The Sin of Provoking

“While individuals reacting poorly are responsible for their poor choices, those who provoked such responses are also responsible.” - P&D


One thing that strikes me as I read through the Gospels—and the epistles, and the prophets, etc.—is how often our Lord, His apostles, and His prophets choose to deliberately provoke the Pharisees, Sadducees, Judaizers and legalistic Christians, and (from the prophets) really all of disobedient Israel. Let’s be blunt; Jesus provoked the Pharisees when He called them “whitewashed tombs”. John provoked men when he called them a “brood of vipers.” Paul provoked the legalists when he told them (Gal. 5:12) to castrate themselves if they loved circumcision so much.

We can, however, rescue most of Van Gelderen’s thesis if we posit that when a person responds in anger, he is, rightly or wrongly, believing that he’s been sinned against, and therefore we need to consider the likelihood that the outburst of anger (literally “nostril” in Hebrew) may be at least in part a rightful response to being sinned against. Really, as we consider the responses of Jesus and Paul to the “extra rules” of the Pharisees and legalists, I would suggest that this fits even when the frustration is “only” at certain “club rules.”

Now there is also sinful anger, to be sure, so a big portion of our response to anger ought to be the question “has this person been sinned against?” and “is this anger in proportion to the provocation?”. But that said, I welcome what Van Gelderen has noted here; sometimes that anger has a very real basis in being sinned against.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Clearly, there is more than one type of provocation. Jesus, being God, could provoke in ways we might think are too close to the line between sinful and not. When a pastor preaches, or when we confront sin, there will definitely be some provoking going on. However, that is clearly different from trying to get a rise out of someone. I think when we are trying to do some “godly” provocation, we need to be sure we aren’t crossing the line over to provoking for its own sake, as is far too easy for most of us, just as it’s way too easy to let righteous anger cross over into the sinful kind (which, IMO, is far more prevalent than the righteous kind).

Dave Barnhart