Useful Bible Studies > Romans Commentary > chapter 12

Like burning coals on your enemy's head

Romans 12:20

To Ďheap burning coals on someoneís headí is a strange word-picture; not all Bible teachers agree about the meaning.

As we read the Bible, we should not depend on guesses. Instead, we should study carefully for accurate information, and we should pray for God to guide us. However, on this particular occasion, a guess about the origin of the phrase may help us to explain its likely meaning

If we are embarrassed (deeply ashamed) about something, our face becomes red and hot. In fact, our face feels as if it is burning; and we can do nothing to stop it. It is as if someone is heaping hot coals on our head.

A personís enemy expects that person to hate him. Such a reaction seems to prove all the bad things that the enemy has spoken against that person.

However, Christ told Christians to love their enemies (Matthew 5:44). Paulís words, from Proverbs 25:21-22, give a practical example of how they can do that. God is good even to evil people (Matthew 5:45), and Christians can behave in the same way. If an enemy needs help, then they can give him that help.

For the enemy, that is a much more difficult reaction to deal with. Nobody expects a person whom he hates to care about him. So it is not surprising if the enemy feels a deep sense of shame in that situation. That shame only becomes worse as the Christian continues his kind and generous acts. To the enemy, it feels like a burning fire: he is ashamed of his cruelty, his bad words, his evil actions.

The purpose of all this is not to make the enemy uncomfortable. Rather, the Christian hopes that his enemy will turn from his evil behaviour. God does not want even evil people to suffer the punishment that is due to them. He wants them to turn to him, so that he can forgive them (Ezekiel 18:21-23).

Next part: Do what is good to defeat the power of evil (Romans 12:21)


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© 2022, Keith Simons.