And let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works:…
It is better for a man to provoke himself to love and to good works than to be incited thereto by his fellows. But it is far better to be stirred by his fellows than to remain unloving and inactive. The highest state is that in which the goodness of love and the rightness of good works afford sufficient incitement; or in which love wells up, like the waters of a fountain, without any outward exciting cause, and good works are performed easily and naturally by the force of the inner life. This is the state of the Divine nature — a condition reached, it may be, only in measure by the most Godlike creatures of God. "Love is of God" — not of His creation and of His law merely, but of God Himself. "God is love." This is more than can be said of some other principles essential to our spiritual life. The universe did not teach God to love, or move Him to love, but the world was born into the arms of love. And this pre-existent goodness had much to do with the objects and designs of creation. Look at love from another point. God requires us not only to love Him, but to love one another. Now, when we do love each other, we are in the best state to know God and to have the closest fellowship with Him. "Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God." "If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us." He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. Again, upon the supposition that God is love, we cannot conceive that any code of laws can issue from Him but that which love fulfils; or that in providing a remedial dispensation for man the principle of love would be overlooked. And what is the case? Love is not only the fulfilling of God's law, but, as embracing God and man, it is the inward realisation of God's great salvation. "This is His commandment, that we should believe OH the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as He gave us commandment." In the same strain we might proceed to speak of "good works." There is that in shy right and useful deed which, when contemplated, may justly move a man to perform it. When you do what is "true," "honest," "pure," "lovely," and "Christian," you are embodying an idea conceived in eternity; you are working out a deathless principle; you are rising into the ideal of your nature; you are expressing that which the Creator designed to utter in the creature; you are yielding to Christ the fruits of His mission; you are doing what in some form or other will never be destroyed; you are in harmony with those numberless and immeasurable spheres of creation that have never moved back to chaos; you are walking and working with God. Men at different times in the Christian age have been very busy defining good works — showing what must precede good works, and marking the precise position they occupy in the Christian life. And this philosophising has not worn itself out yet. We often feel moved to say, "Don't talk about good works, but do them." "Never mind what place they take in your creed, give them a chief place in your life." "Do not stay to explain them, for while thus engaged the opportunity to do some good is let slip." But let us try to get nearer the point of our text. We are required to incite each other to love and to good works — and to consider one another in order to incite one another. This is opposed to being careless and indifferent — to being envious and malicious — to efforts at practical deterioration and detraction. Let us meditate separately on the incitement and the consideration.
I. THE INCITEMENT.
1. We need stimuli to unfold our souls and to open our hands. To see that a thing is right ought perhaps to be enough to incline us to be it, and to do it; but in many cases it is not enough. We are idle, and shrink from the exertion — self-willed, and kick at the constraint — dispirited and weakened by distrust — isolated, and we cry complainingly, "I am left alone." We need to be provoked.
2. And the text tacitly declares that we can incite each other. That men provoke each other to evil works and to hatred is a fact universally known — but the power to incite, and the susceptibility of being incited, are as really capacities for good as for evil. The electric telegraph can convey truth and falsehood, evil report and good report; and human influence may awaken human sympathy, and arouse purpose and will both for right and for wrong.
3. The incitement required is both general and special. There is that which shall make others "ready to every good work," and that which shall provoke to some particular ministration. For the former Paul instructs Titus when, having repeated the great facts of the dispensation of mercy, he writes, "These things affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God may be careful to maintain good works." So that, according to Paul, contemplation of the love of God and of Christ is one means of maintaining good works. This is like connecting a minor wheel in a piece of machinery with the main movement. Our heart is to be incited by connection with God's heart. For the more special incitement we have the pattern of Paul when he moved Corinth to imitate Macedonia in their liberality to the poor saints in Judaea. To say to our fellow believers with respect to any good work, "Do this — it needs doing — you can do it — you ought to do it — God will prosper your effort — I will help you — if you do it not the omission will be sin" — is to provoke to good works. And to make peace between those that are at enmity; to express faith in a good man when others utter causeless suspicion; to show hope where others are tempted to rejoice in alleged iniquity; to endure when others are irritated; to cover another's faults, and to set forth another's virtues — is to provoke to love.
II. THE CONSIDERATION HERE REQUIRED. This is based upon observation — we must know each other, and to know we must observe. The incitement will be regulated by what we observe and by what we discern. One needs be moved to fear through warning, another moved to hope by encouragement, and another quickened by emulation. One may be incited by going before him, and letting him see you lead; but another by following him, and making him hear the fall of your quicker step. But no one is to be left as savourless salt, and as reprobate silver, or as a broken vessel, until after we have exhausted our resources in attempts to incite him. We arrive by this text at certain facts connected with mutual Christian influence to which we shall do well to take heed.
1. There is a serious influence of which Christians are mutually capable and susceptible. No vocation or gifts raise a Christian disciple beyond it; and no station however low is beneath its reach. When by speech I undulate the atmosphere, I know not the effect of those air waves in the universe; they flow on until they reach the shore of our firmament, and then, it may be, subside to rise again in other spheres. But far exceeding this is the influence of soul upon soul. It is not confined to the spirit we immediately move, but is transmitted from spirit to spirit, and becomes an impulse in the world of mind, both infinite and eternal. How awful is the power of soul over soul!
2. Christians are within a certain limit responsible for their influence. They are accountable, not for what that influence does, but for what that influence is. We are to try to incite to kindness and to corresponding actions. This is a good and happy influence. The direction of our influence is to be a study. Those who need this incitement are not to be passed by — but their lack of love and of good works is to awaken our consideration.
3. In the Church of Christ there should be mutual and reciprocal influence of the holiest and happiest kind. All are not apostles, all are not prophets, all are not pastors and teachers; but all are taught of God to love one another, and all may provoke to love. If any member of our body were smitten with paralysis, we should try to excite the torpid nerves; if one particular branch of a tree were barren, we should neither cut it off nor overlook it until after we had pruned it; and on the same principle we are required specially to incite those who are barren and unfruitful in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ.Nor is there any position in Christian life at which this incitement is needless, or from which it is to be withheld.
1. For Christianity's sake let us consider one another to provoke unto love. If careless of each other, we shall misrepresent the system to which we adhere, and those who from lack of incitement are unloving and inactive will misrepresent it too. The effect of this will be that men, instead of going to our Leader and searching His oracles to know if we correctly represent Christianity, will take our embodiment of it, and finding it not less exclusive and individual than false religion, or no religion, will refuse attention to our advocacy of its claims.
2. For God's sake, and for Christ's sake, let us consider one another to provoke unto love. Christianity is the means God has devised that His banished be not expelled from Him. The correct representation of the system is one means of applying it; so that when Christianity is misrepresented, God feels not Himself to be blasphemed merely, but His master-work to be retarded.
3. For each other's sake, and for our own sake, let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works. Who of us would like to be surprised as were the foolish virgins, or to be rejected as the wicked and slothful servant? Let us provoke one another to take oil in our vessels with our lamps, and put out even our one talent to usury. Hearty discipleship to the Saviour will go far to secure this result. Love Christ yourself and you will incite others to love; do good yourself and you will provoke others to good works. Nor can you then measure your influence. The perfume which Mary's hand freed from its prison is fragrant still the north wind has not driven it away; the odours of the east wind have not swallowed it up; the vapours of the south and west winds have not diluted it; but in every wind it has found an untiring wing, and we are refreshed by its sweetness in the present day. But we must intend to provoke; we must consider, and observe, and know, and attend to one another. There are many impediments to love and to good works which we are required to remove. There are wrong definitions of love — our making it a sentiment, not a principle — or complacency in existent good and not benevolence. There is our waiting to do some great thing, instead of doing what our hand finds to do. The liking to serve alone while yet we complain of it; the almost fear lest others should do what we do, and be what we are; the asking that God's kingdom may come, and yet fearing lest in coming, "myself," "my Church," "my ism," should be swallowed up — all this and muchmore needs removing.
Parallel VersesKJV: And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: