What Are the Ramifications of Provocation?

The idea of being provoked yet not offended started me thinking about a few things—not just personally but vocationally as well. Certainly, this challenge has personal ramifications for us all, but it also has professional ramifications for every one of us who labors in the field of pastoral ministry.

To provoke literally means to incite or to cause. While to offend literally means to affront, upset, or insult. With these as our working definitions, it is easy to see why Gabe Lyons strikes such a contrast between these oftentimes-confused ideas. But can you see the difference?

The idea of offense carries with it an inherent hurtfulness, while the idea of provocation carries with it the necessity of movement or activity.

So here is the question: What is our natural inclination? Are we more apt to be provoked or offended by injustice? Are we more likely to be provoked or offended when we see folks who claim to be Christian living as though they are not? Are we more provoked or offended when we encounter people of different political, theological, or ethnic persuasions than ourselves?

I think this is a big deal. I was raised in a culture of offense rather than a culture of provocation, and I think for the most part that is how the church functions. I grew up in a culture that reacted with disgust when faced with the reality of suffering, exploitation, and sin. But this reaction was one of retreat rather than one of advance.

Sadly, I am still more offended than provoked when it comes to the really dark places in this world. So what can I do about it? Is it better to be provoked to do almost anything than to be offended by almost everything?

“Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:16-17 nkjv).

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