Romans 12:19-21 - Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written "Vengeance is mine, I will repay" says the Lord “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
When I first encountered those verses, I thought - YES! If I don't take revenge on those who wrong me, then God will get them! He will make them so miserable! I am in! I will feed them and give them drink and then God will get them - hot dog!
Does that sound like GOD????
The part about not taking revenge is right. And the part about God taking care of punishing those who ultimately deserve it is on point.
The part that misses the mark would be my motivation.
God wants every person to come to a knowledge of the Truth about Him. He desires that none should perish in unbelief.
And He can use our choice of grace to bless our enemy to do so.
Let me explain...
This New Testament passage is quoting from Proverbs 25, verses 21,22 - If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head,And the Lord will reward you.
So let's delve a bit into the culture of the time to see what Scripture is conveying to us here...
Fire was the source of cooking, lighting and heating. Primarily fires sustained by coal. Burning coals. One tried to keep the home fire burning and not let it go out. But, sometimes it just did. And then you were left without means to eat, see, or stay warm. In those situations, you would trek on down to your neighbor's hut and ask to borrow some coals. A good neighbor would always oblige ( even if it was only because he knew he might be in the same spot next week and need to borrow some firepower from you!)
But how to transport these burning coals back to your place? Couldn't exactly carry them in your hands or place them in a fabric sack. So what these people did was to go to their neighbor's house with a pan, probably one with a thick bottom of insulation! The neighbor would place some of his own burning coals in the pan and you would tote it back to your place on your head. Just like the pictures we see today of people in other cultures carrying large vats of water on their head.
The fire-deficit one would then have coals from his neighbor to stoke his own fire back to life. His family would be provided for, protected. Because of the blessing of the neighbor.
When one lacked the fire needed to sustain life, the blessing of his neighbor supplied it.
Do you see the point of the passage now? What God wants to convey to our hurting heart?
That "enemy" who wounded us lacks the fire he/she needs for life. That is the reason they are causing pain to others - their own deficit. And what God wants us to do is to bless them...to provide burning coals from our own fire so that theirs can be re-lit. Or perhaps even lit for the first time ever. So that they will have the fire they need for LIFE. To see, to be nourished, to LIVE.
That packs a powerful punch.
The last line of this message isn't quoted in the Romans passage. But it sure is beneficial.
When we choose the path of grace and bless our enemy instead of harming him, what does God do? FOR US?
AND THE LORD WILL REWARD YOU.
That packs a powerful punch.
One last thought - that word in Proverbs that we translate "reward"? Well, it's powerful indeed. It is a Hebrew word "shalam". And it means "to be whole, sound, safe, uninjured, peaceful, to make a friend."
That's an awful lot of reward for doing the right thing.
God's economy. Wow.