Many of you know that my New Jersey friend Frank and I are reading through God’s Word together (described here). We’re now in the book of Romans and have been reading chapter 12 during the last while.I count 24 injunctions or commands or imperatives for the believer here in Romans 12. I’m aware that the expression “critical imperative” is redundant, but I think it’s useful for what we see here in this great chapter.
We’ve seen that the believer is to offer his body as a living sacrifice, not to conform to the pattern of this world, to be transformed by the renewing of his mind, to think of himself with sober judgment, to use his gifts to build up the body of Christ, to hate as God hates, to be devoted to the body in love, to honor one another beyond yourselves, to keep one’s spiritual fervor, to be joyful in hope, to be patient in affliction, to be faithful in prayer, to share with the Lord’s people who are in need, to practice hospitality, to bless those who persecute them, to use our emotions for the Lord and for each other, to live in harmony with one another, to reach out to others regardless of their status, to not repay evil with evil, to do right before everyone, to live at peace with everyone when possible, and not to take revenge but leave room for God’s wrath!
Let’s continue our multipart study by looking at verse 20.
The twenty-third critical imperative is straightforward —
23. Believers are TO CARE FOR THE NEEDS OF THEIR ENEMIES! (v. 20)
“Am I a soldier of the cross?”, we used to sing in Sunday School when I was young and the last of the dinosaurs were becoming extinct. Soldiers have enemies. The fact that I can’t name one single enemy is disturbing to me.
Why? Because the gospel of Christ divides people into those who believe it and those who oppose it. And if I’m doing a good job of sharing and living the gospel before others, I should probably be making some enemies along the way.
But let’s assume I’ve got an enemy or two. How should I treat that person? Enemies should be executed — or at least imprisoned, right?
In his book of poetry entitled You! Jonah! Thomas Carlisle records Jonah saying, “I hate God’s enemies with a perfect hatred! Why can’t God do as much?” But today’s critical imperative tells us that we should feed our hungry enemies and give them something to drink when they are thirsty! What?
Ah. Here’s the conclusion: “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Great! That’s exactly what I want to do! But have I understood that verse correctly?
The description of “heaping burning coals” is a reference to Proverbs 25:21–22.
21If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
22For you will heap burning coals on his head,
And the LORD will reward you.
[The following is from several commentators. Please forgive the long sentences.] “In Egypt, there had been a custom to carry a pan of burning coals on one’s head as a sign of repentance. Kindness and forgiveness to those who abuse us, ideally, will make them ashamed of themselves, and hopefully bring them to repent. The strongest, most powerful response to persecution and hatred is to love your enemies. Not to do him hurt, not to aggravate his condemnation, as if this would be a means of bringing down the wrath of God the more fiercely on him, which is a sense given by some; as if this would be an inducement to the saints to do such acts of kindness; which is just the reverse of the spirit and temper of mind the apostle is here cultivating; but rather the sense is, that by so doing, his conscience would be stung with a sense of former injuries done to his benefactor, and he be filled with shame on account of them, and be brought to repentance for them, and to love the person he before hated, and be careful of doing him any wrong for the future; all which may be considered as a prevailing motive to God’s people to act the generous part they are here moved to.”
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.
We need desperately to shun the example of Jonah and love our enemies as the Lord Jesus taught us. Carlisle caught Jonah’s sentiment exactly when he wrote:
And Jonah stalked
to his shaded seat
and waited for God
to come around
to his way of thinking.
And God is still waiting for a host of Jonahs
in their comfortable houses
to come around
to His way of loving.
Today’s Challenge: Got any enemies? You might be surprised. Look for an opportunity to show kindness to him or her so that they will repent and come to the Lord!
Our latest book, Unlike Jesus: Let’s Stop Unfriending the World is a call to becoming a friend of sinners like the Lord Jesus was! You can order this through Amazon or directly from me (send $10 [which includes shipping] to my address).
Dr. Larry Dixon
117 Norse Way
Columbia, SC 29229 Cell: 803-201-9745