“To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty; give him something to drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:20)
This is post #19 in Paul’s Marks of a True Christian from Romans 12:9-21. We have one post left after this! Wow! Today we’re going to be talking some more about loving your enemy.
(The crowd goes wiiiiilllllld)
Once again we have Paul keeping the Christian’s challenges challenging. No shock there. Here we see Paul talking about feeding and providing drink for your enemy. And in the very same sentence he talks about heaping burning coals on his head. Sounds congruent, right? Wrong. At first look, it sure doesn’t. That’s one of the really cool things about the Bible. If there is something that seems off it’s because I’m missing something. Not because the Bible is inaccurate. So let’s do some digging.
The first portion of the verse might sound familiar. That’s because it is. It’s Proverbs 25:21-22. Paul has pulled directly from the Old Testament. Additionally, we hear Jesus in Luke referring to this same text from Proverbs when he talks about loving your enemies. Here’s some super controversial words He shared in Luke 6:27-36:
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, so do to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and to the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
These are really challenging, complex things Jesus is telling his followers to do. He’s asking us to love, do good, bless, and pray for those that hate us. He’s saying don’t take just one insulting slap on the face, but turn the cheek and take another. Don’t just give your coat, give your shirt also. Jesus is flipping everything on its head and telling Christians that they are to face persecution and rejection differently than the world. Their response is to be one of generosity and compassion rather than retaliation.
Then he makes three poignant statements:
1. Even sinners love those who love them.
2. Even sinners do good to those that do good to them.
3. Even sinners lend to sinners.
His point is: what makes you different as a follower of Jesus? If we are just doing the bare minimum, what’s the difference? What distinguishes us from a non-believer?
If we can’t love our enemies, we’ve got a serious problem. If we can’t bless and pray for our enemies we’ve got a serious problem. If we can’t do good and generous and compassionate things for our enemies, we’ve got a serious problem. These are commands straight from the mouth of Jesus.
Why? So we can get our blue ribbon citizen of the month award? So people will clap for us and pat us on the back? So we’ll get a prime parking spot at work, or Miss Congeniality, or “Nice Guy of the Year?”
Nope. It’s not about us. It’s about Jesus. Surprise, surprise.
But it’s not even about Jesus just for Jesus’ sake. Jesus doesn’t want a blue ribbon or a parking spot, or the title of “a really nice guy that lived an amazing life.” There is more to it than that. Loving our enemies is about pointing people to Jesus through word and deed so they can meet Him, find out what He’s done for them, and find salvation.
Bottom line, Jesus is about His Father’s business. His Father’s business is saving souls. We’re adopted into the family. Loving our enemies is part of the family business. Are we carrying on the family tradition?
This is a challenging one. But it should be the calling card of the Christian. I should love EVERYONE. Including, and ESPECIALLY my enemies. That sort of lifestyle turns heads, and it ought to. Everyone loves someone who loves them in return. That’s easy. Child’s play. What about our enemies? What about them?
Before we conclude, let’s take another look at the whole “heaping-coals-of-fire-on-the-head” ordeal. It doesn’t seem to jive that one second we have Paul telling us to do good to our enemies and then the very next second he’s talking about heaping burning coals on their head. Here’s what’s so cool. The original verse, as I mentioned, was penned in Proverbs 25:21-22. The ESV study note makes the following points. Five chapters earlier, personal revenge is forbidden in Proverbs 20:22: “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the Lord and he will deliver you.” This absolutely lines up with Romans 12:17-21 that we just have been discussing. Both in Proverbs 20:22 and Romans 12:17-21 we are being told to do good to our enemy and to never repay evil for evil. Right? At initial inspection, it seems that this verse is contradicting itself. But here’s the cool part. It’s not. Heaping burning coals on one’s head is actually a metaphor for leading someone to repentance, NOT PERSONAL HARM. “Heaping burning coals” in this metaphorical sense is actually extremely LOVING.
Here’s why: Loving your enemy has incredible potential to catch them so off guard and shake up their world. The reality is, when we choose to love instead of retaliate, our enemy is more likely to feel guilt and shame. This potentially leads to repentance and reconciliation. Retribution after retribution only heightens the cycle of violence and hatred. Instead, by meeting conflict with good, there is a chance to stop the cycle. There is a chance genuine repentance will result and sin that has gotten in between you and your enemy or your enemy and God will be forgiven. There is even a chance that your loving actions will either lead someone to the Lord for the first time, or back to Him in repentance and relationship. It’s profound, really.
I know there have been times in our marriage where Jason and I have acted as enemies. In those moments, when he comes at me to love me, pray for me, bless me, and serve me, I FEEL TREMENDOUS conviction. Sometimes pride gets in the way of immediate repentance, but eventually his love melts my exterior pride-shell (not a pretty picture, folks) and leads me to repentance. It’s amazing. It really is.
We don’t love our enemies to manipulate them to repentance…
- we love them because it mirrors our Father
- we love them because it encourages them to repent of sin (anything that gets in the way of their relationship with God)
- we love them because, well, “it’s what we do” as Christians
Three thoughts to close:
1. What one “enemy” can you pick to deliberately love, bless, pray for, and do good to this next week?
2. Has there ever been an instance where you have poured metaphorical “burning coals” on someone’s head and it has led to their repentance? Or vice versa? Has someone done that for you and are you willing to share?
3. Where do you need to repent for repaying evil with evil instead of love, grace, forgiveness, mercy, and just plain good?