Love Is Not Easily Provoked

1 Corinthians 13:5 reminds us that love is not “irritable” (RSV), or “easily angered” (NIV). It is “slow to anger,” because it knows that “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).

It is not a sin to be angry; but anger is an emotion that Satan loves to use against us (see Ephesians 4:26-27). It can cloud our judgment, impair our reason, and focus our attention only on our own wishes. Unrestrained, it can quickly spawn words and actions that offend, hurt, and destroy. Some people seem almost proud of having a short, heated temper; they want you to know that you’d better not say or do anything to set them off! But love knows that outbursts of wrath are sinful (Galatians 5:20). One who loves doesn’t lose his temper and then try to excuse it with, “That’s just the way I am.” He doesn’t use “I’ve had a bad day” as a reason to unload on somebody. Love keeps anger on a tight leash.

Sometimes people even try to make us angry. And sometimes we’re all too ready to give them what they want. Love teaches us restraint even in the face of provocation. Its patience enables us to put up with a lot. “But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39). “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.…Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God.…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21).

Love reserves anger for things that are an affront to God. Remember how Paul was “provoked” (same word) at the idolatry he witnessed in Athens (Acts 17:16). Sin should make us angry. But even righteous anger can get the better of us if we aren’t careful. More than once it has become a pretext for slander and abuse—in which case it ceases to be righteous. “Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).