We feel the best way to reach Jewish people is to provoke them to jealousy as the Scripture says.”
Recently, we find more and more people quoting this verse as they explain why they would rather not take part in a Jews for Jesus outreach coming to their town.
These people often misunderstand the Scripture to mean that they need not be the first to mention the gospel in conversation with Jewish friends. Rather, when their friends see the peace and joy that they have, they will desire that for themselves and open their hearts to ask how they can receive it. And in fact, we praise God that sometimes this does happen. Many Jewish believers note this type of experience as a wonderful step along their way to faith. However, this does not mean that the Jewish friend has been provoked to jealousy as described in the verse. The Scripture is not talking about Jewish people being jealous of another person’s joy, or their peace.
In fact, the Bible does not present the concept of provoking the Jewish people to jealousy as a means of evangelism for Christians to employ. The original context for provoking Israel to jealousy is found in Deuteronomy, where the Lord expresses His jealousy over Israel because of her idolatry. It is He who declares that in return He will provoke her to jealousy by taking other nations into a relationship that she, Israel, was meant to have.
Yet, many Christian friends who do not wish to risk relationships they have worked so hard to build with Jewish friends invoke this Scripture as though it is a kinder, gentler way of evangelism, somehow in tension with, or contrary to, proclaiming the gospel to Jewish people directly.
If Christian friends truly desire to live out this verse, they will be very clear about what they have and how they got it: a relationship with God through the Jewish Messiah, Jesus. This is indeed provocative to a Jewish person. Unfortunately, many who quote this verse do not want to provoke anyone to anything. They wish to avoid any kind of provocation and they see this Scripture as an alternative to risking a relationship.
Many who talk about provoking to jealousy also talk about “earning the right to speak into a person’s life.” This concept is found nowhere in Scripture. If I am presenting myself as the way of salvation, then it would make sense to earn the right to present the message of me. But the message is not me; it is Yeshua, Jesus. Jesus does not need to “earn the right” to speak into a person’s life—He did that at Creation and again at Calvary. Those of us who know and love Him have not only the right but the responsibility to tell others what He has done.
I think that most Christian friends who use catch-phrases to show that they should not “confront” people with the gospel honestly believe that somehow avoiding risk to the relationship with their Jewish friends will increase their chance of influencing them for the gospel. This is based on a false premise. Only the Holy Spirit has that kind of influence. The gift of faith is supernatural and it is given by supernatural means. That is why there are many methods and many ways of sharing the gospel that work. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is pleased to work in many ways.
What bothers me most is not that people who are protecting their relationships with Jewish friends choose not to work alongside Jews for Jesus. What bothers me more is the sick feeling that people expect their friendship to lead a person to salvation, even though they are often unwilling to say or do the things that will make that person’s need for Christ clear. What really bothers me is that some people seem to like Jewish people enough to want a relationship with them, but don’t seem to love them enough to risk that relationship—which cannot save—in order to invite the person into the only relationship that can.
When you love, you concern yourself with the well being of the beloved. When you love, you also recognize that you are not the key to another person’s well being.
So if you know someone who feels that provoking the Jewish people to jealousy is the way to win them to Christ, maybe you would pass on this article. To those who want to provoke my people to jealousy I say great, bring it on! But if you are going to truly provoke someone to jealousy, expect a few sparks to fly. That’s what happens when people get jealous. Are you willing to risk it?