Heaping Burning Coals

During the summer between my junior and senior years, a rumor spread throughout our community that the six-foot-eight center from a neighboring town was going to transfer to Webster City. We had a great basketball team, and all five starters were returning. What our team lacked, was a tall—powerful, player on the inside. Our hopes ran high, but the transfer never occurred. We had a very productive season, however, I occasionally considered how much more productive we could have been if we had acquired this powerful center from the opposing team. His presence on our team would have made us intrinsically stronger, and our opponent significantly weaker.

In the episode of The Office titled “The Sting,” Michael—the Branch Manager at Dunder Mifflin Paper Company—sets up a sting in order to determine the winning tactics of a rival salesman. After the sting is revealed, the salesman attempts to storm out of the office. Before he makes it to the door, Michael convinces him to accept a job at Dunder Mifflin as their traveling salesman. Even though Michael—for all intents and purposes—is a bumbling buffoon, he occasionally surprises you with his keen sense for business. If you can’t beat them, convince them to join you.

Did you know that Satanists pray daily? A friend of mine told me a story once about a man who was praying next to him during a flight. After striking up a conversation, he discovered that the man was a Satanist. The Satan worshiper explained that he was specifically assigned to pray for the moral demise of Christian leaders throughout the world.

It is actually quite fascinating to note the specifics regarding the Satanist’s prayers.

Satanists recognize their enemy—Christ followers—and their prayers converge upon the destruction of that enemy. Satanists pray for the moral collapse of Christian leaders, for the breakdown of Christian ministry, for marriage failure within Christian families, for the rebellion of Christian children, and for conflict and disunity within the Church. One specific prayer the servants of the enemy express, is for Christians to ignore their Christ-commissioned call to share the Gospel…and instead preach a message of peace, liberation, and feel-good/self-help psychology.

The enemy, along with his servants, recognizes the power of the Gospel.

The only offensive weapon in God’s armor is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17b). This offensive weapon, called a gladius, was a double-edged sword. Similarly, the Word of God—the Gospel of Jesus Christ—has two very important functions. The Gospel convicts and converts. The Gospel cuts to the heart of those who hear it. The power of the Gospel convicts us of our sins and converts us to follow Jesus as our Lord and Savior. The Gospel is a powerful offensive weapon against the enemy because it not only removes a valuable soldier from the enemy’s lines, but it also adds a powerful soldier to the army of Christ.

Before his conversion, the apostle Paul was one of the greatest enemies of Christianity. Paul was brilliant. Trained by one of the greatest theological minds of the first century, Paul was prepared to do whatever it took—theological persuasion, political rhetoric, religious litigation, and violent hate-crime—to bring down a small band of early Christ-followers. Paul’s conversion provided Christianity with one of its greatest assets. Where Jesus’ death and resurrection was a stab in the heart of the enemy, the Apostle Paul was definitely a critical wound.

The following passage in Romans is interpreted in several, juxtaposing ways:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

—Romans 12:17-21

Paul is quoting Proverbs 25:21-22. Some scholars, such as Origen, Augustine, Jerome, and Chrysostrom interpret this passage as kindness to your enemy reaps a greater punishment from God when he avenges us.

I tend to disagree with these early church fathers. When rendering this passage under such light, one cannot help but ask, “How can you truly be kind to your enemy if in the back of your mind you want to heap burning coals on his or her head?” The desire for vengeance would not contribute to an altruistic heart. William McKane wrote the following, more compelling, commentary on this particular Proverb:

“Kindness shown to an enemy, because it is undeserved, awakens feelings of remorse. When the enemy has steeled himself to meet hate with hate and is impervious to threats of revenge, he is vulnerable to a generosity which overlooks and forgives, and capitulates to kindness. . . The pain of contrition purifies and recreates; it is the birth pangs of a new brotherhood.”

—William McKane, Prophets and Wise Men, p. 592.

I would conclude that the concept of heaping burning coals upon someone’s head correlates with the idea of you contributing to the melting and softening of someone’s heart. By sharing the Gospel with your enemy—by heaping coals on your enemy’s head—the message of salvation in Jesus Christ will melt and soften his or her heart, purifying your enemy to change…to see you as a brother or sister, and burn with love.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most powerful weapon against the enemy…and he knows it. No wonder his servants pray that Christians neglect the true Gospel for an imposter. Arguably, the false gospel of feel-good/self-help Christianity is a weapon of the enemy, and it does us more harm than good. By holding fast to the sword of the Spirit—the Gospel of Jesus Christ—we can move against the enemy by convicting and converting everyone we encounter. The more souls we have marching against the enemy, the less the enemy has to oppose us…and the closer to victory we become.

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