I hope this day finds you and your family well. I invite you to take a few moments with me to read and reflect upon today’s scripture selection — and to carry these thoughts with you into your day.
Today’s Scripture: Hebrews 10: 19-25
A Call to Persevere
19 Therefore, my friends,[a] since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 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.
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
Today’s scripture is a passage from the New Testament book of Hebrews. We don’t know who wrote it or to whom it was specifically addressed or when it was written. What we do know is that the letter at the end calls itself “a message of encouragement.” (13:22)
In this passage the writer first encourages the faith community with the reminder that God is always faithful, always reliable:“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.” Then, this passages of Hebrews calls us to encourage one another by “provoking one another to love and good deeds.”
How do we do that? How does this kind of “provoking” encourage people?
I think it means that we urge one another so be the best we can be — and then we hold one another accountable. We urge one another to recognize the gifts and graces within ourselves and to really use the gifts and graces God has given to us to “Do all the good we can. By all the means we can. In all the ways we can. In all the places we can. At all the times we can. To all the people we can. As long as ever we can.”
This concept also calls to mind Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens a friend.” We encourage one another in community — and I think community in this sense becomes more about challenging one another to be our best. It’s being friends in the fullest sense — not just gathering together, but also challenging one another to do better, to be better, and to accomplish what we are here to do.
Sometimes, this may not feel particularly good — or encouraging.
The reality is, this kind of “encouraging” is more like provoking, which makes some sense considering the origin of the word provoke. The Greek word used here means, “a provocation which literally jabs or cuts someone so they “must” respond.” The NRSV uses the word “provoke,” which is a good translation of the Greek. The word, provoke, means “to give rise to action or emotion; call forth, elicit, induce.” It is also translated as “sparking” or “spurring” or “stirring up.” It is important, therefore, to remember that encouragement often means spurring one another on to love and good works.
I think it is also interesting that word, “provoke,” in this context of being challenged is that it can also make us angry. It can feel like a threat to who we are. It can provoke us to feel guilty, even kind of mad at the person for pointing it out. You know the old saying, “When we do it, it’s a helpful suggestion; when someone else does it, it’s nagging.”
You know, it’s just human nature to want to just keep our status quo most of the time. It’s just easier. It’s far more comfortable not do anything new or to step out in faith.
And then, here comes someone to nudge us forward, challenging us toward something more we can do or be. There have been many people through the years who have challenged me in this way. We all have those people around us who encourage us, challenge, or even “provoke” us to be better. The spur us toward a bigger, better expression of who we are at our core. That’s how we encourage one another as Jesus instructs us to do.
There was a small group that I was a part of for years that met every week. One of the questions we asked one another every week was: “Where have you experienced Christ during this past week?” The second was harder: “Where have you denied your Discipleship this week?” That second question was more difficult by design; its purpose was for us to provoke one another.
This kind of encouragement that feels more like provoking has made a big difference in my life. How about you? How have you been provoked “to love and good deeds?”
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and reflections I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster