Tag Archives: Proverbs

Cold Water, Hot Coals

It is all too easy to seek out vengeance.  It seems to be in most people’s DNA.  Someone says something against us and we retaliate.  Someone makes a crude gesture on the road and we cut them off.  Someone hits us and we hit them back.  Often we do these type of things without even giving a second thought to them (or even thinking about our response at all; we just act on instinct).  But as Christians, we are called to live above instinct, and to take every thought captive to obey Christ.

One reads from Solomon, “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,” (Proverbs 25:21-22, ESV).  Paul repeated these words in Romans 12:20.  The concept is clear, or should I say that the command is clear.  This isn’t a suggestion, but a mandate to the one who follows Christ.  As Paul finished his quotation he did so with a follow-up command, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” (Romans 12:21, ESV) .  That is a flat-out command.  It’s not optional.

The evil of others against us never gives us the right to respond with evil and that includes evil intentions.  I have often heard people use these words as a weapon, explaining that God wants us to “kill them with kindness.  That’ll show ’em.”  Those are not the intentions of these words.  This is a cause and effect verse.  Giving him bread to eat and water to drink will bring about a change of heart.  In ancient Egypt (remember Solomon had much contact with the Egyptians–1 Kings 3:1), those who showed genuine repentance would walk around with bowls of hot coals upon their heads.   Thus to show kindness and love to one’s enemies is to treat them as a neighbor and is done in hopes of showing them that you and they are not enemies at all.

Do they get away with all the evil things they have done to you?  Not at all.  That was Paul’s point in Romans 12.  Let God deal with the evil acts in His just way.  We seek to bring them to a heart of repentance.  We are not to do God’s work.  Only God can do His work perfectly; when we seek to do  His work, we do it imperfectly.  We do it in sin.

Paul promises (thus God promises) that God will reward you.  That’s because this is faith in action.  Do we truly believe that God is just?  Do we honestly believe that we mean much to God and that God will deal justly with our enemies?  If so, then we live out what we believe: turn from vengeance and turn toward love and neighborliness.

Words Have Consequences

Funny things words are: while they are intangible, yet they can break the strongest of men, and while they are merely sounds formed by air, lips and tongue, yet they have the ability to straighten the back of the lowliest of souls. The Proverb says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” (18:21a, ESV). No one is impervious to the destruction of words. It is said that Mark Twain made the comment that “A lie travels around the globe while truth is putting on his shoes.” Jonathan Swift wrote, “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.” Every person has been lied about, and every one of us have been broken with words.

How often we have seen a major newspaper make front page headlines on a person or matter, only to have to retract it on page Z14. But that is not unlike the rest of us. We are too often not very careful with our words; gossip, slander, and angry words come flying out of our mouths or off of our fingers in text or social media. Many times we find we were wrong, and when we have to admit it, we are not quite as vocal or boisterous as before. We’d rather bury our apologies.

Yet, words have power. They carry tremendous power. Some words sting. Some cripple. Some kill. Yet others are a salve, a balm that when applied liberally can bring healing and life. The truth, when spoken in love (Ephesians 4:15), can do both. It can cut, and cut deep, but also prove to be the healing that one needs.

There is a second part to that verse though: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit,” (18:21, ESV). The question with this statement is about what the antecedent to “it” is. There are various arguments as to whether it is “power” or “tongue,” but I argue it is “tongue.” The reason being that this is not the only verse about words in this chapter. It is filled with proverbs about speaking.

“The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook,” (18:4, ESV).

“A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating,” (18:6, ESV).

“A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul,” (18:7, ESV).

“The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body,” (18:8, ESV).

And there are more, but notice verses 7 & 8 especially. The lips are a snare to the soul and gossip goes down into the inner parts of the body. Those sound an awful lot like, eating the fruit of what comes from the tongue. One cannot take back what he/she has said. Their souls, innermost being, or stomachs will have to live with every word that comes out. Many things said can be reversed with a simple apology, but many things cannot. I still remember being 14 and telling my sister I hated her. As soon as it came out, I tried to take it back, saying that I hated “this, our arguing.” A few years ago, I asked if she remembered the argument when I said that. She didn’t. But it went into the depths of my being. I do not believe I will be able to forget such words. You may have a similar story.

I am a work in progress. By God’s grace I am growing in my speech, though I am not where I wish I was. So I encourage you to remember these words with me and let them sink deep into your soul: “Know this, my beloved brothers: be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger,” (James 1:19, ESV)