March 5, 2006

Love Is Not Provoked

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: The Preeminence of Love Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:5


Love Is Not Provoked

1 Corinthians 13:5
Sunday, March 5, 2006
Pastor Randy Smith

If I were to go church and take an informal poll and ask people to identify their favorite chapter in the Bible, I believe that many would say 1 Corinthians 13. We are impressed by the poetic content. We hear it read at weddings. We are naturally encouraged and inspired by the concept of "love."

But after a closer examination of this chapter, we find that a touchy-feely, sentimental love that sends warms shivers up our spine is far from what the Apostle Paul had in mind. This chapter is basically a rebuke to the Corinthian church. This chapter calls for action. This chapter, similar to the law of God, actually reveals many of our blemishes and defects when we give it a closer examination. This chapter is very practical and very convicting.

While our problems with 1 Corinthians 13 are not primarily intellectual (our problems are mainly in the application), there is one area of this chapter that often brings intellectual confusion. Namely, as we study through these love attributes in detail, we can't help but think of the times other verses in the Bible call us to do exactly the opposite. Does the Bible contradict itself? Is God at times calling us to be unloving? How do I reconcile these apparent discrepancies?

For example, the man who said, "Love is patient" also said, "Remove the wicked man from among (the church)" (1 Cor. 5:13). The man who said, "(Love) is not jealous" also said, "I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin" (2 Cor. 11:2). The man who said, "Love does not boast" also said, "But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14). And man who said, "(Love) is not provoked" (the attribute we'll study this morning) had "his spirit…provoked…as he (entered Athens and) was observing the city full of idols" (Ac. 17:16). What gives? Is the Apostle Paul speaking out of both sides of his mouth?

Of course the answer is "absolutely not!" We are called to follow the attributes of love when others personally offend us. However, when God is offended, these 15 attributes in 1 Corinthians 13 do not take a higher precedence than God's glory. They actually kick in to uphold His glory. We have been created to be impatient and jealous and boastful and angry for God's honor. They become vices when our greatest end is self. They become virtues when our greatest end is God.

You say, "Well, those attributes are easy. What about selfishness? Is it ever right to be selfish?" Answer, "Yes." And I will prove it to you this way.

Aren't we called to be joyful (cf. Phil. 4:4)? Therefore our pursuit of joy cannot be considered selfish, right? Well, it depends how I seek my joy. The pursuit of personal joy is never selfish when I am seeking my joy in the expectations of God such as through serving others, obeying His Word, even denying myself. But when I seek personal gratification without reference to God and others, I am being selfish. Furthermore, I will not experience true biblical joy.

In a book that I have been reading, an exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, the author said, "Our truest and highest self-interest is always consistent with the glory of God. Definitions of sin as self-love tend to drive a wedge between God's glory and our good and lead thereby to moral confusion in the lives of the people of God. They steal from them biblical motivations for doing right and serving God. The entire Bible from beginning to end witnesses to the truth that it is normally in our temporal interest to serve God, and it is always in our highest interest and is thus an expression of true self-love" (Waldron, Samuel, 1989 Baptist Confession of Faith - A Modern Exposition, p. 101).

Heaven opened for me when I learned that my joy and God's glory do not necessarily need to be at odds with each other. It's good to seek my joy providing I seek my joy in Him. As a matter of fact, I do believe that God is most glorified when I am most satisfied in Him. If you wish to learn more on this subject I recommend John Piper's excellent book, Desiring God - Meditations of a Christian Hedonist.

By way of review, we looked at two attributes of love last week.

First we said that love is not rude. Now this would apply to manners that are appropriate for a specific culture. I was recalling this week how my mother would always get down on me for drinking beverages right out of the refrigerator. Her common cry was, "Get a glass." And my common response was, "I don't want to dirty the dishes." The truth was laziness and the reality was inconsideration for others. (I always got busted with those old Hi-C cans that would leave the semi-circle mark in the condensation on the top of the can from your lips - if you are over 30 you know where I am coming from.) Being rude in whatever form it may take is unloving because it places ones own needs above the needs of another.

Second, we said that love is not selfish. You can't get any more straightforward than that! We learned that selfishness led to the downfall of many biblical characters. We learned that selfishness plagued the Corinthian church as well as many in our society today. We learned that selfishness is clearly opposed to the self-sacrificial agape love commanded in 1 Corinthians 13.

The saints of yesteryear often used the word "charity" in the place of love. When we think of charity today we think of giving. Love is not selfish because love desires to give to another even at the expense of self if necessary.

I know the sermon from last week was pretty hard-hitting, but as I mentioned during the course of the message, I share these things with you with the intention of increasing your joy. Some of the most unhappy people we know are those who are most selfish.

I recently came across this article from an unknown author entitled, "How to be Miserable." It says: "Think about yourself. Talk about yourself. Use 'I' as often as possible. Mirror yourself continually in the opinion of others. Listen greedily to what people say about you. Expect to be appreciated. Be suspicious. Be jealous and envious. Be sensitive to slights. Never forgive a criticism. Trust nobody but yourself. Insist on consideration and respect. Demand agreement with your own views on everything. Sulk if people are not grateful to you for favors shown them. Never forget a service you have rendered. Shirk your duties if you can. Do as little as possible for others."

The solution is to die to self and live for Christ.

The Puritan, John Flavel knew the ugliness of self when it is enthroned in the place that Christ deserves. He cried, "O that dreadful house-idol - myself! We have need to be redeemed from ourselves, as much as from the devil and the world! I would like to make a sweet bargain, and shuffle out self, and substitute Christ my Lord in place of myself! Not I, but Christ! Not my will, but Christ's! Not my ease, not my lusts, not my home--but Christ, Christ! O wretched idol, myself! When shall I see you wholly cast out - and Christ wholly put in your place?"

This morning we'll consider the eighth attribute on Paul's list - "(Love) is not provoked." As much as I would desire to skip over this one, we'll examine as we have in past weeks the definition, various examples and the solution to avoid be being provoked.


As for the first point, I don't believe we need to spend much time on the definition. Earlier this week I received the following comments from pastor Russ in an e-mail: "I would say this is one of the most common of the unfortunate cultural traits we've seen since we've moved here. Why is everyone so quick to be offended and then turn up the heat of hostility?" I believe we are all well aware of what it means to be provoked (NASB) or angered (NIV) by another. I believe we see it often in others. I believe we are all well aware of our personal shortcomings in this area too.

If not, possibly some synonyms will clear up any confusion. We are talking about a person who is short-tempered or easily irritated or cantankerous or quick to retaliate or combative or overly critical or overly sensitive to slights or short-fused or abrasive or touchy or argumentative or explosive. We are talking about a "hot head," one who is quick to "lose his cool" or "blow his cork."

What makes this sin so dangerous is that it is possibly the most damaging to relationships when compared with the other 15 attributes of love. A person that is easily angered or easily provoked is nearly impossible to live with apart from the grace of God. Close ones are always walking on eggshells as if they are navigating a minefield awaiting his next explosion. And even if his explosions are over in a few minutes, they resemble an atomic bomb - short lived, but oftentimes resulting in long-term irreparable damage.

What makes this sin so offensive in the eyes of God is that it reveals actions contrary to the fruit of the Spirit. One who is easily angered obviously knows nothing about patience. Furthermore, where is the gentleness, kindness, peace and self-control that should identify the child of God (Gal. 5:22-23)? Being quick to anger reveals a heart that is selfish because people aren't moving according to my timetable and my perspectives. It reveals a high self-regard that has been wounded or punctured at some point. And as we have been learning the past several weeks, a self-centered spirit cannot coexist with love.

As I said earlier, God has wired us to be angry. The Bible even says to "be angry, and yet do not sin" (Eph. 4:26). As a matter of fact, the only other time this Greek verb from 1 Corinthians 13 appears in the New Testament is when Paul's spirit was "provoked" as he entered Athens and observed people created to worship the living God bowing down to idols!

Jonathan Edwards said, "All anger is opposition of the mind against real or supposed evil" (The Spirit of Love the Opposite of An Angry or Wrathful Spirit). The issue is not our anger per say. The issue is the motivation for our anger. Are we angry because God is offended? Or are we angry because self is offended? The former is anger against sin. The latter is anger that becomes sin. Oh that the church might have less sinful anger and more righteous indignation for the things that are contrary to the Lord's will.

British pastor John Stott said it well. "I go further and say that there is a great need in the contemporary world for more Christian anger. In the face of blatant evil we should be indignant not tolerant, angry, not apathetic. If evil arouses (God's) anger, it should arouse ours too" (The Message of Ephesians, p. 186).

We must learn to distinguish between righteous and unrighteous anger. We need more of one and less of the other.


Well, as we move back to our text, specifically unrighteous anger, let's consider a few examples (as we move to the second point) where this awful sin makes itself known.

Maybe we should begin with our time behind the wheel. Are you provoked when the person in front of you is driving well below the speed limit or stopping at every minor intersection to read the street signs? Are you provoked when a stalled car blocks the road? Are you provoked when the person fails to instantly move when the light turns green? Are you quick to lay on the horn or pound the dashboard during these situations? Our actions in the automobile often reveal how easily our spirit is angered.

How about your actions on the sports field or at your place of employment? I'll let you draw your own illustrations.

How about your actions in the church? Do you have a reputation for one that is often provoked regarding the operations in the life of the church? How well do you respond to change in the church? How well do you receive biblical correction? How well do you handle disagreements? How well do you accept the fact that things in a church of 250 can't always go your way?

I must confess my own weakness in this area. I am far from overcoming this sin and personally have much need for improvement. I believe I am provoked too often and would greatly appreciate your payers. What grieves me so much is that I am mostly provoked by the actions in the church and my personal difficulties pale in comparison to my struggles as a pastor. Let me see if I can provide some examples of ways that I am provoked in an unrighteous sense.

Let's pretend an individual wishes to get baptized and become a member of our church. In the course of our interactions I find out that she is living with her boyfriend. In love and gentleness I show her Scripture and encourage her to move out for the sake of God's glory, her joy and the testimony of our church. She gets offended and leaves the church.

Three weeks later someone from our church runs into her at Foodtown. The conversation goes like this: "Don't I know you from somewhere? Yes, you used to attend the Grace Tabernacle. Where have you been?"

Her response: "Oh, I don't attend that church anymore."

"Why did you leave?"

Her response: "Well, I was living in sin and even though I know God's Word speaks to the contrary, I chose to ignore the elder's concern and incur God's judgment in my life. I really don't care how I start my marriage, my reputation in the church and the testimony to our future children and a watching world." Let's get real! It's more like this: "I left that church because they are unloving." Let me throw in some abused words: "They are legalistic and judgmental."

At this point my unrighteous anger has yet to settle in. But when 4 out of 5 people take her analysis to the bank without ever consulting the elders…

And then someone calls two weeks later and says we are soft on confronting couples that are living together…

I can provide countless other examples that range from people demanding their preferences and convictions be honored above the majority or the direction of the leadership to the endless debate of knowing where to draw the line between law and grace to the constant complainer who never sees any positive and never offers to contribute to the solution.

While I am not excusing these actions from another, it is wrong for me to allow these issues to provoke me in the unrighteous sense. That is not proper for the man who would lead God's church. Paul told the young pastor, Timothy, "The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 2:24-25).

While I'm humbling myself, I might as well keep going. In addition to the church I love so much, I am too often provoked to anger with the family that I love so much. I can try to pass it off for holy indignation, but in reality it is sinful anger. With my children: "How many times do I have to tell you to clean your room." "I told you to leave me alone because I'm busy." "We are already late for the appointment, what's taking you so long?" Little do I realize that when I lose my temper with my children, I am the one that is actually being childish! I know we are called to not provoke our children to anger (Eph. 6:4), but likewise we must not let them provoke us to anger!

Do you share some of my weaknesses? We are at times more explosive with our spouse and children than we would ever dream of being with a stranger on the street. One pastor said, "There are too many abusive parents or mates, whose explosive anger cannot be predicted or avoided…only dreaded" (Bob Deffinbaugh).

Have you exploded spreading shrapnel over a loved one in the past week? Think about the way you respond to others? Do you need to be more aware of your shortcomings in this area? Do you need to confess some sin? Is God convicting your spirit and calling you to repent?

My friends, what good has ever come out of your unrighteous anger? According to the Bible, unrighteous anger is connected with cruelty (Pr. 27:3-4) and evil speech (Eph. 4:29) and strife (Pr. 21:19; 29:22). It stifles our service to God since it is a deed of the flesh (Gal. 5:20) and reveals a general distrust in God's sovereignty (Psm. 37:7-9). It leads to foolish mistakes. Proverbs 14:29, "He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly" (cf. Pr. 12:16; 27:3; Ecc. 7:9). This sin is so serious we are called to avoid those who practice it. Proverbs 22:24-25, "Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself" (cf. Gen. 49:6).

Jonathan Edwards agreed. "(An angry) man is accursed, a pest of society, who disturbs and disquiets it, and puts everything into confusion. …Every one is uncomfortable about him; his example is evil, and his conduct disapproved alike by God and men" (The Spirit of Love the Opposite of An Angry or Wrathful Spirit).

Many biblical characters exemplify the cost of sinful anger. From Cain (Gen. 4:5-6) to Esau (Gen. 27:45) to Balaam (Num. 22:27) to Saul (1 Sam. 20:30) to Naaman (2 Ki. 5:11) to Haman (Est. 3:5) to Herod (Mt. 2:16) to the High Priest (Ac. 5:17; 7:54) to even Moses (Num. 20:10-11). This sin has brought tragic consequences.

That's why Jesus was so quick to condemn this sin (Mt. 5:22) because "the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God" (Jas. 1:20). That's why Solomon said, "A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back" (Pr. 29:11; cf. 29:8).


So how can we overcome the sin of unrighteous anger?

First, put off this deed of the flesh (Gal. 5:20). Put off your impatience with others, which reveals a love for self-interest. Put off fighting for your rights and retaliating (in whatever form) when you don't get your way.

This is done by first becoming aware of your sin in this area. Often this sin will make itself known to those in our closest circles. Ask those who know you well to identify your weaknesses in this area. Don't deny, justify, displace, suppress, rationalize or excuse your anger. List the things that tend to make you angry. Get an accountability partner. Memorize Scripture than deals with anger. I think of all those verses that call the Christian to be "slow to anger" (Pr. 15:18; 16:32; 19:11; Tit. 1:7; Jas. 1:19-20). Commit the situation to God in prayer. Depend on His strength. Get rid of it!

Second, put on the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Replace sinful anger with that which pleases the Lord. I think of Ephesians 4. "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you" (Eph. 4:231-32; cf. Col. 3:8-12). Give yourself over to gentle words (Pr. 15:1). Forebear with others who irritate you (Pr. 19:11). Practice self-control (Gal. 5:23). Extend mercy (Jas. 2:13). Expect perfection only in God!

My friends, as we have been studying the past several weeks, it comes down to putting on love, which seeks the well being of others greater than our own personal good.

When dealing with anger, consider Jesus! The One who drove the moneychangers out of the Temple is the One who demonstrated so much love with those who brought Him so much pain. And in the same way that He is kind and patient and forgiving with us, may we too be kind and patient and forgiving with others.

other sermons in this series

Mar 26


Love Bears, Believes, Hopes and Endures

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:7 Series: The Preeminence of Love

Mar 19


Love Rejoices With Righteousness

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:5 Series: The Preeminence of Love

Mar 12


Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:5 Series: The Preeminence of Love