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Too many in this world provoke others to anger. But shouldn’t we be more like Hebrews 10:24 where it says ‘And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works’?
I open my Facebook page and try to catch up on my friends’ news. But instead of seeing the camp photos, summer trip stories, and new baby updates I’m looking for, I find myself scrolling past heated words, pictures and cartoons with in-your-face messages, and status updates designed to provoke. My Twitter account is no better as friends and acquaintances of various backgrounds and ideologies loudly proclaim their allegiance and belief in the causes about which they’re passionate. Rather than feeling connected with anyone, I start the day feeling like everyone is unpleasant. I haven’t said a word to anyone yet, but it feels like the world is shouting at me, and sometimes it’s using words that aren’t very nice.
I might be the only person who has had this experience, but I suspect that there are others out there as well. Many seem to be wondering whether society is getting ruder, or whether we’re just noticing it more. And the problem is intensified on the Internet, where some seem to lose their inhibitions when it comes to speaking in rude, provocative, or angry ways. Often, bold or harsh statements are made in a passive-aggressive way: just vague enough that when someone’s feelings are hurt, the author can say, “Well, I’m not angry. I’m just saying how I see things.” Or, “I didn’t say I was talking about anyone specific.” Others claim the more altruistic motives of “just telling the truth” or “trying to make people more aware.” But whatever the reasoning or the motive, the result is not harmony, education, or enlightenment. Instead, the words that fill my screen (and perhaps yours) often result in hurt feelings, damaged relationships, loss of respect, and the creation of a hostile environment.
Does the Bible have anything to say about what seems to be a very modern problem? I found an interesting passage in the book of Proverbs as I was thinking about this.
“If you have been foolish in exalting yourself,
Or if you have devised evil, [put your] hand on [your] mouth.
For [as] the churning of milk produces butter,
And wringing the nose produces blood,
So the forcing of wrath produces strife” (Proverbs 30:32-33).
Matthew Henry’s commentary points out that the “forcing of wrath” is equivalent to purposely irritating someone, provoking them to anger. Strife and anger follow provocative behavior and words. I can certainly testify to that; when others’ words are meant to provoke, my initial reaction is anger. I want to respond with my own harsh words or provoking statements. But we, as Christians, are called to a different reaction. We are also called to a different action.
Perhaps the clearest summation of how we ought to guide our conduct was written by James. He advised, “Who [is] wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct [that] his works [are done] in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but [is] earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking [exist], confusion and every evil thing [are] there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:13-18).
When we compare the proverb to James’s instructions, we can quickly see the similarity. Exalting ourselves, says the proverb, is foolish. James points out that wisdom is meek and willing to yield. Righteousness, he continues, is sown by those who make peace; strife—which is the opposite of peace—is created by those who force wrath. There are two options open to us when we choose how to act or how to speak: wisdom and folly. Wise choices—righteous choices—lead to peace. They create it where it may not have existed previously. By contrast, foolish, provocative behaviors create wrath and strife where it may not have been before.
Rude and obnoxious behavior is nothing new. It has existed as long as humans have been alive. We can see from the book of Proverbs that provocative behavior was not born in the Internet age. The same choices that were open to the ancients—peace or strife, wisdom or folly—are open to us today. We can either choose to say the sharp, provocative thing, or we can choose to stop shouting and start making peace. Only one of those choices shows us as truly wise.
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