If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you. Proverbs 25, verses 21 and 22.
In other words, when someone does you wrong, kill ‘em with kindness, right? Go out of your way to be nice to them so God will be nice to you, right? Um, no. That isn’t how it works. God wants a movement of the heart. He wants us to do these things because of His love, not to treat Him like some wish machine. That’s a tall order, especially when we don’t see eye to eye. Me, I fail at it all the time.
Segueing off something we talked about yesterday, let’s try a little tenderness instead. In this case, try a little tenderness based in compassion. When someone does you wrong, delay your reaction and demonstrate mercy. Listen; learn; love. Help instead of return hurt; pray instead of punish. It also builds on a theme we talked about a few days ago, too: guilt versus conviction. When someone does you wrong, whether they lie about you or break your heart, turn the other cheek. The reason for doing this is instructive, not vindictive. You want them to know that what they did was wrong, not to just hammer them. After all, it could be you some day.
You see, God wants to rewire us. We believed the ancient lie of “you can be like God” and little has changed in the millennia since. You and I are thick with human stubbornness, which taken to easy extremes becomes this thing called “sin.” It has rewired our brains and turned our world upside down. We were originally made for harmony but we’re stuck in off-key melody. When our enemies are hungry, our reaction now is “let em starve!” When they are thirsty, we say, “good!”
That’s not the way it was meant to be, so the Almighty wants to rewire us. If sin is an extreme thing, then God’s love is simply out of control. It’s crazy illogical and earth-shattering in its beautiful power. He wants us to look at things the way He looks at them, having mercy where none is deserved. He wants us to go the extra mile, the way He does by providing for a world that rebels against Him. He wants us to make our work caring instead of glaring, helping instead of hurting. So he tells us to do the opposite of what our proud nature tells us to do AND He tells us why: so that each moment of our lives can be a lovingly teachable moment. He wants us to remember that He teaches us, so we should teach each other. He wants each of us, even when we’re angry, to come together and come to Him.
It’s an ancient concept, carried forward many centuries to another time of trouble. In the New Testament, Romans 12, verse 20 paraphrases this proverb by saying “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.” Centuries after the proverb was written, the surprise apostle, Paul, quoted the verses in the context of how we should address evil-doing people in our lives. The context of the verses (as compared to those before it) implores the church in Rome to live at peace with people and to not repay an eye for an eye. Consider the audience: they were forced to worship in silence and secrecy, and if they spoke out, they could be murdered. God spoke through Paul to say “I’ve got your back people. Do what I would do and care for the people around you.” Care for your murderers. Love them. Two thousand years after Paul, what has changed? I’m an old warrior, and is God telling me to take off my armor of the world and put on, instead, His armor of mercy? Yes, yes He is.
And that isn’t as easy as it sounds. If it is, how about you and I go through just one hour in our work-lives this morning and not spread any gossip, not tell any jokes, not think nasty or mean thoughts of any kind, and not do anything that God in Christ Himself wouldn’t do. Call me at the end of that hour and let’s compare notes on how we did. I’m betting we’ll both be pretty embarrassed. I’m betting God would be too. I’m also thinking He would say “try again, you two. I think you’re both worth it.” He wouldn’t kill us with kindness: He would save us with it. He intends to every day.