1 Corinthians 13 Part 10: Love is not Provoked
1 Corinthians 13:5c, Proverbs 14:7 Do not become provoked or provoke others
“Love… is not provoked,”
1 Corinthians 13:5c NASB1995
Let’s take a step back for a moment and talk about the background of this first known letter to the church at Corinth. The presumed or preferred order of Events between AD 52 and AD 56, according to Bible.org, is that Paul founded the church at Corinth, he returned a short time later and had a “painful” visit with the fledging church, he journeyed back to Ephesus for three years, sending Timothy to Corinth, and wrote a first letter that he refers to that has since been lost. He then writes the “severe” first surviving letter, 1 Corinthians, delivered by Titus, addressing the many issues that have brought to his attention (including the lack of love among the congregational members). He leaves Ephesus to find Titus in Macedonia and then 2 Corinthians is written after the two meet up and Titus reports on the church responses. Paul promises a personal visit, and Paul leaves Macedonia for Corinth around AD 56/57 for that visit. The purpose of the letters was to address serious church problems and describe how worldly wisdom can be conquered with spiritual wisdom.
Fast forward to the year 2023: Our communications with others is not through slow (and courageous) couriers like Titus walking long distances and taking small boats to get messages delivered, sometimes taking years. Instead, we can text, email, have a live chat, call, comment or respond in some other way to something globally in an instant. We can probably see another person almost anywhere on the globe within a maximum of 24-48 hours of travel time.
With all of these marvelous advancements in communications, we are seriously provoked! An interesting aside: While researching this, I noted that the KJV version of this verse segment states “Is not easily provoked”. The modifying adverb “easily” disappeared in other translations. Legend has it that King James I had a rather quick temper and wanted this phrase softened a bit when the translation was being developed.
According to the Blue Letter Bible the Greek word translated to provoked is paroxyno, with the following definitions:
to make sharp, sharpen
to stimulate, spur on, urge
to irritate, provoke, arouse to anger
to scorn, despise
provoke, make angry
to exasperate, to burn with anger
In the context of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is addressing the fact that unselfish love does not scorn, despise, get irritated or burn with anger, nor does it provoke someone else to this state. Now a show of hands: how many of my readers have NEVER responded in an irritable or even angry way to some provocation? Hmmm, no hands showing that I can see, so these responses are pretty universal. Perhaps it was a bad driver or, more likely in this gizmo age, you reacted negatively to a social media post or a comment about you.
You might become exasperated with a slow server in a restaurant or feel scorn for a “dumb” co-worker or an inept politician or even a family member. And how many of you have provoked others, slinging insults and jabs and sharing the latest nasty (and misspelled) meme, not caring that some of your friends may be hurt by the message? If you live in an echo chamber and “unfriend” people who don’t think exactly the same way that you do, you are certainly not showing love (and, boy, have I been guilty of this!).
I did some research on our digital age. According to Pew Research from surveys in 2018, these are the most likely emotional responses to social media content:
Being amused by what we see is the most likely response, thanks to the millions of cat and dog videos on social media that we can view. But next in line is anger, with 25% of respondents saying they see content that makes them angry “frequently” and 47% being sometimes angry with what they view. The bottom two responses are sad - 36% are sometimes depressed by social media and 24% sometimes feel lonely, on platforms that are meant to create connections with others.
I like social media for many of the good things it offers, especially when seeking out travel information and Biblical resources (if the latter are not blocked for some reason that is difficult to fathom). But it can be a trap - the media actually manipulate emotional reactions to content (what a surprise); according to some research that I read, Facebook algorithms allocate more points for the “angry face” reaction than for likes or loves, elevating those posts higher in feeds. People love to read comments on a controversial post, treating it like they were watching a wrestling match. People also argue over the most inane topics and fling epithets and insults back and forth with total strangers.
The provocateurs are also entrenched in social media, hoping to create dissension and start arguments with others. According to YouGovAmerica (and this was almost ten years ago so I’m sure it is worse), their research found this trend, validating the fact that internet “trolls” do exist. The chart shows the percentage of on-line users by gender and age group that either argued with someone else about an opinion or argued with someone else about a fact:
All of this provocation comes down to a couple of things: People are firmly entrenched in their opinions and positions on a variety of things (e.g., politics, religion, science, sports, culture) and we also believe that our rights take precedence over our manners and how we treat people, especially strangers on the internet. No one EVER wants to change their minds, even when given overwhelming contradictory evidence.
Change can happen, though, and I am a living, breathing example of someone who changed my thinking on a variety of things (including God) after doing a lot of self-examination and research (and through promptings by the Holy Spirit). I also gave up posting provocative political rants on social media and apologized to those who might have been offended. Poor Paul would be writing an email every hour if he lived in this day and age (or he would be tweeting up a storm to that miserable church in Corinth).
Here’s a good quote from Steven Cole (Bible.org) in his sermon on 1 Corinthians 13:
Love does not have a hair-trigger temper. Some people make everyone around them walk on eggshells. They’re easily offended. One little thing that doesn’t go their way and “KABOOM!” They use their temper to intimidate and to punish. When you confront them, they say, “Sure, I have a bad temper. But I get it all out and it’s over in a few minutes.” So is a bomb. But look at the devastation it leaves behind! When you’re angry, usually you’re not loving.
Finally, the invaluable book of Proverbs deals quite nicely with this subject:
“A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, And a man of evil devices is hated.”
Proverbs 14:17 NASB1995
Love is patient and has us turning the other cheek (over and over again, as Jesus would ask us to do). Reserve vengeance for God’s perfect judgment. Love is not allowing yourself to be provoked nor is it becoming a provocateur. One is foolish and the other is hated.
My next devotional examines 1 Corinthians 13:5d Love Does not Take into Account a Wrong Suffered
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer
Dear Heavenly Father - Please help me to turn away from things that can provoke anger and to never be someone who tries to provoke other people. Help me to be in control of my temper and to look past temporary controversies to the peace and joy found in your Kingdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
Sermons by Steven Cole on Precept Austin and Bible.org are copyright 2021.