yes, He rebuked them, sometimes sharply, and it stung. He says to Peter: “Get thee behind me, Satan!” But He loved His disciples. He cared for their every need. And when He rebuked them, they understood His love. And they wanted to fix, to change, their behavior.
Or we think of Paul in I Thessalonians 2, where he says in verses 7 and 11 concerning his conduct at the church in Thessalonica: “We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:…ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children.”
Now, what are the three ways by which we can provoke others to love and good works?
First, we can do this by our example. And it is important for us to remember that other believers are watching the way that we live. They want to see how we live so that they can learn from it. Paul says to Timothy in I Timothy 4:12: “Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”
This being an example to others is not something that we necessarily do consciously. Not, I am going to teach others how they should live—they should live like me. But, as you live a life of godliness, first before God, others will see it and they will say, “Here is a man of God. Here’s a godly family. Here’s a man and a woman who live in a godly way in their marriage. Here’s a humble member in the church. Here’s a person of purity, a hard-working person, a man of commitment.” The way that you live your life and the way that you carry yourself as a Christian as you live first spiritually before the Lord will incite others to follow you. You provoke to love and good works by example.
Then, second, you can do this by encouragement. By that I mean you give support and confidence and hope and comfort to one another. You lift others up, you cheer them on. You positively reinforce spiritual growth in the other members of the church. Encouragement is something that we all need as Christians. Not flattery, but somebody coming alongside and saying, “I know what you’re struggling with. I see what you’re working through. I understand what you’re dealing with. I’ve considered you, and here, here are God’s promises, here is an encouraging word.” One way that we can encourage one another is to express appreciation to others. A person who never expresses appreciation is an inconsiderate person. So, children, young people, husbands—you thank your wife, your mother, for the work that she does in your home and your family. Then she is encouraged. Or you thank other members of the church or your pastor, or the officebearers who have led you in spiritual ways. You express appreciation. What an encouragement!
Think of all the times that Paul does this in the epistles that he writes to the churches. He thanks God for the saints. He praises them for their strengths. Romans 1:8: “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” I Corinthians 1:4: “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:3: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. I Thessalonians 2:13: “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because…ye received the word of God.” II Thessalonians 2:13: “We are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren.” How encouraging for these saints, these churches to which Paul is writing to persevere, to go on, to continue. They are provoked by his encouragement and appreciation.
Then, third, we provoke one another by love and good works by exhortation. Example, encouragement, and now exhortation. What is that? Sometimes, occasionally, it is confrontation and rebuke. But even then, it must be done in the context of deep friendship with other believers, of considering one another, of loving one another. And this is why it is important for believers to get together, to get together and fellowship with one another, apart from the formal worship of the church on the Lord’s Day. So we ought to have in the church Bible Studies, or smaller groups to talk about the Word of God and its application to our lives. Then this becomes a means to spur one another on. Then, as we meet with one another around the Word of God, we are exhorting one another, we are saying, as is here in Hebrews 10: “Let us do this, let us do that,” and we are provoking one another by our exhortations to love and to good works.
In a healthy church, in a healthy body of believers, this should be a part of our entire life and interaction with one another. When we have conversation with one another as believers about our work or about our family or about our marriage or about the raising of our children, then we are not just setting an example, but we are exhorting and encouraging one another.
For this to be done effectively in the church, there has to be a humility, a willingness to receive admonition from others. In this way we keep one another accountable as believers. And this avoids trouble and discipline and sin coming into the church.
So, as a Christian, whoever you are, this is your personal ministry. It involves other Christians whom God has put into your life, most likely the ones that are part of the church where you are a member. Those other Christians are not perfect people. They are not necessarily the most fun people to be with. They might not always bring you joy. But God has put them in your life. They have needs, and you are to put them before yourself. You must deliberately set aside time to think about and to pray for these other Christians and then to encourage them and to thank them and to be an example to them, so that you may incite them to love and to good works.
Are you, as a Christian, doing your part for the rest of the body of Jesus Christ?
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the privilege we have to worship, and we thank Thee that in Jesus Christ we are brought into a body with other believers. Help us to understand that being saved and having blessings and having gifts is not first and primarily for our own personal advantage, but so that we may support others in the body of Jesus Christ. Help us to be considerate, to be good examples, and in this way to incite other believers to help one another along in the Christian life. We pray this for Jesus’ sake, Amen.