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Heaping Burning Coals

Romans 12:19-20

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Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head.

Romans 12:19-20 NET

Romans 12:9-21 is a short guide to Christian ethics. This passage contains a series of short directives for living as a child of God. These include life within the body as well as relationships with people outside the body, especially with those who are causing you grief in some form.

One of these directives deals with our response to those who insult or hurt us somehow. How should you respond to that person? Our natural reaction is to want to get back at them if we can–an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

Responding to an Enemy

But as a Christian, my response should be very different. I am to leave vengeance in God’s hands, allowing him to settle accounts for me. That would be easy to do if we could see God take immediate action against them. Most of us would probably enjoy seeing God thump them on the head when they hurt us.

But Paul takes this a step further. Rather than sit back and wait for God to punish them for hurting me, I am to take positive action toward them. If he is hungry, I should feed him. If thirsty, give her a drink. And I should meet any other need they might have if I can. While Paul does not explicitly say so here, we should give to them with a loving attitude rather than grudgingly.

But Why?

Why should I do that? Because by doing so, you are heaping burning coals on their head. It is uncertain just what was meant by this expression. It could be that the burning coals represent shame–that as you lovingly respond to their hurt, they will be ashamed of their behavior and repent. Alternatively, it could be that the burning coals represent God’s punishment. Their punishment is greater if you respond to them in love and they continue to hurt you.

But whatever the burning coals represent, my response is summarized in the following verse. Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21). Defeat your enemies, not by taking vengeance, but by showing love. That is not the way of this world. But it is the way of God’s kingdom.

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Ed Jarrett

Just an old clay jar that God continues to see fit to use in his kingdom's work. I am retired, married with 2 children, and 4 grandchildren. I have followed Jesus for many years. And I love to share what He has given me from His word.

A Note to Readers

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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