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Heaping burning coals on your enemies


Ernest Onuoha

Ernest Onuoha

“Therefore, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head,” (Rom. 12:20)

This Bible phrase “…for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head,” is it to be taken literarily? What does it mean ordinarily speaking? According to Kenneth, Samuel Wuest (1893-1962) a great New Testament scholar wrote thus: “in Bible times, an oriental needed to keep his hearth fire going all the time in order to insure fire for cooking and warmth. It went out; he had to go to a neighbour for some live coals of fire. These he would carry on his head in a container, oriental fashion, back to his home. The person who would give him some live coals would be meeting his desperate need and showing him an outstanding kindness. If he would heap the container with coals, the man would be sure of getting some home still burning. The one injured would be returning kindness for injuring”. No matter how you look at it, in this context it is the enemy that gains.

It is important we note in the Old Testament, among others, that reference was made to fire and coals. “So I said:” woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said:”Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away and your sin purged”, (Isaiah 6:5-7), while Malachi 3:2b described the coming of the Lord as (for He is like a refiner’s fire And like launderers’ soap). Therefore, Paul quoting Romans 12:20, reechoing Prov. 25:22 shows the intensity with which we are to attend to one’s enemies. It does not suggest that we should heap coals of fires on their heads. Therefore, something is expected of the Christian to the one who hates him/her.

However, the Bible teaching is “if your enemy is hungry, give him food”, and “if he is thirsty, give him drink”. This is a great weapon of destruction to a supposed enemy, using good to overcome evil. When we show our enemies kindness and love, we are by these acts heaping burning coals on their heads. We are covering them with shame and that should be the attitude of the child of God to his/her enemies. Notice, it was said of Abraham Lincoln, when he was asked, why he did not seek to destroy his enemies, but showed them leniency instead. He said, “Do I not destroy my enemies but I make them friends”?

This world cannot progress on the altar of hate. As it is, the Nigerian society is already polarised along the lines of religion, ethnicity and language. People now think in terms of where they come from, religion or tongue. But should it be so? Time has come for people to unite and find practicable ways to assist one another, particularly at these trying times. Jesus’ teaching is still relevant here to us: “Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back”, (Luke 6:30).

We feel ashamed sometimes, when we see some persons who claim to be children of God keeping diaries of wrong done to them. Such ancient grudges would always be looking for a way to manifest, if care is not taken. To the effect that when we see our supposed enemies undergoing some challenges or trials, we feel, it is good for them to go through such. St. Paul will remind us thus: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new”, (2 Cor. 5:17). The newness of life required of the Christian will enable him/her to appreciate the fact that it is always good to overcome hatred with love.

Certainly, the world would be a better place, if Christians practise what they teach or believe in. But when they allow the flesh to overcome the Spirit then, where lies the difference between them and the world? Jesus noted: “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what rewards have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore, you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect”, (Matt. 5:45-48).

Therefore, enemy and antagonist may be overcome not by your words, but by your good deeds. They may be transformed by a renewal of their mind; they may be changed from darkness to light, as we evangelise silently by action not words. Remember, what the scripture says to us: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

Ven. Ernest OnuohaRector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.

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