Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Recently Susan’s brother, his wife, their granddaughter, and their miniature chihuahua Molly visited with us. Our miniature dachshund Chloe usually only has Susan and me for playmates, so she was excited to have a little girl and another dog in the house, even for a weekend. It was funny to watch Chloe try to provoke Molly, who’s three years older, to play. She pawed at her, barked in her face, and chased her around. Molly was mostly not interested; her body language and occasional growl said clearly: “Get away, kid; you bother me.”

Chloe’s attempts at provoking Molly to running, jumping, and wrestling reminded me of the text cited above. The author’s use of the term “provoke” with “good deeds” seems a bit unusual, doesn’t it? We typically think of provocation as a negative thing. We keep on with some hurtful words until somebody argues with us or is reduced to tears or slaps us. We provoke a confrontation by aggressive behavior. We make someone get up and leave the room because they become annoyed with us.

But a quick check of the dictionary shows that “provoke” may mean simply “rouse” or “stimulate.” That’s the intended sense in the text. Sometimes we get lethargic, lazy, and apathetic. We watch the news and become desensitized. We hear our neighbors’ stories of grief over and over and tune out. We become wrapped up in our own concerns and no longer pay attention to anyone else. We begin to believe that our little good deeds won’t make a difference, so why bother?

That’s when we need someone to provoke us, to rouse us, to love and good deeds. To stimulate that impulse in us that was once so strong to serve our Lord by caring for our neighbors and our sisters and brothers in the community of faith.

The author doesn’t give us but one idea of how to do that. He suggests that meeting together is an important way to rouse each other to action. That could be in worship, small groups or one-on-one, as we share ideas and hold each other accountable. I suppose we’ll just need to use our imaginations to come up with other methods and contexts.

Maybe we could take a cue from an energetic little dog.

© 2010 Tom Cheatham