“Therefore if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20-21, New King James Version).

It is so easy to read the Bible and zip right past a golden nugget without realizing it. Or, if something is puzzling, we just keep reading rather than taking time to investigate its meaning. Perhaps we should pause and reflect rather than speed on by.

Steps to Handling Relationships

When reading the above verses (and a very similar passage in Proverbs 25:21-22), more reflection is needed. Actually, it’s best to begin reading at verse 17. The passage gives us good instructions on successfully handling relationships in our life, including how to respond to those who have done us wrong. We are to:

  • Not return evil for evil
  • Be honest in our actions
  • Be at peace with others
  • Not seek revenge
  • Give food and drink to our enemy

But then we read, “for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” What! I’m going to do all these good things and then burn his head? This is where we pause and reflect. There are different explanations of the meaning, but one seems to fit the passage and cultural background more.

Replace Evil with Good

At the time the passage was written, people heated their homes and cooked their meals with fire. If the coals went out during the night, a person would no doubt go to a nearby family to borrow some live coals to restart his fire. The coals were placed in a pan, which was then carried home on his head. It was an act of kindness, a neighborly act, to share your coals with someone in such a situation. They were generous with the coals—filled a pan—even if that person has done them wrong in the past. Putting coals of fire on their head was a good thing, not something bad.

Verse 21 tells us, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Which makes you feel better—to get even or to spread some good? If we respond evil for evil, we only make the situation worse. A vengeful spirit gnaws at our insides and robs us of peace.  With kindness, we might just turn that enemy into a friend. We will sleep better, and he will too.

First Peter 3:9 sums it up this way:

“Not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you may inherit a blessing” (Christian Standard Bible).

We are blessed as we bless others.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to treat others with loving kindness and compassion, even if their actions toward me have been hurtful. Forgive me if I have desired vengeance instead of forgiveness. Keep my heart pure so that Your blessings can flow through me to others.


Mary enjoys traveling, meeting new people, and spending time with old friends. Although directionally challenged, she would rather take the back roads with their discoveries than the boredom of the interstate.

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