Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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Perhaps the greatest compliment Paul ever paid a group of believers is the comment that he made concerning the saints in Rome. In his letter to them, he told them that they were "able to reprove one another." This means (1) that they were all discerning enough to know when one among them needed reproof, (2) that they all were bold enough to approach a brother who had wandered off the right road, and (3) that they all had enough of the love of God in action (charity) to receive correction with meekness when it was given to them.
These three qualities of the saints in Rome are all expressions of the love of God, but consider most of all the latter one. Instead of acting insulted when correction was offered, the saints in Rome were able to receive correction with a bright attitude. In immature children and adults, in whom love of self reigns, correction evokes anger, or pouting, or backbiting, or gloomy silence. But the love of God is not easily provoked. Solomon said, "Rebuke a wise man, and he will become wiser." But when a fool is rebuked, the fool tries to make the one who rebukes him suffer, and there is a reason for this. Those who react to correction with pouting or anger are, in effect, striking back at the one offering the correction in order to make it less likely that he will offer such correction again. This happens frequently, and it often succeeds.
Many parents today dread their children's sulky, angry reactions to correction so much that that they shrink from giving it. But children must not only be corrected; they must also be trained to receive correction in the right way so that they can learn from it. That is what our heavenly Father teaches us.
Charity makes us not easily provoked by correction because it makes us trust God to correct us when we need it and to understand that without correction, we will never find the way. As Brother Delbert once told me, "Nobody is born right with God." The knowledge of God must be learned, and learning includes being corrected and changed. Solomon said it best: "The reproofs of instruction are the way of life" (Prov. 6:23). To become angry when we are corrected is to hate life itself.
Charity is not easily provoked by the mistakes others make. It allows for mistakes because it understands that, as one prudent man had said, "Anything worth doing, is worth doing wrong." That is, it is OK to make mistakes; often, that is how we learn to do things right. "It is a glory for a wise man to overlook errors", Solomon told his son, adding in another place, "Don't listen to every thing that people repeat. You know yourself that you have cursed people in your own heart [and later been ashamed of it]." Charity is patient (1Cor. 13:4a), and patience is a willingness to wait around until someone "gets it right".
Charity is not easily provoked because it trusts in the living God to be in complete command of every circumstance and every person in your life, for your good, and it is very difficult to be provoked by a mistake someone has made when you know that is a mistake designed by your Father, who works all things together for your blessing.
Finally, that "charity is not easily provoked" does not mean that charity is never provoked. God has been provoked often and deeply by stubborn, sinful attitudes, and we are free to feel the same way in certain circumstances. Lot's righteous soul was provoked every day by the filthy conduct of the wicked citizens of Sodom where he lived (2Pet 2:7-8). The flesh, trying to imitate true charity (the love of God in action), would lead us to hide any anger, any indignation, any vexation that we might feel when faced with open, stubborn wickedness, making a show of its calmness in the face of vile behavior. But the flesh's show of peace in the time of trouble impresses only people who also are "in the flesh". The love of God in us liberates us to be either patient and angry, to be silent in the face of error or to rebuke it, to sympathize with a weakness in a brother or to refuse to tolerate it. In other words, charity releases us to feel whatever God feels, and to react to everything the way God reacts.
Paul's comment that "charity is not easily provoked" does not imprison us in that phony world of Christian acceptance and toleration of sin, but that is how the flesh reads it. The flesh is always looking for Scriptures that it can use to persuade men not to resist its will. And that incessant, stubborn search by men to find a reason to excuse sin rather than to repent of it is one of the wicked deeds among sinful men that always provoked the wrath of our very patient God, even if He is "slow to anger and full of mercy".