Provoking one another arises from many things. Let me point out the three sources of provocation to anger that I have most frequently observed in marriage. They are moral failure, deception, and nagging. For example, choosing to take some action that endangers the stability of your spouse or family will result in provoking your mate to anger. On more than one occasion I have observed on the evening news a public school principal being escorted from his school in handcuffs because he chose to view pornography on an office computer. It would be highly unlikely that his spouse was not provoked to anger. Recently a well known clergyman publically confessed that he chose moral failure over his marriage. In yet another case, a husband in counseling confessed to his extended use of pornography to his wife’s disbelief and horror. The choices of these men provoked their wives.
Deception occurs in numerous ways. Jim and Sally went to meet with their pastor. Jim was really frustrated with Sally. For the past two years he worked a lot of overtime. Each week he gave Sally his overtime money—sometimes as much as $1000.00. Each week he would remind her that he was working this overtime to accumulate sufficient funds to make a down payment on their new home. They picked out that new home two years ago, but needed another $20,000 to execute the buy.
“Pastor,” said Jim, “last week when I handed her the overtime money I told her that according to my mental tracking we had reached our goal and asked that she make an appointment with the builder to start the process. To make a long story short, she informed me that we only had $10,000 in the fund. When I asked how that was possible she told me, ‘That is it. That is all you have given to me to save. I’ve been alone a lot for two years and all we have is $10,000 for a pretty house! ’ Pastor, that cannot be right! Help us!”
It took an hour of probing, but Sally finally admitted that she had been playing the lottery. She deceived Jim with a smile, a hug and a kiss each time he handed her the overtime money for deposit. Jim trusted her implicitly. It was easy for her to fake it. Now Jim went from being frustrated to being infuriated. Sally had deceived him and broken his trust to say nothing of wasting all of his lovingly invested overtime.
While this is an extreme example, it displays the dynamics of deception which are often much more subtle than in this case. Galatians 5:26 suggests that both pride and envy may be sources of provocation within the body of Christ, therefore, in the marriage. The results of these traits may be observed in the irritation they arouse in the mate.
The third common way of provoking is characterized in this proverb: It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman (KJV Proverbs 21:19) Nothing is more provoking than a squeaky wheel. A nagging mate is a squeaky wheel for which there is no oil to lubricate. Hence, as it is pictured in this proverb, there is little to be done but to remove oneself out of earshot or else be provoked.
Several years ago at a convention a counselor shared a story about a couple who had been referred to him by their pastor. A messy affair had occurred between this couple and a pastoral staff couple. Through the utilization of biblical principles in the counseling process the affair issue involving the wife of the couple and the husband of the pastoral staff member were resolved. However, the intramural marital issues of the non-staff couple continued. Over the next several years as he (the counselor) maintained a pastoral relationship with the couple it became evident that the wife was often irritated by her husband’s prideful and envious attitudes. When she was provoked by these irritations she would fling sharp words at him generating a war of words. Being provoked, he would then withdraw for days at a time. She would feel rejected and look to others for acceptance. The counselor reported that the couple finally began to realize that this provocative cycle of disobedience fed an ongoing dissidence in their relationship.
Obviously, these provoking behaviors and attitudes can be corrected. If not, the writer of Galatians would not tell us to avoid provoking one another. In another passage (Heb 10:24) we are encouraged to provoke one another to love and good works. In other words in the close proximity of a marriage relationship we are wise to choose how we provoke. God gives us instructions similar to those he gave the people of Israel through Moses: 5“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rule…17 but if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them.18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. …19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days….(ESV Deuteronomy 30:15-20)