“COALS OF FIRE” passage is well known as a crux interpretum. It is a very difficult passage to interpret and understand:“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “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.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”Romans 12:17-21 NKJV
The apostle Paul writing to the Roman church is giving them wise counsel, reiterating our Lord’s Words to these saints. In no way is Paul telling them to destroy their enemy by “heaping coals” on his head. You can just look at Paul’s life and see this is not true. So what does this mean? Good thing you asked. I’ve been studying this out. This is not an act of vengeance, nor is it meant to cause physical pain, but rather a searing of the heart.
In ancient Egypt, this was a custom of penitence. If a man was sorrowful for his actions, he would walk around with a pan of coals as an outward sign of his repentance. This custom is very closely related to Israel’s custom of sack cloth and ashes. When we show kindness to someone who is cruel to us, it is meant to produce in them shame for their cruel actions that leads to repentance.
God is always more concerned with sin and bringing about repentance than we are. It’s God’s will that all repent and turn to Christ for salvation. There are some other definitions of heaping coals I stumbled upon, but in the context of other Scriptures; this one makes the most sense.
Coals in Scripture have to do with the cleansing of sin. The priest had to put burning coals on the altar to make atonement, ““And Aaron shall bring the bull of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house, and shall kill the bull as the sin offering which is for himself. Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil. And he shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the Testimony, lest he die.”Leviticus 16:11-13 NKJV
Isaiah had unclean lips that needed to be atoned for,“So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.”” Isaiah 6:5-7 NKJV
When you “heap coals” by doing good to someone who has done evil to you- it’s purpose is to cause them to see their need to atone for their actions. The hope is that they would examine their evil actions in the face of your kindness. The world’s way is to repay evil for evil. But that’s not God’s way. I always say, “kill them with kindness”. If someone has hurt me, I will go buy them a gift. It’s the best way for me to turn my heart around, not get bitter and reveal to them that I serve a God who cares for even the most hateful person. God taught me this years ago. We had a nasty neighbor that just did not like our family, no matter how hard we tried to be kind to her. She went out of her way to do mean things.
One day, I was getting food at Costco and I saw this beautiful jacket. At this season of our life, we had very little money; I had only a few garments that were old. Money was for food and bills. Someone had given me a blessing and I bought this jacket. I brought it home and was so excited. It had a fur collar! I had never owned a piece of clothing so beautiful. As I put it on to admire it, I heard the voice of the Lord say, “Give it to your neighbor”. Ugh. I didn’t want to, but God was teaching me a lesson of heaping coals. I wrapped it and gave it to her. She was nice to us the rest of the time we lived in those apartments. I tried to share the gospel with her, but she rejected it. Yet, a seed was planted.
Does this always turn someone’s heart? No. But hopefully it turns your heart from bitterness to kindness. You cannot allow another’s actions to defile you. Keep your heart clean and pure before God. If you show them the evil they showed you, what good is it? Does it make you feel better? Maybe for a season, but if you’re born again of the Holy Spirit, you will feel the pain of disappointment from the Lord. You are not supposed to take matters in your own hands. That’s not your job. It’s not your job to cast the final judgment. Vengeance belongs to the Lord.
Don’t worry about them “getting theirs”. Where’s YOUR heart in the matter? If you don’t want to see them repent, then why? What’s in you that you want anyone to be eternally separated from the Lord? Why is your heart bitter? Now you are in sin. You better repent and turn things around quickly. Don’t allow your pain to rule and lead you. Be led by the Spirit and you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh. *Caveat for the “just love” crowd: This has nothing to do with speaking truth. Truth and love are inseparable. You cannot love your enemy without speaking truth and you cannot speak the truth if you don’t love your enemy. #runyourrace
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