Romans 12:20


131124_at_the_airportSunday, 24 November 2013

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
Romans 12:20

Paul begins this verse with “therefore” which is translated from the word alla – “on the contrary.” He has been speaking of not repaying evil with evil and not taking vengeance on others. Instead of such actions, he says that, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink.” This is almost a direct quote from Proverbs 25:21. Proverbs is one of the five “wisdom” books in the Old Testament and is one which peers deep into the state of humanity and then pulls out general applications which can (and should be) used regularly. Many of Jesus’ sayings bear directly on the wisdom found there. In intent, His statement in Matthew 5:43-45 follows the same line of thinking now presented by Paul in this chapter of Romans –

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

What Paul has written here in verse 20, is an obvious, clear, and direct statement. It has been the customary practice of many soldiers throughout wars of the past. When the battle is engaged, you fight without holding back, but when the enemy surrenders, you patch up their wounds, give them food, and treat them decently.

This type of truly noble behavior has the positive effect of helping to bring nations together after wars end. The nations which fail to do this continue to have long-standing animosities even generations later, but those who practice this attitude can resolve their conflicts and put the past behind them very quickly. This same attitude is asked of believers as well.

By acting in this manner, we are told that “in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Coals of fire are extremely hot and very targeted in where their heat is directed. Unlike an open flame which is all-consuming, a coal will burn what it touches directly. When coals are heaped on something, that thing will be consumed by the heat, but the surrounding area will remain unaffected. A coal, for example, is an extremely effective means of torture.

The idea here isn’t that of actual torture, but that the same intended effect will result. Just as heaping coals on someone’s head is intended to obtain a complete change in the person, the kindness expected of the believer towards their enemy will achieve the same. The very notion of kindness to one’s bitter enemy is so contrary to what they would expect, that when it is received, their complete change in attitude is almost certain.

Life application: As difficult as it is to bless one’s foes, lovingly care for one’s enemies, and willfully withhold the returning of evil for evil, it is what we are called to do. In the end, by taking this course the change in the one who we direct these favors to will hopefully result in their conversion. Such a change has eternal value, so let us pursue these difficult avenues zealously.

Lord God, I suppose that feeding my enemy, turning the other cheek, and blessing those who curse me is about as difficult to do as anything You ask of me. But You have asked me to pursue these avenues of peace and reconciliation. As You are Lord, I will do my best to comply. Forgive me when I fail and strengthen me in my resolve to meet Your expectations. Amen.

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