What do you think of when we are told to provoke one another to love and good works?
The provoking or stirring up of one another is to incite others to be employed in agapé love, goodwill, works that are beautiful and good, excellent in their nature and characteristics. Our confession of faith states this: Of the Communion of Saints (2LBCF 27.2) Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things according to their several abilities, and necessities; which communion, according to the rule of the gospel, though especially to be exercised by them, in the relation wherein they stand, whether in families, or churches, yet, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended to all the household of faith, even all those who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus; nevertheless their communion one with another as saints, doth not take away or infringe the title or propriety which each man hath in his goods and possessions.
Are we to be our brother’s keeper?
Love and good works are the fruits, effects, and evidences, of the sincere profession of saving faith; our diligent attendance to them is an effectual means of our faithfulness in our profession. In addition to our own profession we are to have a deep concern for one another. We are to care for the current temporal state of the brethren as well as their future eternal state. Without this, merely thinking of one another would just be a fruitless effect of curiosity, having nothing of godly concern. Scripture instructs us to watch over one another as to the steadfastness of our profession, our fruitfulness in love and good works, being our duty to admonish, to exhort, to provoke, to encourage one another. Without this, the mere consideration of one another is of no use.
If we do not gather together, how can we share in the concerns of others?
The following was written in 1643: On these suppositions, this consideration respects the gifts, the graces, the temptations, the dangers, the seasons and opportunities for duty, the manner of the walking of one another in the church, and in the world. For this consideration is the foundation of all those mutual duties of warning, or admonition and exhorting, which tend to the encouragement and strengthening of one another. But these duties are now generally lost among us; and with them is the glory of the Christian religion departed.
Do you think these duties have been recovered today, or have they further been lost, and why?
The special kind of this duty, as here pressed by the apostle, is, that it is used “unto the provocation of love and good works;” that is, as we have rendered the words, “to provoke” (that is, “one another”) “unto love and good works.” “Provocation” is commonly used in an ill sense, namely, for the imbittering of the spirit of another, moving anger, sorrow, and disquietment and impatience of mind. To provoke one, is to imbitter his spirit, and to stir him up to anger. And when any provocation is high, we call it “strife,” or “contention,” such as when the spirits of men are imbittered one towards another. However the intent here is for an earnest and diligent excitation of the minds or spirits of men to think and do that which is good.
Is love a duty that we are obligated to have for one another?
There is more in this than our mutually giving empty affirming words to one another. There is an urge to excite one another’s spirit, by urging, encouraging, persuading them by example and rebuke if necessary, until they are stirred up to love and good works. This is the great purpose of the communion that is among Christians in the mutual consideration of one another: considering the circumstances, conditions, walkings, abilities for usefulness, of one another, they do excite one another to love and good works; which is called the provocation of them, or the stirring up of the minds of men to them. This was the way and practice of the Christians of old, but is now generally lost, along with most of the principles of practical obedience, especially those which concern our mutual edification, as if they had never been prescribed in the gospel.
Why might we be less concerned today with our mutual edification?
The duties themselves which we are to mutually provoke one another to, are, “love and good works.” And they are placed by the apostle in their proper order; for love is the spring and fountain of all acceptable good works. Of mutual love among believers as to the nature and causes of it, and motives of it we studied in Hebrews 6. Those which are most commendable and praiseworthy are intended, such as are most useful to others, those where the gospel is most exalted; works proceeding from the shining light of truth, wherein God is glorified.
Can we do our good works without love?
Scripture tells us that even if we had the gift of prophecy and could understand all mysteries and if we had all faith to move mountains, but do no have love we are nothing, and that even if we speak in the tongues of angels without love we have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Love is an important requirement of our faith. Love is not optional. The mutual watch of Christians, in the particular societies whereof they are members, (i.e. our church) is a duty necessary to the preservation of the profession of the faith. We are to consider the circumstances, abilities, temptations, and opportunities for duties, in one another. We are to be diligent to exhort one another to gospel duties, that men on all grounds of reason and example may be provoked to them, this is required of us, and is a most excellent duty, which in an especial manner we ought to attend to.
Without love what will happen to a church?
There are times that in our flesh it may be difficult to feel love towards one another. This is true in our church, in our friendships, and in our families. We are each sinners that wrong one another and are wronged by others as well. People will sin against us, but that does not change the duty that God has charged us with in His word to love. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. Exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Let brotherly love continue. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.