Have you ever had an enemy that you wish you could get rid of? Go ahead, admit it. We've all known people who we wish that we didn't come in contact with so often. Romans 12:20 tells us how to get rid of that enemy. It says:"Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink:
This quote from Proverbs 25:22 by Paul, has puzzled commentators through the ages. Great men of God have held different interpretations of this passage. What does it mean?
The basic interpretations are as follows:
1. Divine Judgement Interpretation: This view, which was held by the Early Church Father, Chrysostom, is that Paul suggests we do good to an enemy so that his final punishment will be more severe. This interpretation does not fall in line with Paul’s general tone in the context. Paul is commanding us to overcome evil, by changing our enemies to friends. We are to "...overcome evil with good." Romans 12:21.
2. Need Meeting Interpretation: This view, expounded by Kenneth Wuest in his Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, is based on the idea of placing live coals in a container on a neighbor’s head in answer to his need of fire for cooking and warmth. This practice was common in Bible times in the Middle East. This somewhat fits the context of the passage by staying with the theme of showing kindness to your enemy by meeting his needs. However, when the grammar of the verse is considered, this too becomes an inadequate interpretation. The grammar of the verse points to the actions of feeding and giving to drink as producing the result of "...heaping coals of fire on his head."
3. Burning Shame Interpretation: This view in my opinion has the most merit. It was held by Augustine, Jerome and Luther. Modern exponents of this view are John Stott and John MacArthur, Jr. Stated simply this view states that acts of kindness done to your enemy shame him and bring him to a place of repentance. Denney said, "The meaning of ‘heaping burning coals on his head’ is hardly open to doubt. It must refer to the burning pain of shame and remorse which the man feels whose hostility is repaid by love. This is the only kind of vengeance the Christian is at liberty to contemplate." A.T. Robertson said that the burning coals were a "...metaphor for keen anguish." St. Augustine said, "We should incite those who have hurt us to repentance by doing them good." This view fits the grammar of the verse, as well as corresponding to an ancient Egyptian custom. When a person wanted to demonstrate public contrition, he would carry on his head a pan of burning coals to represent the burning pain of his shame and guilt.
The above interpretation provides a dramatic picture of how God deals with man. "...knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" Romans 2:4. We are commanded to do good to our enemies to produce a state of repentance in them. Martin Luther comments, "God converts those whom He does convert by showing them goodness. It is only in this way that we can convert a person, namely, by showing him kindness and love." It was in this very way that God reacted to Calvary. The cross represents the greatest manifestation of the hatred in the heart of man toward God and at the same time the greatest manifestation of the love in the heart of God toward man. That very spear which pierced the Saviour’s side drew forth the blood that saves. (Phillips, John. Exploring Romans. p. 211). Heb 10:12-13 tells us:
How then should we get rid of our enemies? In the same way that Christ did, by loving them to repentance! May God grant us this Agape (God's kind of love) love for our enemies.
To God Alone Be The Glory,
Steve Weaver, Pastor West Broadway Baptist Church