I once thought putting hot coals on an enemy’s head meant hurting whoever hurt me. Giving tit for tat. Yet I couldn’t reconcile that with Christ’s command to love our enemies. I’d made the common mistake of taking God’s words out of context, which can make them seem to say things that God never intended.
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.Proverbs 25:21-22
Surely you’ve heard of banking a fire to keep the coals hot all night for easier relighting in the morning. Before the invention of matches this was especially important. People even journeyed with hot coals on their heads, well-wrapped to stay warm. It was important to keep that precious fire lit. So heaping hot coals on an enemy’s head was like giving him a special blessing.
Hot coals meant doing your enemy good.
And still today the Lord wants us to bless our enemy with hot coals. Hot coals of kindness! Because any act of kindness, big or small, could actually melt an enemy into kindness. Maybe even win him over by bringing him to repentance, or at least show him what Christ’s love really looks like.
But this goes far beyond mere politeness or toleration. It means really working at loving them and praying for them.
And we often fail at it because we try to forgive and love with no real change of heart.
We try to drum love up or convince ourselves that we are loving. Saying we’ve forgiven and love them, and really trying to. Trying to be commendably dutiful and civil, while all the while anger and bitterness still reign in our hearts.
But loving God’s way is intentional.
God’s love is agape love, which is selfless, sacrificial, and unconditional. Constant and concrete. His love, as demonstrated by the cross, is a volitional act.
Knowing Italian has acutally helped me understand this more. “To bless” in Italian is benedire, which translated literally means to speak well of. When God blesses us he is speaking well of us, or speaking good and well-being over us. Which goes far beyond mere politeness or toleration.
Intentional love means trying to do our enemies good. It means not gloating over their troubles and never trying to get even.
Loving them means giving hot coals of blessing.
- Reaching out to bless them — even treating them like royalty!
- Wishing them God’s best and praying God’s best over them.
In essence, it means concretely loving them the way Christ loved us, even while we were still his enemies!