This morning I received an urgent prayer request from Samaritan’s Purse, Franklin Graham’s Christian international humanitarian organization. The situation was explained: “China’s mountainous Sichuan province was rocked by a 6.6 magnitude earthquake on Saturday, April 20, killing close to 200 people and sending about 15,000 to hospitals. Approximately two million people were affected. Our Christian church partners were some of the first to respond to the devastation.” You can read the full story on the Samaritan’s Purse website here: http://tinyurl.com/azosox7.
As I read the quoted message above, I started thinking about Romans 12:20 (ESV), “To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.'” The larger context is verses 14-21, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Beginning with the start of Romans 12 and going through to Chapter 16, Paul gave instructions on how to live out the gospel and its implications that he had been writing about in the first 11 chapters. In Romans 12:20, the passage I was thinking of when I read the message from Samaritan’s Purse, Paul quoted from Proverbs 25:21-22 (ESV), “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.”
Why was I thinking of Romans 12:20 and the passage from Proverbs that Paul was quoting? I was thinking of it because of this statement: “Our Christian church partners were some of the first to respond to the devastation” contrasted with a recent report that China’s top official for religious affairs stated that the government is trying to get religious believers to abandon their superstitions and accept atheism (for more about that, go here: http://tinyurl.com/ajsgzqq), as well as ongoing reports of the persecution that China inflicts upon Christians there. My immediate thought-response to reading about how Christians were among the first responders to the devastation was “Christians respond with acts of love and mercy and the government continues to persecute them. ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him…'”
It’s easy for us to gravitate toward the parts of Romans 12:14-20 that contain phrases like “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (where Paul quoted from Deuteronomy 32:35) and “for you will heap burning coals on his head” (where Paul quoted from Proverbs 25:22). It is within the nature we inherited from Adam to want revenge, to want to see others suffer for the suffering they inflict on us, to want them to get the punishment they deserve (eternity in the Lake of Fire).
As Christians, however, we have Christ’s mind and nature being formed within us (1 Corinthians 2:16, Galatians 4:19, Philippians 2:5) and, accordingly, we are to have a different mindset – a mindset where we feed a hungry enemy (Romans 12:20), love our enemies (Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:27), bless and pray for our persecutors (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:28 and Romans 12:14), do good to those who hate us (Luke 6:27, Galatians 6:10 and 1 Thessalonians 5:15), and to devote ourselves to and not grow weary in doing good works (Galatians 6:9 and Titus 3:14). It’s a mindset where we do these things not for rewards or because, in so doing, we’re heaping burning coals on the heads of those who hate and persecute us, but because the doing pleases God and because the doing is characteristic of Christ’s nature that is being formed within us.
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him…”