Proverbs 25:21-22 (NLT)
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; If he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.
I love this proverb! Don’t you? I mean…there are plenty of people that I would love to see walking (or running) around with a pile of burning coal on their heads! Serves them right! After all, those people are nasty, condescending, arrogant jerks who could use a big dose of their own medicine. So, bring on the food and drinks and burn, baby, burn!
My flesh would love it if this were an accurate understanding of today’s passage…but it isn’t. We serve a God of reconciliation and more often than not, He wants that to be a central theme in our lives. When we sin, we confess and repent and our relationship to God is reconciled. When we sin against others, we have to own it (confess) and then seek reconciliation and forgiveness from the other person. But when others sin against us…the road to reconciliation seems to be much harder to travel.
Paul quotes Proverbs 25:21-22 in the 12thchapter of the Book of Romans…a chapter devoted to how a Christian ought to live. More specifically, beginning in verse 9, Paul teaches us what love looks like in relational response to the Body of Christ…but also, in response to those who treat us poorly:
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry…’” Romans 12:17-20
You kind and generous response to a hateful person is meant to stir that person’s conscience back to life. The “coals” your generous reaction places on their head is the burning yet restorative shame that we all hope would lead them to repentance and then reconciliation – with us, but even more so, with their Creator. Remember: You are an agent of reconciliation…not a deliverer of wrath.