“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
When someone wrongs me, my first response is to MAKE. THEM. PAY.
I don’t want to get even. I want to get ahead, to the point that they would think twice before messing with me again. I want the word to spread, “Don’t mess with Jon, he’s CRAZY!” Of course, this doesn’t fit nicely into how a minister should behave, so I keep that part of me hidden away. It’ll be our little secret.
But, being a man of the Word, the verse above clearly gives me a pass to go scorched earth on someone if they wrong me, right? Well, not so much. If you leave off the last phrase for a second (for by doing so…) and just read the first part, it’s clear that it’s God’s place alone to hand out judgement and punishment. In fact, we are commanded to love our enemy by helping them in their time of need.
So what gives with the burning coals comment? When in doubt check the context. In Paul’s day, people kept fires going in their homes to warm, give light and cook their meals. A responsible person kept the fire going and had plenty of wood and coal on hand to add to it as needed. It was irresponsible to let the fire go out and shameful to have to go to a neighbor to ask for a piece of lit coal to get theirs going again.
To heap burning coals on someone’s head painted a picture beyond simply meeting a need. It showed generosity and restoration of dignity. And to do this for an enemy would take a type of love that could only be explained through God’s transforming power. This would completely destroy an enemy, by making them a friend.
How wonderful that by turning in the opposite direction of our natural inclination, we can steer an enemy into the hands of a loving God! This is what it looks like to live and love like Jesus.
While using the HEAR method (see below) consider the following questions:
- Have you ever responded to a wrong in the manner that Paul suggests above? If so, what was the outcome?
- Can you name a friend that at one time was an enemy? What’s the story there?
- Who is someone that you can heap coals on this week?
Highlight – what words or phrases jump out at you?
Explain – what does the passage mean?
Apply – how does the passage intersect with your life today?
Respond – how is God leading you to respond?
Jon Price, Associate Pastor