Sep 9th, 2018
Hello and welcome to episode ninety of The Berean Manifesto, brought to you by The Ekklesian House. This is Pastor Bill and over the next 10 or so minutes we’re going to take a look at not being overcome by evil, but overcoming evil with good. Last week we looked at Proverbs 25:21, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;” for this podcast we’re going to look at the next verse, 22, “for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”
That sounds like a rather adversarial motivation for giving your hungry and thirsty enemy food and drink. And it doesn’t really sound like it lines up with the WWJD vibe we ended the last episode in. Paul quoted these two verses in Romans 12:20 and follows that up in verse 21 with, “Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.” For me, out of context, this verse conjures images of world war two military forces going head to head in battle; one force fighting for truth and justice committed to fighting with honor, while the other force is fighting to prop up the maniacal machinations of a madman bent on world domination and willing to do anything to win. Clear cut good and evil. Not letting evil win the battle, but fighting on the side of good to win.
If you tuned in for the last episode, eighty-nine, where we talked about giving food and water to your enemies then you know this impression of Romans 12:21 doesn’t make much sense. Indeed within the context of what Paul has been talking about in Romans 12 it doesn’t make any sense at all. I realize how arrogant that statement could come across, but I don’t make that statement flippantly. If you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while, then I don’t know if you’ve noticed, or not, but we’ve actually spent a lot of time in the twelve verses leading up to Romans 12:21 over the past year. Starting at the end of October of ‘17 in episode forty-five, “Love Without Hypocrisy,” ep forty-six, “Detest Evil, Cling to Good,” ep forty-seven, “Love Each-Other,” ep forty-eight, “Value Everyone,” ep forty-nine, “Don’t Lack Diligence In Zeal,” ep fifty-five, “Rejoice In Hope, Be Patient In Affliction, Be Persistent In Prayer,” ep fifty-six, “Taking Care Of Fellow Believers,” ep fifty-seven, “Be Hospitable To One Another,” ep fifty-nine, “Bless Those Who Persecute You,” ep sixty-three, “Rejoice With Those Who Rejoice; Weep With Those Who Weep,” ep sixty-four, “Live In Harmony With One Another,” ep sixty-nine, “Pride And Humility,” ep seventy, “Jonah And The Big Fish (which is Pride And Humility part 2),” ep seventy-one, “Wisdom,” ep seventy-four, “Love Your Enemies,” ep seventy-five, “Being Honorable In Everyone’s Eyes,” ep seventy-six, “Live At Peace With Everyone,” ep eighty-eight, “Leaving Vengeance To God,” and ep eighty-nine, “If Your Enemy Is Hungry….” That’s nineteen episodes devoted to these twelve verses in Romans 12, about one hundred and ninety minutes of podcast time, approximately twenty-four thousand and seven hundred words.
While that’s not a book, and certainly not one that would be a New York Times bestseller, it’s at least a mini-book and proof that we’ve, you and I, spent enough time in the verses of Romans 12 leading up to Romans 12:21 that we should be able to identify the correct context of the verse. So what are we to make of verses like Proverbs 25:22 and Romans 12:21 when we’re told it will heap burning coals on someone’s head and that we are to conquer or overcome evil with good?
Let’s start with Proverbs 25:22 and go from there. Some influential church leaders including John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople from 397 AD to 403 AD, taught that this scripture was referring to an increase in your enemies punishment in hell. That somehow being nice to them was some form, a twisted one in my opinion, of getting delayed revenge on your enemies. In light of Romans 12 this somehow seems a shortsighted view. I consult seven different commentaries in my studies, and while none of them go back as far as the turn of the 5th century, they all agree that this statement in Proverbs 25:22 is referencing something else.
The general consensus of these commentaries agree that the statement to “heap burning coals on his head” is a reference to the process of a refiner purifying metal who not only holds the metal over the fire, but will heap burning coals on top of the metal in the process. The idea here is that when giving your enemy food and water when he is hungry and thirsty you are acting like that refiner and taking a constructive and influential step in their life to help them become the best version of themselves that they can be. Will they still be your enemy? Maybe, for the moment. Will you most likely lose the current argument? Maybe, in action, but not necessarily in principle. What you will do is live out Romans 12:21, “Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”
This verse, in context, appears to be talking about an internal struggle, not a physical one. As if Paul is, and he’s good at this, summing up the last twelve verses in Romans 12 and giving us the answer as to where to start in walking out all the stuff we’ve focused on in the nineteen episodes I listed off earlier. You see, there is this constant battle taking place inside of you everyday. Similar to the one that I described earlier when I talked about taking Romans 12:21 out of context. In this case, though, it’s a battle between the spirit and the flesh. The spirit fighting for faith, hope, and love, while the other force is fighting to prop up the maniacal machinations of the flesh bent on world domination and willing to do anything to win. Clear cut good and evil. Not letting evil win the battle, but fighting on the side of good to win.
Paul described this conflict in Romans 7:15-23. He says, “I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. Now if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one that does it, but it is the sin that lives in me. So I find with respect to the law: When I want to do what is good, evil is present with me. For in my inner self I delight in God’s law, but I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body.”
So what do you do with this internal battle between flesh and spirit, good and evil? Deuteronomy 30:19 says, “I call Heaven and Earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,” Choose life, choose blessing, choose spirit, choose good. And when you wake up tomorrow morning determine that, “Today I will choose life, blessing, spirit, and good.” And when you wake up the next morning, and the next morning, and the next morning, and the next...
This is Pastor Bill saying, “Until next time…”