Love is Not Provoked
Paul says in 1 Cor. 13:5 that love “is not provoked.” The KJV reads, “is not easily provoked,” but the word Paul uses is paroxynomai, which does not include any word that should be translated “easily.” However, “easily” can be implied, because the Greek word paroxyno is from para, “of or from,” and oxys, “sharp or swift.”
So Paul says that love is not swift or quick to be disturbed, angered, irritated, aroused, or to bring about a “sharp” response. God says to Israel in Deut. 32:21, “they have provoked Me to anger with their idols,” but at the same time, God is “slow to anger” (Exodus 34:6). Being slow to anger is linked also with love (chesed, “lovingkindness”) in passages like Psalm 145:8,
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.
This being the nature of the God of love, we are admonished to follow His example. Prov. 14:29 tells us that “he who is slow to anger has great understanding.” Again in Prov. 19:11, we read that “a man’s discretion makes him slow to anger.” It is clear, then, that being slow to anger and not being easily provoked is a biblical virtue that is part of God’s character.
James 1:19 says,
19 This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger, 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
Being slow to anger does not mean that a person is quick to suppress his anger. It means he has no anger to suppress. To suppress one’s anger is probably an act of the spirit suppressing the unruly soul. The soul is still alive and active in such people and has not yet been properly “crucified with Christ.” Hence, it needs restraint.
Believers who have been clothed with Christ have taken on the characteristics of His love. They are not provoked or motivated by their earthly surroundings but by the Spirit of God. Because God can be provoked (as in the case of Israel’s idols), there are times when loving people too can be provoked.
We are called to defend the poor and needy with divine justice. There is a time when the moneychangers ought to be driven from the temple, as Jesus did twice during His ministry. But these were prophetic acts, which show that He was acting in accordance with the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not need special training in anger management. There are many quick-tempered believers throughout history who have tried to justify their lack of love by pointing to Jesus’ anger with the moneychangers. But their insincerity is exposed every time they are irritated by those who disagree with their point of view, or when someone infringes on their rights.
A good test of one’s love is to drive on the highway for a few miles in a big city. Cars are the most common dens of iniquity, and highways, though paved with good intentions, are seldom found to be the straight and narrow way.
When I was in grade school, I had quite a temper and fought often with other boys at the mission school in the Philippines where I was raised. This changed immediately after I was baptized at the age of twelve. It was not baptism itself that changed my heart, but the revelation that accompanied my baptism.
Prior to that time, I thought that I had to be perfect to be saved. Because of my temper, I could never be assured of salvation, and so I had a new salvation prayer virtually every night for years. But when God showed me that the missionaries were not perfect either, it changed my life, for I concluded that salvation was not based upon my own personal righteousness. Having that assurance, I was baptized.
Whereas guilt had motivated me prior to my baptism, afterward, I was able to live by the love of God, knowing that I was forgiven. What guilt failed to accomplish, love succeeded in changing my life. I continued to experience the usual things that had always irritated me and had caused me to lose my temper; but after this revelation of divine love, I found that I could walk away without a fight. I recall one particular incident where this happened, because it caused me to ponder the difference between suppressing anger and having no anger to suppress.
Of course, my understanding of things was quite immature in those days. It would take me many years to build upon that initial revelation of truth and love, so that I could understand its significance. But yet, when I look back and ponder my path of life, I am amazed at how that one revelation formed the real foundation of my walk with God.
That is why “love is not provoked” has much meaning to me personally.