Q: I don’t understand Romans 12:20 and Proverbs 25:22

A: Thanks for a great question!

 “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
(Romans 12:20 and Proverbs 25:21-22)

This proverb (and its quote by the Apostle Paul) is a reminder to us of Jesus’ command to Love our ENEMY as well as our neighbor.  (Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”). But the wording is weird – how is heaping burning coals like loving our neighbor?

Solomon (writer of Proverbs) and Paul are really addressing our human desire to return evil for evil – that is to hate someone who hates you and hurt someone who hurts you.  When someone hurts us we naturally want to hurt them back.  We would love to see a heap of burning coals on their head!  But the loving and Christian thing to do is to not act on those impulses, but rather, heed the Lord’s command to love them in return for their sinful actions.  But, because evil disdains good, your enemy will resent even your kind behavior to them!  They are so opposed to you that even something that is done in kindness will infuriate them.  This, of course, is their response and nothing you can control.  But the end result is good – you’ve acted in an upright manner and your enemy’s anger is diffused.  How can they respond to your kindness?  They will be frustrated because they wanted to fight more.  They wanted to pull you into a battle with them and pull you down to their level.  You, however, will have taken the ‘high road.’  Your good behavior will be “above reproach.”  No one will be able to say ill of you and your enemy will have no more fuel for his fire.  The anger will be diffused, your enemy will leave you alone and the Lord will be glorified!  Kindness is the best tool to stop your enemy in his tracks – better than trying to fight him with angry words and actions – OR burning coals 🙂 .