When I started secondary school (as a student, not as a teacher), I didn’t know how to keep my head down. Instead of keeping my mouth shut around my less academic classmates, I thought I could use my knowledge and abilities to teach them to respect and revere me. In return, they told me how they could use their fists to teach me about pain. Out of all the boys in my class, the tallest, toughest, and meanest was a guy we’ll call ‘Jack’. Needless to say, we didn’t really get on that well.
Two years later, I went to a church youth group with a friend of mine. It was an evening of surprises. Firstly, it was the first time I went to church out of choice, and secondly, Jack was there. For the better part of a year, we both went to the same church, going to the youth group on Fridays, the main services on Sundays, and the Bible Study on Thursdays. Jack was the last person I expected to see there, and it shows that you never know who might be willing to go to church.
I was studying Proverbs 25:21-22 this morning, which says:
21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward you.
This is very counter-cultural: people just don’t treat their enemies this way.The world will often say, “It is wrong to take revenge”, and they might even point to verses like Deuteronomy 32:35 which clearly show what God has to say on the matter:
“It is mine to avenge; I will repay.”
but it’s not the whole story. God commands that we feed our enemies and give them something to drink, that we help them when we see them in need. By doing this, we will, “…heap burning coals on [their heads]”, awakening their sleeping consciences so that they might see what they’ve done and feel shame.
It all seems quite strange to us, but it’s consistent with the way God has treated us. Our sin bought us eternal death and eternal punishment. We were His enemies (Colossians 1:21), but God gave His Son so that we could have eternal life! He showed us our sin, cancelled our debts, gave us His Son’s righteousness, and adopted us as His children. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, when He calls us to treat our enemies better than they deserve. Our priority shouldn’t be personal justice; our priority should be to “be Jesus” to as many people as possible.
If your enemies are arrogant, they might think you’re doing it out of fear or admiration. This attitude might change, but it might not. They might be humbled or shamed, but that’s not certain either. All you can know for sure is that the Lord wants you to treat your enemies better than they deserve, and that He rewards you when you do. As always, it’s very important to keep from making foolish choices that might put yourself or your family in danger, and the Bible doesn’t command you to let people take advantage of you, but I think we would find that we’d get a lot more opportunities to talk to the people around us about Jesus if, rather than anger and vengeance, we took every opportunity, in wisdom, to show them Jesus through our words and our actions.
Now, for some of us, there will be a lot of hurt, bitterness, and feelings of betrayal, and I don’t want to minimise that; all I can do is point you to the God that can heal those wounds. Perhaps you just don’t want to sacrifice your revenge. Whatever might hold you back, remember that the Lord is always waiting to give you the strength to obey Him, even when it’s terrifyingly hard. So let us be a people who are brave and humble, and are willing to reach out to our enemies, to show them a little bit of how Jesus has treated us. None of us knows what plans God has for the people we know, and their road to redemption might start with some simple act of kindness from you that makes them want to know more. After all, you never know who might be willing to come to church.