Many Bible commentators think that Paul was referring to an Egyptian custom in which a person would actually put burning coals on his head a sign of repentance for his sin. If that is the case, then Paul is suggesting that we can win our enemies to our side by deeds of love and kindness. "The coals of fire this may heap on him are intended to heal, not to hurt, to win, not to alienate, in fact, to shame him into repentance" (John Stott). You’ve heard of "killing 'em with kindness." That's what Paul is talking about here. Through deeds of love shown to those who have hurt us deeply, we may actually change their hearts. In that case, our enemy has now become our friend. Someone has said that the best way to get rid of an enemy is to turn him into a friend. The Apostle Paul would certainly agree.
What would qualify as "hot coals?" A kind word, a phone call, a brief note, a flower, a meal, a small gift, a letter of recommendation, running an errand, offering a ride, helping them complete a project, rewriting their report, stepping in to save a project that was failing, putting in a good word with their superiors, helping them clean the classroom, going bowling with them. The list is endless, because "hot coals" refers to any act of kindness you do for an enemy. Your only limit is your creativity.
Then there is the reward: "And the Lord will reward you." That’s in the Proverbs passage, not in Romans. But the principle is true nonetheless. God will be no man's debtor. God rewards those who show kindness to their enemies. How will he do it? It's hard to say. One obvious answer might be to cause your "hot coals" to turn your enemy into a friend. Or he might promote you or pour out new blessings or grant you answers to your prayers or new spiritual growth.
(On July 1, Harvest House released my newest book, The Healing Power of Forgiveness.)
To sign up for Pastor Ray's free weekly sermon email list, click here. You can find his daily weblog, online sermons, travel schedule, and other resources at www.keepbelieving.com. You can write Pastor Ray at [email protected].