Burning Coals

An act of kindness can lead someone to Christ.

“if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Romans 12:20

A few years ago, my family and I had a nice dinner at a restaurant in downtown Chicago.

We actually eat at this restaurant each year about this time of year. We have been spending a day or two downtown each Advent/Christmas season since 1996 – the year our first son was born.

On this particular occasion our son, Mark, had more food than he could finish. He had the extra food wrapped up to carry home.

We left the restaurant and started walking back to the hotel. As we crossed a street I happened to turn around and, looking back, I noticed that Mark wasn’t with us. I stopped and looked further back and saw him on the opposite street corning.

He was opening his bag with the take-home container from the restaurant. I saw him then hand it to someone who was sitting on the sidewalk. Mark was giving his take-home meal to one of the many homeless who live on the streets of Chicago.

My heart swelled with love and, yes, a little pride, as I witnessed Mark carry out one of the admonitions of Christ to “feed the hungry.”

This is the story that came to mind when I read the text for today’s devotion about feeding a hungry enemy.

I don’t mean to say that the homeless are our enemy. They are not.

But Christ tells us to feed “the hungry” and doesn’t specify who the hungry are.

St. Paul points out clearly that Jesus meant all the hungry, even those who we would count as our enemies!

But then St. Paul writes something curious.

For by so doing you will help burning coals on his head.

For a long time I felt this was the first century equivalent of “kill them with kindness.” I thought this was God’s way of saying that in being kind to our enemies we were exacting a kind of revenge on them, making them feel bad for being our enemy.

I’ve since come to realize that this is not quite what this means. And this is an important thing to remember especially at this time of year.

St. Paul is actually quoting Proverbs 25:21-22. This proverb is, by St. Paul’s day, over 900 years old. And here’s what I think it really means.

“These coals are not God’s wrath or the Christian’s vengeance. Some think of the shame produced in the enemy; better is the pain of contrition of the enemy’s past meanness. It is worse to have coals on the head than to tread on them with the feet. One would knock them off the head at once; this pictures how the enemy would change forthwith so as not to have benefits act like live coals on his head but act as an honor and as a crown from a friend” (R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of Romans, Augsburg Publishing House, ©1961, p 781).

Our acts of kindness, like everything else we do as sent-by-Christ Christians, will be used by the Holy Spirit to lead others to repentance and to Christ!

That could have been the result of my son Mark’s act of kindness. That could be the result of anything we do as we prepare and anticipate our Christmas celebration this year.

It is my prayer that this is exactly what will happen!


Heavenly Father, I pray that I will be able to do what Christ and St. Paul admonish all Christians to do – help others, even our enemies. I also pray that when I do this, the Holy Spirit will lead them to repentance and faith in your Son, Jesus Christ. In his name I pray. Amen.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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