A young Texas cowboy was riding his horse one day when he saw a hunched-over old farm hand on a mule. Deciding to have a little fun, the cocky cowboy drew his six-shooter and told the old man to get down off his mule.
He asked the old man “Have you ever danced? ” Then he began to empty his revolver at the old man’s feet, laughing hilariously at every shot.
The old man obviously unamused, but unfazed, slowly turned back to his mule, put his hand into his pack, drew a shotgun, aimed it at the young fellow whose revolver was empty and said, “Did you ever kiss a mule?”
To which the frightened cowboy replied, “No, but I have always wanted to!”
This story reminds me of a reputed quote by the gangster Al Capone who once quipped, “You can get a lot more with a kind word and a gun than with just a kind word alone.”
I suppose there’s nothing like a gun for motivation, but that’s negative motivation. Coercion. Intimidation. And compulsion. Christianity calls us to higher motives. Nobler aspirations. And greater incentives.
The Bible exhorts us in Hebrews 10:24. “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (KJV).
The word of the week is “provoke.”
This is an interesting word. It’s only used twice in the New Testament. The other time is Acts 15:39 where Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement about taking John Mark on their second missionary journey. Luke records they had a “sharp contention.” Thayer says the word means “an irritation, violent anger, passion, an inciting or incitement.” In fact, our English word “paroxysm” comes from this word and means “a fit, an attack, a sudden rage of emotion.”
Yet, as Dr. A. T. Robinson points out, here “it is used in a good sense.” In a positive way. In a way that encourages. Uplifts. And builds.
Some people can provoke us in a bad way. Provoke us to anger. Exasperation. Aggravation. But Christians use this emotion to provoke their brethren to things that are good. Honorable. Respectable. Newer versions translate this word “Stir up.” “Spur one another on.” “Motivate.” And “Stimulate.”
There is a tremendous need in the church for positive motivation and encouragement. With so much negativity in the world. Problems we face. Hindrances that hamper us. Temptations that try us. Sorrows that burden us. And sin that saddles us with guilt. We need spiritual stimulation to arouse us to love. To love God deeper. To love our brethren more. To love like Jesus loved.
There is also a danger to become “weary in well-doing.” To just get tired. Worn out. Fatigued. How wonderful it is when brethren stimulate each other to good deeds. To minister. To serve. To keep on going.
Spiritual simulation may come in many forms. And from many sources. Shepherds encourage through their gentle and kind pastoral care. Preachers may stir us up to do more. Grow more. Be more. Teachers in Bible class can share the Word in way that enlightens. Edifies. And equips us to good works.
But encouragement can often come in subtle ways. Small gestures. Seemingly insignificance actions. Yet, powerful in their message of care. Concern. And compassion.
Spurring one another on to deeper love and good works may come through a note of thanks. A word of appreciation. A pat on the back. A thumbs up. A warm smile. A hug. A wink. A firm handshake. A knowing nod. An email. A text message. A facebook post. A shared cup of coffee. A small gift. A single flower.
Let’s make Christianity a breath of fresh air in the stale world of sin. An atmosphere where brethren provoke in a positive way, not in a negative fashion. Where they encourage, not discourage. Where they help, not hinder. Where they stimulate, not stifle.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman