Lots of things provoke me; I assume that is true for you also. The challenge that I get from reading about the Apostle Paul is that I am often provoked about the wrong things or about things that ultimately don’t matter.
Does it really matter that the guy in front of me in the “20 items or less” aisle has 25 items? Perhaps I am the only one, but inconsiderate or incompetent drivers frustrate me. Lots of things provoke me but most are unimportant in the long run.
The lesson I learn from Paul is that when I am provoked about something I should ask myself, “Am I provoked on my own behalf or am I provoked because of an injustice done to someone else?”
In 1 Corinthians 13:5, Paul tells us that “love is not provoked.” In other words, the one who loves does not take offense at the behavior of the one he loves. The one who loves does not look for opportunities to be offended. If I am offended or provoked because I have been inconvenienced or feel disrespected, I am not practicing love.
Paul was provoked because the Athenians’ worship of idols was misguided and futile. The Athenians were spiritually lost and Paul sought to do something about it. Paul was provoked on behalf of the Athenians, not on his own behalf. Being concerned for the people around him is a trademark of the Apostle’s behavior.
In Philippians 2:3-8, Paul identifies his inspiration for this attitude. He gets it from Jesus and encourages us to do the same. He points out in verse 5, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” He then identifies the trait of humility as being the motivation for looking out for the interests of others.
Perhaps this is a good test of humility. On whose behalf do you get provoked? Is it for your own promotion or for the benefit of others?