A study of God’s Love from 1 Corinthians #23 – Love Is Not Easily Provoked

06 Feb

Love is not easily provoked (paroxunetai): not easily angered; not ready to take offence; not quick tempered; not “touchy.”  It is not easily aroused to anger; does not become “exasperated.”  Love controls the emotions, and never becomes angry without a cause (Romans 12:18).

The word for “easily angered” could also be translated “touchy,” “irritable,” or “sensitive to slights.” Such people let things get on their nerves. One believer, in the process of exercising his or her gifts, may irritate another believer. These “easily angered” believers may not like the style or manner in which these others exercise their gifts. Or they may get easily angered at anyone who crosses them. This is not the way of love. When believers exercise their gifts in love, they will be able to give one another some latitude to follow God as they see fit. They will not let themselves be easily provoked over disagreements, but they will be able to always respond in a loving manner. This does not mean that anger is wrong, for anger can be a motivating factor when directed against wrongs or injustices. People who are “easily angered,” however, are usually upset about personal affronts or minor issues. This stifles their service for God and the use of their gifts.


Paul says that true love isn’t easily angered. Sometimes we’re irritated or angered by others, and we don’t know why. Not all irritability stems from sinful or selfish motives, although the irritable treatment of others surely is wrong. Much irritability comes from a love of perfection, a deep desire that programs, meetings, and structures be run perfectly. A desire to run things perfectly can erupt into anger at events or people who get in the way or ruin that desire. Those who are easily irritated need to remember that perfection exists only in God. We need to love him and our fellow Christians, not the visions we have for perfection here on earth.

The real meaning of this is that Christian love never becomes exasperated with people.  Exasperation is always a sign of defeat.  When we lose our tempers, we lose everything.  Kipling said that it was the test of a man if he could keep his head when everyone else was losing his and blaming it on him, and if when he was hated he did not give way to hating.  The man who is master of his temper can be master of anything.

The Greek here translated provoked, means to arouse to anger and is the origin of the English paroxysm, a convulsion or sudden outburst of emotion or action. Love guards against being irritated, upset, or angered by things said or done against it. It is not provoked.

The apostle does not rule out righteous indignation. Love cannot “rejoice in unrighteousness” (1 Cor. 13:6). To be angered by the mistreatment of the unfortunate or by the maligning and contradiction of God’s Word is righteous indignation. But when it is truly righteous, indignation will never be provoked by something done against us personally. When Jesus cleansed the Temple, He was angered at the profaning of His Father’s house of worship (Matt. 21:11-12). But on the many occasions when He was personally vilified or abused, He did not once become angry or defensive.

Like his Lord, Paul was only angered by the things that anger God. He responded strongly against such things as heresy, immorality, and misuse of spiritual gifts. But he did not become angry at those who beat him, jailed him, or lied about him (see Acts 23:1-5).

The being provoked that Paul is talking about here has to do with things done against us or that are personally offensive. Love does not get angry at others when they say or do something that displeases us or when they prevent us from having our own way (cf. 1 Pet. 2:21-24). Love never reacts in self-defense or retaliation. Being provoked is the other side of seeking one’s own way. The person who is intent on having his own way is easily provoked, easily angered.

This Greek term, rendered “provoked” in the NASB, is used in Hosea 8:5 and Zechariah 10:3 to depict provocation to anger. The term is by no means used only with a negative connotation. In Acts 17:16, it describes how Paul’s spirit is so provoked within him that he begins to preach to the idol-worshiping inhabitants of Athens. In Hebrews 10:24, the writer urges the saints to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” Here in 1 Corinthians, Paul uses the term to describe a short-fused person who is easily and quickly provoked to take action which is not edifying to either party. Love does not “blow its cork,” “lose its cool,” or “blow a fuse.” Love does not have a chip on its shoulder, looking for some tiny straw of offense so it can ventilate all its anger and hostility.

The Corinthians are obviously provoked in a number of areas. Some are provoked enough to take their brethren to court (chapter 6). Others seem provoked to divorce their mates (chapter 7). Still others are provoked to go on ahead with the Lord’s Supper without waiting for all to arrive (chapter 11).

Often today, Christians are provoked by minor offenses and leave the church or take some form of retaliatory action. Some are provoked by their mates and act in a destructive way to their marriage. Parents may be provoked by their children or children by their parents (see Ephesians 6:4). There are all too many abusive parents or mates, whose explosive anger cannot be predicted or avoided but only dreaded.

Having warned of being very careful about becoming too quickly provoked, I must add that some saints really need to get upset about what they see. In the supermarket, and even in the church, I see children throwing temper tantrums while their parents look on helplessly as though they can do nothing. There is something they can do, and if they cannot remember what it is, I suggest they read the Book of Proverbs.

We ought to be angered at sin, but in our anger, we should act appropriately and not explosively (see Ephesians 4:26).

There is a time for righteous indignation, but let us be certain it is truly righteous wrath and not just human anger with a pious label:

19 This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20).

13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:13-18).

We get angry when another person gains a privilege or recognition we want for ourselves, because it is our “right.” But to put our rights before our duty and before loving concern for others comes from self-centeredness and lovelessness. The loving person is more concerned about doing what he should and helping where he can than in having what he thinks are his rights and his due. Love considers nothing its right and everything its obligation.

Telling our wives or husbands that we love them is not convincing if we continually get upset and angry at what they say and do. Telling our children that we love them is not convincing if we often yell at them for doing things that irritate us and interfere with our own plans. It does no good to protest, “I lose my
temper a lot, but it’s all over in a few minutes.” So is a nuclear bomb. A great deal of damage can be done in a very short time. Temper is always destructive, and even small temper “bombs” can leave much hurt and damage, especially when they explode on a regular basis. Lovelessness is the cause of temper, and
love is the only cure.

Love that takes a person outside of himself and centers his attention on the well-being of others is the only cure for self-centeredness.

A glance at the two brothers would raise no suspicion. To see them exit the worship service would give you no cause for concern. Like any other set of siblings, they had their differences. One more like Mom, the other more like Dad. One with a bent toward livestock, the other interested in farming. Beyond that, they seemed alike. Compatible. Raised in the same culture. Romped in the same hills. Played with the same animals. Spoke with the same accent. Worshiped the same God.

Then why did one kill the other? Why the violent assault? What made one brother turn on the other and spill his blood? Why did Cain kill Abel?

To answer that question is to shed light on a larger one. Looming behind the question of murder is the question of anger. For “Cain was very angry” ( Gen. 4:5 nkjv ). Angry indeed. Angry enough to kill. What made him so mad?

Anger in and of itself is not a sin. The emotion was God’s idea. “Be angry,” he urges, “and do not sin” ( Eph. 4:26 nkjv ). It’s possible to feel what Cain felt without doing what Cain did. Anger is not a sin, but it can lead to sin. Perhaps your anger doesn’t lead you to shed blood, but does it make you touchy, irritable, quick-tempered, quick to take offense? Do you fly off the handle? Those aren’t my terms. They are Paul’s. According to the apostle, love is not:

“touchy” ( tlb ),

“irritable” ( nlt ),

“quick tempered” ( cev ),

“quick to take offence” ( neb ),

“easily angered” ( niv ),

and love “doesn’t fly off the handle” ( msg ).

Cain was all of these and more. But why? Why the short fuse? Again the text gives an answer. “The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. So Cain became very angry and felt rejected ” ( Gen. 4:4–5 , emphasis mine).

Interesting. This is the first appearance of Anger in the Bible. He’ll pop up some four hundred more times between here and the maps in the back, but this is the first occasion. He pulls up to the curb and gets out of the  car, and look who is in the front seat with him—Rejection. Anger and Rejection in the same sentence.

This isn’t the only time the couple are spotted in Scripture. Anger singes many pages. And more than once Rejection is charged with arson.

The sons of Jacob were rejected by their father. He pampered Joseph and neglected them. The result? The brothers were angry. Joseph’s “brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms” ( Gen. 37:4 nasb ).

Saul was rejected by his people. In choosing heroes, they chose the fair-haired David over the appointed king. The result? Saul was ticked off. “The women sang as they played, and said, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’ Then Saul became very angry” ( 1 Sam. 18:7–8 nasb ).

David’s work was rejected by God. His plan to move the ark of the covenant by cart didn’t please the Father. And when Uzzah touched what he shouldn’t have touched, “God smote him … and he died” ( 2 Sam. 6:7 rsv ). Before David was afraid, he fumed. “David became angry because of the Lord ’s outburst against Uzzah” ( 2 Sam. 6:8 nasb).

And Jonah. The fellow had a whale of a problem with anger. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) He didn’t feel the Ninevites were worthy of mercy, but God did. By forgiving them, God rejected Jonah’s opinion. And how did the rejection make Jonah feel? “It greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry” ( Jon. 4:1 nasb).

I don’t want to oversimplify a complex emotion. Anger has many causes: impatience, unmet expectations, stress, referees who couldn’t see a pass-interference call if you painted it on their garage door—oops, sorry, a flashback to a high-school football game. The fire of anger has many logs, but according to biblical accounts, the thickest and the hottest block of wood is rejection.

Why do we often get so angry? What stirs our frustration? In the great scheme of things, no single event should bother us. Perhaps it can be narrowed it down to one word. Rejection. Maybe the salesperson had rejected us…we had not received any attention. It could also be taken that she didn’t accept us.

Multiply that emotion by a zillion to understand the anger of an abandoned teen or a divorced spouse. I didn’t even know the lady, and I was angry. What happens when you feel the same from your boss, friend, or teacher?

You hurt. And because you get hurt, you get hot. Tacky-toned, cold-shouldered, name-calling, door-slamming, get-my-pound-of-flesh sort of hot. Anger is your defense mechanism.

Envision a teenager receiving a lecture. His dad is going down the list: poor grades, missed curfews, messy room. Each accusation is like a shove in the boy’s chest. Back and back and back until he perceives a Grand Canyon between his father and him. His initial response is silence and shame. Lower and lower he bows. But somewhere a line is crossed, and an innate survival technique kicks in, and he lashes back, “I’ve had it!” And he stands and storms out.

Consider the wife of the insensitive husband. Every other woman in her office received a card or flowers for Valentine’s Day. She kept thinking a delivery boy would stop at her desk, but none ever did. She drives home thinking, Surely there will be something on the table. The table is empty. The phone rings. It’s him. He’ll be late for dinner. No word about Valentine’s Day. He forgot. How could he forget? When this happened last year, she was sad. When he did something similar at Christmas, she was hurt. But when he forgot their anniversary, she started to harden. And now this? Her tears are hot. Rejection leads to anger.

And if rejection from people makes us angry, what about when we feel rejected by God? Case study #1? Cain.

The account is sketchy and not without gaps, but we are told enough to re-create the crime scene. Cain and Abel went to worship, perhaps at the same time. They each brought an offering. How did they know to do so? God had told them. Hebrews 11:4 says, “It was by faith that Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did.” From where does one get faith? “Faith comes by hearing” ( Rom. 10:17 nkjv ). Cain and Abel had heard God’s instructions. And when Abel brought the best parts of a firstborn from his flock, he did so out of obedience to what he had heard.

And when Cain brought “some food” from the ground, he was acting out of disobedience. Surely he had heard what Abel had heard. Would God hold him accountable otherwise? He knew what Abel knew. He knew that forgiveness of sin came through the shedding of blood ( Heb. 9:22 ). But still he was angry that God returned his sacrifice unopened. God cautioned him to be careful.

God asked Cain, “Why are you angry? Why do you look so unhappy? If you do things well, I will accept you, but if you do not do them well, sin is ready to attack you. Sin wants you, but you must rule over it.” At this point in the story, Cain had not sinned. A dose of humility and he would have been fine. But Cain had other plans.

“Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out into the field.’ While they were out in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him” ( Gen. 4:3–8 ).

Cain gave up. He gave up on God. He gave up on his ability to please him. And he took it out on Abel. Cain would have related to the frustration of the struggling missionary who wrote:

God’s demands of me were so high, and His opinion of me was so low, there was no way for me to live except under His frown.… All day long He nagged me: “Why don’t you pray more? Why don’t you witness more? When will you ever learn self-discipline? How can you allow yourself to indulge in such wicked thoughts? Do this. Don’t do that.” … When I came down to it, there was scarcely a word or a feeling or a thought or a decision of mine that God really liked. [1]1

Many have written letters like that. If not with pen and paper, at least with thoughts. Cain would have penned: “I can’t satisfy him. I work in the field and bring my crops. I give him my best, and it’s not enough.”

Others would write:

“Why won’t God hear our prayers! We go to church, we pay our bills, but still the crib is empty.”

“Why won’t God give me a job? I’ve done nothing wrong. People who curse him have jobs. I’ve served him all these years and can’t even get an interview.”

“What do I have to do to be forgiven? Do I have to spend the rest of my life paying for one mistake?”

Such thoughts will heat your collar. Stoke your anger. Make you snap at those shallow minds like Abel who do half the work but get all the blessings—

Stop for a second. Did you just make a discovery? Did a light go on? Have you for the first time found the headwaters of your anger? Can your bitterness be traced upstream to a feeling of divine rejection? If so (I’m glad to tell you this), in finding the cause you have also found the cure.

When I really want a person to listen to me, I scoot my chair a couple of inches in their direction and lower my voice. If you and I were having a chat about your anger, this is where I’d start scooting, and I’d say the next sentence so softly you’d have to lean forward to hear. So incline a tad and listen to this thought.

If rejection causes anger, wouldn’t acceptance cure it? If rejection by heaven makes you mad at others, wouldn’t acceptance from heaven stir your love for them? This is the 7:47 Principle. Remember the verse? “He who is forgiven little loves little.” We can replace the word forgiven with accepted and maintain the integrity of the passage. “He who is accepted little loves little.” If we think God is harsh and unfair, guess how we’ll treat people. Harshly and unfairly. But if we discover that God has doused us with unconditional love, would that make a difference?

The apostle Paul would say so! Talk about a turnaround. He went from bully to teddy bear. Paul b.c . (Before Christ) sizzled with anger. He “made havoc of the church” ( Acts 8:3 nkjv ). Paul a.d. (After Discovery) brimmed with love. Could a raving maniac write these words?

To the Corinthians: “I always thank my God for you” ( 1 Cor. 1:4 ).

To the Philippians: “I have you in my heart.… I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” ( Phil. 1:7–8 niv ).

To the Ephesians: “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” ( Eph. 1:16 niv ).

To the Colossians: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you” ( Col. 1:3 niv ).

To the Thessalonians: “We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children” ( 1 Thess. 2:7 niv ).

His heart was a universe of love. But what about his enemies? It’s one thing to love your coworkers, but did Paul love those who challenged him? “I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them” ( Rom. 9:1–3 nlt ). On every occasion that he had to enter their synagogues and teach, he did so ( Acts 13:4–5 ; 14:1 ; 17:1–2 , 10 ). His accusers beat him, stoned him, jailed him, mocked him. But can you find one occasion where he responded in kind? One temper tantrum? One angry outburst? This is a different man. His anger is gone. His passion is strong. His devotion is unquestioned. But rash outbursts of anger? A thing of the past.

What made the difference? He encountered Christ. Or, to use his phrase, he was hidden in Christ: “Your life is now hidden with Christ in God” ( Col. 3:3 niv ).

The Chinese language has a great symbol for this truth. The word for righteousness is a combination of two pictures. On the top is a lamb. Beneath the lamb is a person. The lamb covers the person. [2]2 Isn’t that the essence of righteousness? The Lamb of Christ over the child of God? Whenever the Father looks down on you, what does he see? He sees his Son, the perfect Lamb of God, hiding you. Christians are like their ancestor Abel. We come to God by virtue of the flock. Cain came with the work of his own hands. God turned him away. Abel came, and we come, dependent upon the sacrifice of the Lamb, and we are accepted. Like the Chinese symbol, we are covered by the lamb, hidden in Christ.

When God looks at you, he doesn’t see you; he sees Jesus. And how does he respond when he sees Jesus? He rends the heavens and vibrates the earth with the shout, “You are my Son, whom I love, and I am very pleased with you” ( Mark 1:11 ).

The missionary was wrong. We don’t live under the frown of God. We stir an ear-to-ear smile of joy. “He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing” ( Zeph. 3:17 nkjv ).

Through Christ, God has accepted you. Think about what this means. I’m scooting forward and talking softly again: You cannot keep people from rejecting you. But you can keep rejections from enraging you.

Rejections are like speed bumps on the road. They come with the journey. Tacky purse peddlers populate the world. You’re going to get cut, dished, dropped, and kicked around. You cannot keep people from rejecting you. But you can keep rejections from enraging you. How? By letting his acceptance compensate for their rejection.

Think of it this way. Suppose you dwell in a high-rise apartment. On the window sill of your room is a solitary daisy. This morning you picked the daisy and pinned it on your lapel. Since you have only one plant, this is a big event and a special daisy.

But as soon as you’re out the door, people start picking petals off your daisy. Someone snags your subway seat. Petal picked. You’re blamed for the bad report of a coworker. Three petals. The promotion is given to someone with less experience but USC water polo looks. More petals. By the end of the day, you’re down to one. Woe be to the soul who dares to draw near it. You’re only one petal-snatching away from a blowup.

What if the scenario was altered slightly? Let’s add one character. The kind man in the apartment next door runs a flower shop on the corner. Every night on the way home he stops at your place with a fresh, undeserved, yet irresistible bouquet. These are not leftover flowers. They are top-of-the-line arrangements. You don’t know why he thinks so highly of you, but you aren’t complaining. Because of him, your apartment has a sweet fragrance, and your step has a happy bounce. Let someone mess with your flower, and you’ve got a basketful to replace it!

The difference is huge. And the interpretation is obvious.

God will load your world with flowers. He hand-delivers a bouquet to your door every day. Open it! Take them! Then, when rejections come, you won’t be left short-petaled.

God can help you get rid of your anger. He made galaxies no one has ever seen and dug canyons we have yet to find. “The Lord … heals all your diseases” ( Ps. 103:2–3 niv ). Do you think among those diseases might be the affliction of anger?

Do you think God could heal your angry heart?

Do you want him to? This is not a trick question. He asks the same question of you that he asked of the invalid: “Do you want to be well?” ( John 5:6 ). Not everyone does. You may be addicted to anger. You may be a rage junkie. Anger may be part of your identity. But if you want him to, he can change your identity. Do you want him to do so?

Do you have a better option? Like moving to a rejection-free zone? If so, enjoy your life on your desert island.

Take the flowers. Receive from him so you can love or at least put up with others. [3]


A man who can’t control his temper is like a city without defenses. Jewish Proverb

An angry man opens his mouth and shuts his eyes. Cato the Elder (234–149 b.c.)

Anger can be an expensive luxury. Italian Proverb

Anger is a weed; hate is the tree. Saint Augustine of Hippo (354–430)

Anger is quieted by a gentle word just as fire is quenched by water. Jean Pierre Camus (1584–1652)

Anybody can become angry—that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy. Aristotle (384–322 b.c.)

Arrows pierce the body, but harsh words pierce the soul. Spanish Proverb

Control yourself! Anger is only one letter short of danger.

Do not do to others that which would anger you if others did it to you. Isocrates (436–338 b.c.)

Don’t fly into a rage unless you are prepared for a rough landing.

Don’t get angry at the person who acts in ways that displease you. Give him the smile he lacks. Spread the sunshine of your Lord’s limitless love. Joni Eareckson Tada

[1]1 Dwight Edwards, Revolution Within (Colorado Springs, Colo.: WaterBrook Press, 2001), 57–58.

[2]2 Ibid., 58.

[3]Lucado, M. 2002. A love worth giving : Living in the overflow of God’s love. W Pub. Group: Nashville, Tenn.

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Posted by on February 6, 2023 in 1 Corinthians


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