This summer Betty and I took a vacation the Great Smoky National Park in eastern Tennessee. Part of the charm if this area is its wildlife, especially the bears. The black bears that inhabit this region are generally easy going. Unlike the grizzly bears of the western states. On this trip, we saw several mother bears with their cubs. In case you didn’t know bears are easily provoked when protecting their cubs. Keep that in mind as we consider Paul’s description of love as not being provoked.
In 1 Corinthians 13:5 Paul says, “does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,” (1 Corinthians 13:5, NASB95) The NLT says, love is not irritable. While the Message translation says that “love doesn’t fly off the handle.” An idiom for losing one’s temper. The NIV says love is not easily angered. In this, we are left with a question or two.
Paul uses a curious word that is only used one other time in the New Testament. Luke records in Acts, “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.” (Acts 17:16, NASB95) The Greek translation of the Bible, often designated as the LXX or Septuagint, also used this word in connection with God being provoked to anger. Which brings us to a dilemma because the phrase is incomplete. Provoked to what?
The obvious implication is provoked to anger, which several of the translations pick up on even though it is not spelled out. Which creates another dilemma. Are we then to assume that love is never provoked to anger? This is where we need to be very honest with ourselves and think about bears.
The question is why? Why are we becoming provoked and angry? What is the motivation and reason? Are we provoked over some sense of loss or in an effort to protect our territory? Or are we provoked like a bear protecting her cubs? Maybe we can put it this way. Love doesn’t get angry to protect ourselves, but love may be provoked to protect others in a mama bear kind of way.
The mother bears we saw were not looking for a fight. They just wanted to be left alone so they could forage for food. And we gave them that space while watching from a respectful distance. One of Betty’s pictures is with this article on Lambchow.com. Maybe that’s another way to say what Paul is meaning. Love isn’t looking for a fight.
If love is not provoked, if it is not looking for a fight, then what is it? Patient, forgiving, hoping, willing to absorb the slings and arrows others throw our way – all these come to mind. The kind of love Paul is describing has the ability to look beyond the immediate pain towards a larger desire and purpose for that person. It doesn’t mean that their words and/or actions don’t hurt, but that because of love we are willing to endure instead of hurting them back.
Love is not provoked – It isn’t looking for a fight.
(FYI – Betty took the photo of a mama bear that is connected with this article)