WALKING IN LOVE
‘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’.
We have been studying about walking in love with our brethren. We saw that because of sin in this world, we are not always able to live harmoniously with people around us. But a follower of Jesus can have a Spirit-filled response when facing hurts and pains inflicted by others.
Accordingly, last week, we saw that we mustn’t avenge ourselves. Instead we need to let the perfect and just God deal with our tormentor. Today, we are going to go one step further and see what else we must do while facing such situations.
HELP YOUR ENEMY
Paul says in the above passage that we must go all out to help our enemy. He uses the analogy of feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty to explain that we must intentionally and proactively help our enemies in every way possible.
Now, this is not a new teaching. It is interesting to note that the Bible has always emphasized on this kind of a response. Proverbs 25:21-22 says, ‘If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. For so you will heap coals of fire on his head and the Lord will reward you’.
Does it surprise us that Paul is teaching an Old Testament truth to a New Testament church? Well, it shouldn’t; because the Old Testament and the New Testament are both equally relevant to us children of God. They are both the inspired Word of God for us. Even Jesus referred to the Old Testament when He taught on earth. Remember that time when someone asked Him if it was okay to divorce their wives? Jesus immediately quoted Genesis 1:27 and said that God had created man and woman and then went on to explain that in marriage the couple becomes one flesh.
So we see the significance and relevance of God’s Word from the Old Testament even to a New Testament situation.
Now, let’s return to the truth being discussed about helping our enemy. The Bible says that when we help our enemy we will heap coals of fire on their heads. Doesn’t that sound strange?
Let us unpack the statement.
COALS OF FIRE ON THE ENEMY’S HEAD
Many people misunderstand this verse and assume that if we help our enemy, say by feeding him when he is hungry or giving him water when he is thirsty, God’s punishment for him will be tremendous. Some even think that if we refrain from avenging ourselves and let God do it for us, then God’s wrath will pour out on our enemies like fire. Even the disciples of Jesus indicated such an attitude at one time. They were traveling through Samaria one day and tried to find a room to stay for the night. But due to the bitter enmity between Jews and Samaritans, they were turned away at every inn. Indignant, the disciples asked Jesus to call down fire from heaven and destroy the Samaritans so that they would see Jesus’ power! But Jesus rebuked them for such a spiteful attitude. That’s not how God wants to respond.
So what exactly then does ‘coals of fire on our enemy’s head’ mean?
We must understand that it is a metaphorical usage. It is referring to the pain, anguish and discomfort caused to the enemy – not a physical pain but the pain of shame and remorse. So instead of retaliating, when we treat our enemy well with kindness he will be struck by our response. His eyes will be opened and he will be ashamed of the way he harmed us. He will feel so terrible that it will feel like coals of fire on his head! This shame will lead to repentance. Repentance is the end-result of our kindness.
PHYSICAL PAIN v/s MENTAL PAIN
Now some of us may think that the mental and emotional pain is not sufficient for the amount of harm that our enemy has inflicted on us. But the truth is that the physical pain that we could cause him is trivial as compared to the deep remorse and regret that he will experience when his eyes are opened by our godly response. As a Christian, our desire must not be for his destruction but for his genuine repentance and transformation.
Let me quickly add something else here. Yes, there will definitely be people who might not have a heart transformation despite our godly responses. Many of them might have hardened and proud hearts. Their wickedness might be so deep that not an ounce of regret or repentance will penetrate their hearts. But we need not lose heart or stop obeying God in the way we respond. Such people are answerable to God, the perfect Judge. We need to only continue to treat them well and with kindness trusting God to bring them to a point of brokenness one day.
THE TWO SAULS
Now, let us look at two people from the Bible in this regard.
- SAUL OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
Last week, we studied about Saul (who became Paul) who was a persecutor of the church. The Bible says that he was so bent on defending the Jewish faith that he even consented to the stoning of Stephen who was a Christian. But Stephen’s response of forgiving his enemies while being killed might have made an impact on Saul. In all likelihood, it contributed to his decision to follow Jesus later on. Once he was saved, there was no stopping him. He preached the Gospel powerfully across the world. God used him to write almost half of the New Testament. What a tremendous transformation!
- SAUL OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
Today, let us look at another Saul from the Bible. He is the first king of Israel.
‘Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel, and went to seek David and his men on the Rocks of the Wild Goats. So he came to the sheepfolds by the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to attend to his needs. (David and his men were staying in the recesses of the cave.) Then the men of David said to him, “This is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.’” And David arose and secretly cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. Now it happened afterward that David’s heart troubled him because he had cut Saul’s robe. And he said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord.”So David restrained his servants with these words, and did not allow them to rise against Saul. And Saul got up from the cave and went on his way.
David also arose afterward, went out of the cave, and called out to Saul, saying, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed down. And David said to Saul: “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Indeed David seeks your harm’? Look, this day your eyes have seen that the Lord delivered you today into my hand in the cave, and someone urged me to kill you. But my eye spared you, and I said, ‘I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed.’ Moreover, my father, see! Yes, see the corner of your robe in my hand! For in that I cut off the corner of your robe, and did not kill you, know and see that there is neither evil nor rebellion in my hand, and I have not sinned against you. Yet you hunt my life to take it. Let the Lord judge between you and me, and let the Lord avenge me on you. But my hand shall not be against you. As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Wickedness proceeds from the wicked.’ But my hand shall not be against you. After whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom do you pursue? A dead dog? A flea? Therefore let the Lord be judge, and judge between you and me, and see and plead my case, and deliver me out of your hand.”
So it was, when David had finished speaking these words to Saul, that Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. Then he said to David: “You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with evil. And you have shown this day how you have dealt well with me; for when the Lord delivered me into your hand, you did not kill me. For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him get away safely? Therefore may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day.
1 Samuel 24:2-19
David was not a common criminal. He was a national hero who killed Goliath and saved Israel from shame. All of Israel loved him! But King Saul grew envious of David’s popularity and decided to kill him. So during one of those hunts for David, Saul went into a cave in the wilderness to relieve himself. Interestingly enough, that was the same place that David and his men were hiding in. Even though he was urged by his men to kill the defenseless Saul, David refused. Instead he stealthily cut a small piece of Saul’s robe. When Saul left the cave, David went after him and called out. He bowed before the king and asked him why he was seeking to kill him. He said that even though he’d had a chance, he hadn’t killed him and he promised that he wouldn’t ever lift his hand against God’s anointed king. Do you see David living out God’s Word? Instead of avenging himself, he refrained from harming his enemy. Instead he showed him mercy and spared his life. Then he even shows Saul respect by bowing down before him and addressing him as ‘Father’. This incident opened Saul’s eyes. David’s godly response caused Saul to repent and weep in anguish. He acknowledged that he had done wrong and regretted his actions! This is what pouring coals on our enemy’s head looks like, where it causes such emotional and mental pain that leads to their repentance.
OVERCOMING EVIL WITH EVIL
Finally, let’s look at what Paul means when he says that we mustn’t overcome evil with evil but must do it with good. What does that mean? We must understand that the evil that Paul is referring to here is not the outward acts of damage and hurt that our enemy causes us. He is referring to the evil behind the person doing evil to us. The underlying evil is the devil and his slimy schemes. So the jealousy andhurt that someone throws at us is irrelevant compared to the devil lurking behind. The devil wants to destroy our peace and fill our hearts with bitterness, rage and anger.He will prompt us to plot and scheme against our enemies. So when we respond as the devil wants us to, we are overcome by evil and our relationship with God gets affected. It is this devil and his tricks that we need to look out for. In fact we don’t have to worry about the person whom the devil makes a puppet out of. God is on our side and He will not allow anyone to touch or damage us.
OVERCOMING EVIL WITH GOOD
So how do we respond differently and overcome evil with good?
- OVERCOMING THE EVIL IN US
When we treat our enemy well and with kindness, we are overcoming the unregenerate human nature filled with evil that is in us. Even though we are born again believers, the human nature in us is waiting to lift its head and operate in us. We might have felt that when we struggled with the yearning to lash out at somebody in an ungodly way even though we are believers. But we need to put it down.
For example – David who was able to respond with mercy to Saul faltered when it came to Bathsheba. He slept with her and even had her husband killed! So when Prophet Nathan confronted him, his eyes were opened and he prayed in Psalm 51 asking God to create in him a clean heart. He said, ‘Remove not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your Salvation, and renew a right spirit within me’. He realized that sin has been part of him from his conception and that he had allowed it to rule him. So when we decide not to let this evil have its way and instead decide to respond differently, we are overcoming the evil in us with good.
- OVERCOMING THE EVIL IN THE ENEMY
When we treat our enemy well and with kindness we are overcoming the evil that is in him. Normally he would be so blinded by the evil in him. But when we respond in a godly manner, his eyes will be opened and he will feel shame, regret and anguish. That could be instrumental in his repentance.
- OVERCOMING THE EVIL IN THE WORLD
When we treat our enemy well, we are also overcoming the evil that is in the world. The world expects us to respond in a particular manner. But when we decide not to retaliate but instead to respond in a godly manner, we are able to overcome the evil that is rampant in the world.
Lastly, Proverbs 16:32 says,‘He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city’. We might be a great worldly hero but if we are unable to control our spirit and passion then we are not winners. Similarly, we also must be able to control our evil and wicked spirit with God’s help. Let us not be like David who won against Goliath but lost to lust over Bathsheba. Instead of letting the devil have a field day, let us take control of our issues, our weaknesses and our passions. Then we can walk in brotherly love and live successfully for God in this world.