Burning Coals

Battling with any of those especially difficult people? We all have them. Sometimes we are them. They irritate us, hurt us, offend us, and sometimes (for reasons we can’t begin to understand) they dislike us. What’s wrong with them?

We replay conversations and encounters with them over and over in our minds. We anticipate the next experience we might have with them. “I’ll be stronger. I’ll say …. I won’t let them ….” We lose sleep. We eat less … or eat more. We feel distracted; sometimes depressed.

burning coalsIt could be a spouse, one of our children, a neighbor, a boss, a classmate, or a workmate. There’s no telling where they might emerge from; sometimes from places we least expect. But we can count on one thing—they will come.

In Romans 12, Paul has some very basic (and helpful) advice. Perhaps it would help to hear him again.

Because of grace … “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 but leave room for God to take care of things.” (vv.17-19).

I don’t always want to live on this higher level. Sometimes it feels momentarily good to be angry or spiteful; to give a little of what I’ve had to take. Have you ever felt that way? Besides, if I take the high road, someone is likely to take advantage of me. And this whole thing – what they said, what they did – is totally unfair and uncalled-for.  I don’t deserve it.

So I like Paul’s next statement, that if I respond graciously (even if I have to grit my teeth to do so), I’ll be “heaping burning coals on their head.” (v.20)  Ahhh. That’s more like it. Give them a little grief. Be nice and watch them get burned with shame, regret, or embarrassment. That feels more like it. But, in fact, I’ve missed the basic meaning of this Jewish idiom in the Bible. Burning coals is not promising shame, guilt, or anything else. It’s an old way of simply saying, “Trust it to God.”

Can I really do that? Can you? This week, if one (or some) of those difficult people has risen up in your life, can you trust Christ to handle it? He sees it, understands it, and will hold us through it. Let’s overcome evil with good.

Because of grace … and only because of it.

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14 Responses to Burning Coals

  1. Tim Ross says:

    This has been a particularly hard one for me at times. There was a guy at work who would always put me down every time he saw me. I hated to see him because I knew a put down was coming. I found myself at work one day in a meeting with him, staring at him, and just disgusted by his presence. Then God convicted me and asked me to see him like He sees him…as a child of His created in His image. That changed my whole outlook. I have looked at him differently ever since. This one person was the hardest person for me to forgive. I could allow others to harm me at will and still be loving and kind to them. But this one person…it was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in a long time. So…I see him as a child of God, created in His image, who God would love to have a relationship with. Will I allow God to use me for that purpose? God give me strength to endure all things for His glory.

    • David Timms says:

      Tim, what a helpful change of perspective. We easily lose sight of this core reality … that we are all created in the image of God and loved by God. Thanks for putting it back out there, and living it. Blessings.

  2. heide costa says:

    Yes Dr Timms. I’ve had to take the motto – “Love the Unloveable” (myself included – and many other mottos, as well!!!) You know some of my history – showing Christ to those who don’t know Him, or have not felt Him, can be tragic and painful often. But if we are called by Him to help those who hurt us – it’s best/essential to do as He says. To our best ability (which is not much sometimes…). Thank you for this post. Again, timely. Today, having known the terrorists in NY because of still living there, the concept of forgiveness and righteous retribution is an important topic… The Lord is the Judge. Not us. But on earth we are told to follow the laws. And His Law. Not only can people “Irritate us”. Governments,morals of society, church leaders – many strangers can get on our nerves. And we are all in need of His prayers and His grace. And His mercy. God bless us all. Heide Costa

    • David Timms says:

      Heide, I know you’ve been faithful through some of these trenches … and sometimes seen the fruit, and sometimes not. Blessings as you continue the Journey with such faith!

  3. Bill Conway says:

    Wonderful newsletter, David. I preached a message a couple of weeks ago on ‘Overcoming Evil,’ using this passage. It is interesting that the very act of returning good for evil has the effect of heaping coals on the other person. The response is up to them – they’re the ones with the coals on their heads and it is very, very uncomfortable. In the same context of ‘turning the other cheek,’ it gives the person who has been nasty the opportunity to actually kiss the cheek turned to him/her rather that initiating the second slap. In either case, the person who returns good rather than evil is the conqueror. Blessings, Bill of good old WA

  4. John Thornhill says:

    An interesting reference to burning coals is used in Psalm 120:4.
    Here God promises to deal with the lying lips with the warrior’s sharp tips and with burning coals of the broom tree which is related to the arcadia tree. It was used by the Bedouin to make charcoal. Because it ws a slow burning wood the heat was intense.
    Is there not an interesting application and relationship to the use of the Hebrew idiom and the Romans reference?

    John Thornhill

    • David Timms says:

      Yes, John, there are various helpful references. I’m also drawn to Psalm 140:10 which calls for “burning coals” to fall on the heads of David’s enemies. The contrast is between his own “covered head” (v7) and their apparently uncovered ones. The whole context has to do not with David taking vengeance but with him trusting the Lord to handle injustice. Thanks for your parallel, too.

  5. Debbie Heim says:

    As always, your timing is impeccable! I am currently studying Romans but I’m only on chapter 4…I better hurry and get to 12, because I need to remember this! Thank you David, for your faithfulness

  6. Scott says:

    I have a group of people I my church that go out to a restaurant each Sunday and have pastor for lunch in addition to the regular food they order. Some gossiping from some disgruntled brothers and sisters. Based on your post David, I think my best option is to go into the restaurant and buy their meal. Kindness leads to repentance right?

  7. Phil McKinley says:

    I have found that these greatest challenges (people that is) become a greatest ally. When they make a full circle conversion, thinking you to be one thing, and then they find out they were wrong, this person can make the greatest ally. Case in point, Paul the Apostle. Christ knows a little something about turning foes into friends. Paul would definitely be the one who could write from experience on this particular subject.

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