Romans 12:20-21 - The Verses Project

Bible Romans 12:20-21

Posted May 20, 2013

20 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.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

These verses are a continuation from last week in which Paul called people to not repay evil for evil, to do what is honorable, to live peaceably with all, and to not avenge yourself and trust in God and His justice.

Hungry and Thirsty Enemies

Paul continues his exhortation by calling us to feed our enemies if they’re hungry and give them something to drink if they’re thirsty. To know if your enemy is hungry or thirsty implies you actually have to be in somewhat of a relationship with them (even if at a distance) and pay attention to what they might be going through. We are being called to care for others even when others do not care for us! We’re used to only caring for those who care for us, but Jesus calls us to do much more than that... We model Him in His love for us in that while we were His enemies, He died for us.

Heaping Burning Coals

Paul says that, “by doing so you will head burning coals on his head.” Interpreters take this verse two ways. One way is simply to say that our goal is wake our enemies up with kindness (represented by coals)! We hope it confronts their sin, that they see the truth of what they’re doing, and ultimately repent making peace with God through Christ. However, coals also are symbolic of God’s judgment in the Old Testament. If that’s the case, then ultimately it’s a reminder that ultimate God will punish evildoers who do not repent.

Overcome by Evil or Overcoming Evil

Paul finishes with a charge that includes a negative and a positive. He urges them first to “not be overcome by evil” (the negative) but rather to “overcome evil with good” (the positive). To be overcome by evil simply means to respond to evil with evil, which is just increasing evil instead of overcoming it. John Stott commented:

“If we curse, repay evil for evil or take revenge, then, because all these are evil responses to evil, we have given in to evil, been sucked into its sphere of influence, and been defeated, overcome, even ‘overpowered’ by it. But if we refuse to retaliate, we can instead ‘take the offensive’, and practice the positive counterparts to revenge. Then, if we bless our persecutors, if we ensure that we are ourselves seen to be doing good, if we are active in peacemaking and peacekeeping, if we leave all judgment to God, and if we love and serve our enemy, and even win him over to a better mind, then in these ways we have overcome evil with good.”

May we do so in His strength!

This week’s song was written by Matt Lowery and produced by Dustin Ragland. You can listen to Matt Lowery’s latest record here:

He also has a record on Noisetrade: