“On the contrary, ‘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). This is one of the most unusual verses in the New Testament. What does Paul mean when he talks about heaping hot coals on your enemy’s head? First of all, you need to know that Paul is quoting from the Book of Proverbs. This verse in Romans 12 comes from Proverbs 25:21-22. It has three parts: There is the command, the result, and the reward.
The command is, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food. If he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” Needless to say, this flies in the face of common sense. You shoot enemies, you don’t feed them. After all, if you start feeding your enemies, they will just get stronger and stronger and then they will attack you. As a matter of fact, that’s true. They might do that. But it doesn’t matter. You are to feed them anyway. That is to say, You are to act contrary to your natural tendencies when your enemies are involved.
By the way, it might help to define who the “enemy” is in this verse. The “enemy” is almost always a friend, a colleague or a family member who has hurt me in some way. My enemy by definition will usually be someone close to me. I don’t have any enemies in Iran because I don’t know anybody over there. But it’s not hard to have enemies in Oak Park because I know lots of people here. Let me give you this definition: An enemy is any person God uses to reveal my weaknesses. An enemy is like a chisel God uses to chip away at the rough spots in my life. That’s why if you are married, your husband or your wife will be your enemy some of the time. No one knows your weaknesses like your spouse. They know hidden blemishes, secret sins, bad habits, that the rest of the world never sees. But they know it because they live with you every day.
Can a husband be your enemy? Yes, and you can still love him even when you can’t stand him. Can a wife be your enemy? Yes, because she constantly, often accidentally, exposes your weaknesses. She sees the real you that the rest of us never see. You may put on a front at church, but your wife knows the real story. Yes, your wife can be your enemy. If she loves you, she’ll have to be your enemy from time to time. Otherwise, how are you ever going to get better? That’s why you have to feed your enemy. You can’t let your wife or your husband starve to death. That’s why you have to give your boss or your teacher or that obnoxious person in the next office something to drink. These are people who are close to you, and because they are close to you, God is using them to expose the weak areas of your life.
(On July 1, Harvest House released my newest book, The Healing Power of Forgiveness.)
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