I want people to know that I care about them – especially my family. The easiest way is to tell them, “I love you”, regularly, and I try to do that. I learned that from my father. He frequently let me know that he cared for me and told me that he loved me; it meant so much to me and still does to this day.
While that is important, if our behavior contradicts our words they cancel out what we are saying. God gives concrete, measurable ways for us to express our love to people and they are the same ways He loves us. (They are listed in I Corinthians 13:4-7).
One of these qualities is that love “is not easily provoked” (I Corinthians 13:5). There are several applications to this and here is one: love is not quick-tempered. A person that is provoked easily is one that becomes angry quickly.
I have known people that were proud of having a temper and thought it was a strength. It is not a strength or virtue at all. If anything, it is a sin and leads to lots of unnecessary (and sometimes severe) trouble for a person.
The Bible is so plain on this subject – “…let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God”. (James 1:19-20) This simply means that anger causes us to not listen, speak quickly, and explode in wrath. Whenever we do this we do not accomplish the will of God, but our own will (“worketh not the righteousness of God”), and we miss God’s best for our life.
Have you ever ridden a horse before? You guide him with the reins held in your hand that are attached to a bridle in his mouth. The bridle has a bit that restrains and directs the horse. God uses this metaphor to show us that the kind of words we use are a test of a person’s salvation.
“If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain”. (James 1:26) These are strong words. A person is deceived about their salvation if they can use angry, hateful and hurtful words consistently without any sense of guilt or conviction.
The bridle on the mouth of a believer is the Spirit of God Who directs us to love people and encourage them with our speech, not to destroy them with our angry words. A person that is easily provoked is ready and quick to fight – if not physically, then verbally.
One of the qualifications for a pastor is that he not be “soon angry” (Titus 1:7). A leader often is attacked, sometimes misunderstood and unfairly judged and criticized. If he is a fighter and combative he will only stir up more trouble – like pouring gasoline on an open fire.
Those that are slow to anger reduce strife in their relationships. This is crucial for a leader. The Bible says, “A wrathful man stiffeth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife” (Proverbs 15:18).
What does it take to upset you? Do you tend to talk first and think later? What if God had a “short fuse” and was “easily provoked”? I would have no hope and neither would you.
Many children grow up with parents that fly off the handle because of frustration. While an apology may be made, a scar is often left on their tender soul. Many spouses endure the quick, harsh, unkind words from the one they stood at the altar with and heard them promise they would care for them and love them with the love of Christ.
Our homes are not to be war zones, even for brief periods of time. John Maxwell wrote, “It’s a problem when those who know you best like you the least and those who know you the least like you the best”. I’m afraid that’s too often true in families today, Christian or not.
Someone said, “Home is the place where family members go when they are tired of being nice to other people”. It’s no wonder our children don’t want to return on holidays and spend time with us if they have been the recipient of our quick tempers.
Do you love your family? I mean really love them? Then, you will not be “easily provoked” (I Corinthians 13:5). That’s when they know we care for them, not when we just say the words, “I love you”.
Years ago I was working on a Bible study on the computer in our church office. Note that it was “the” computer. This was in the early 90’s and computers were very expensive and we only had one for the entire ministry.
I was feverishly pounding the keys putting down my notes and thoughts and had worked for several hours on the material. Suddenly the screen went black on the computer. Perhaps you can understand the sinking feeling I had in my stomach as I realized I had just lost all of my work. I had failed to save what I had written because this had never happened to me before. (This was before the days where your computer would automatically back itself up every minute or so).
It was puzzling because all of the power in the office was still on and only the computer was not working. I bent over the keyboard in misery and said, “Oh, no! What happened?! I just lost everything I have been working on all morning”.
There was a large filing cabinet to my right a few feet away and I sensed some moment there and saw one of our lady staff members peeking around the corner at me. She had a terrified look on her face. “Oh, Brother Rick, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry”, said this kind lady. She then held up the end of a power cord to me and explained that she had pulled out the wrong cord working on something on that wall.
Though I was frustrated at losing all my work and the hours I had put into it, I told her that it was alright. I could redo the material again (apparently the Lord wanted me to!) and my relationship with her was worth more than my being angry. I could have done the same thing to her and would have wanted some mercy.
Here’s a convicting thought. Would that have been my response to Paula or my children? I would want to hope that it would, but I know better. We tend to treat others better than those closest to us when we are disappointed. Maybe it’s because we are trying to protect our reputation.
I do know this, the staff lady that made the mistake knew that I cared about her more than my being inconvenienced. She’ll never forget it. How do I know? Though I rarely speak to her she always brings it up (sometimes I do) and we have a big laugh out of it.
When I am not quick-tempered toward people when I am stressed they know that I care about them. When I am “easily provoked” they feel unloved no matter how often I tell them I love them.
“Often the difference between a successful marriage and a mediocre one consists of leaving about three or four things a day unsaid”, said Harlan Miller. Maybe those three or four things are times when we are angered easily.