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 (Manna 86: Go and Make Disciples of All Nations)
Burning Coal That Sustains Spiritual Life
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Aun Quek Chin—Singapore

Before natural gas and other energy sources were discovered, coal was central to man’s life. Coal was used to produce fire for cooking, and to keep home fires burning during cold winters. The Bible also cites three instances where coal, or what it represents, is central to our life of faith. Let us study these examples to see how we can sustain the flame of our spiritual life.

BURNING COALS ON THE HEAD

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat;

And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; 

For so you will heap coals of fire on his head,

And the LORD will reward you.

(Prov 25:21–22)

Some believe that this refers to an Egyptian practice of bearing burning coal on one’s head to redeem sins or mistakes. The agony of performing this ritual would represent the bearer’s guilt. Some also believe that Native Americans used burning coals to represent forgiveness—they would reduce the coal to ash and spread it on the head of the one who offended them, demonstrating that their hatred had dissipated like ash.

This attitude reflects how we ought to respond to evil with good. David is an example of this. Even though he was being hunted by Saul, David did not harm him when he had the opportunity to do so. While hiding in a cave, David could have killed Saul, but instead, he spared Saul’s life. This act moved Saul to weep bitterly. He told David:

You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with evil. And you have shown this day how you have dealt well with me; for when the Lord delivered me into your hand, you did not kill me. For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him get away safely?” (1 Sam 24:17–19a)

David feared God. He did not treat evil with evil, but repaid evil with good. In doing so, he poured coals on Saul’s head and caused him much shame.

When someone treats us unfairly, our natural reaction may be anger. We question why we are being badly treated, and the more we dwell on this, the angrier we become. But Proverbs teaches us an important truth: “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (Prov 19:11).

A wise man does not become angry when wronged; he knows that God is watching and will righteously judge. So he yields to God and does not retaliate. He relies on God to remove the anger in his heart, and seeks peace from God. When he overlooks such wrongs, this will be his glory, testifying that he is becoming more Christ-like.

Paul says, “ ‘Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil” (Eph 4:26–27). The ability to overlook a transgression stems from the ability to overcome the evil intent within us. If we cultivate goodness within, we can rely on God to overcome evil thoughts of revenge. Tell yourself this: “I will not allow myself to be overcome by evil; instead, I will overcome evil with good.” And when you have achieved this, you will feel immense joy. The greatest achievement is not only in winning over others, but in winning over yourself.

Let us reflect: Are our hearts inclined towards good or evil? Do we choose to forgive or avenge? Do we allow our hearts to be darkened with anger, or do we rely on the Holy Spirit to brighten our hearts with the peace of God? Let us learn to heap burning coals on—to do good to—those who wrong us.

BURNING COALS ON THE LIPS

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said:

Behold, this has touched your lips;

Your iniquity is taken away,

And your sin purged.” (Isa 6:6–7)

The prophet Isaiah thought he was a holy man, but once he saw the glory of God, he immediately felt he was a man of unclean lips. Then, one of the seraphim used a burning coal to cleanse his lips.

It is common to have unclean lips and speak sinful words. We may not think that sinning with our lips could cost us our life. So why did the prophet say, “Woe is me, for I am undone” (Isa 6:5)? The sin of the lips can ultimately lead us to death—if we do not cleanse our lips, we will eventually be thrown into the lake of fire. In Revelation 21, liars are included among murderers, sorcerers and idol worshippers; this group will be thrown into the lake of fire. All of us have lied at some point in our lives. But we must stop lying, especially when those lies cause others to fall.

This is why Elder James teaches: “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless” (Jas 1:26). How do we gauge if someone is religious? We may assess this based on how frequently they attend church services, how often they pray and read the Bible, and how much they offer. But James bases his assessment on how a person speaks:

With [the tongue] we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” (Jas 3:9–10)

We may deem a man who reads the Bible, prays and sings hymns to be a religious person. But if we see this same man curse others and utter vulgarities, we will conclude that his religion is wasted on him. A religious man is someone who fears and praises God, while bridling his tongue. Therefore, we should avoid speaking lewd words that defile. The things we say originate from within our heart (Prov 4:23). If our hearts are truly holy, we will not speak unclean words.

We would not utter vulgarities during a church service, because we are hearing the word of God and worshipping Him. God is holy, so He wants us to worship in holiness. But once we step out of the church compound, do we speak vulgar words with our friends, forgetting that our holy God is listening?

Additionally, we have the responsibility to help others control their tongues. If we overhear our brothers or sisters speak crude words, or words that go against the truth, then the burning coal should be used to cleanse their lips. This is one task we have to do, and we have to do it with care, for it will likely cause pain and anger. Very often, we dare not use this burning coal, so we use honey instead. Everyone prefers to hear sweet and gentle words, but honey is unable to remove this sin. Ultimately, we have to brace ourselves and let the hot coal do its cleansing job.

Let us ask God to use a live coal to cleanse our own lips, and to grant us the wisdom to take a burning coal to cleanse the lips of others.

BURNING COALS OF GRACE

John 21 relates how, after the Lord Jesus was crucified, the disciples lost hope and returned to fishing. They were no longer concerned with preaching the kingdom of God. On this occasion, they had worked through the night and were tired, cold and hungry, but had failed to catch anything; this would impact their livelihoods. They had labored in vain. But in the morning, Jesus appeared and directed them, resulting in a bursting net full of large fish—153 in total.

Later, when the disciples returned to shore, they saw a fire of coals and fish. Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.” If you had been one of the disciples, there and then, how would you have felt? They had let Jesus down and had chosen to disbelieve Him. But when He appeared before them, He did not rebuke them. He instructed them to go and catch fish, and they caught so many. What was even more touching was that Jesus had prepared breakfast. There was a coal fire, from which the disciples could draw warmth, and there was fish to satisfy their hunger.

When the Lord Jesus restored them, the disciples must have been so moved that they resolved never to let the Lord down again. From then on, they would remain faithful to the Lord. From then on, they would live for the Lord. They understood just how much the Lord loved them. When Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” (Jn 21:15), He was referring to the net of 153 fish, and the miracle behind the catch. These were large fish, enough to earn a good wage. In other words, Jesus was asking Peter if he only wanted the miracle, the fish, and the livelihood. Peter understood. Jesus asked the question three times, and each time Peter replied, “You know that I love You.”

Today, Jesus is also asking us, “Do you love Me more than these?” While we enjoy God’s grace, we should ask the Holy Spirit to move us, to constantly remember to repay His grace. We can never fully repay God’s grace, but if we are willing to offer Him our best—like the widow who offered two mites—then the Lord will be pleased with us.

Often, we do not think twice about spending our time, money and effort on the things of the world. People queue for hours to buy something special for themselves or their loved ones. If we are willing to brave the elements for hours to wait for something, but say to God, “Please forgive me, I do not have time to worship You,” then we are deceiving ourselves. God knows where, how and to whom we are willing to dedicate our time, money and effort—be careful not to waste these on things we will regret.

Let us treasure our time and take every opportunity to love, worship and serve the Lord. He first sacrificed Himself for us, and His love compels us to respond to His calling. The most moving act in John 21 was Jesus preparing breakfast for His disciples who were weak in faith and about to depart from Him. He was concerned that they were cold and hungry. He fulfilled their needs and restored them before seeking their devotion. Truly the love of the Lord is limitless.

Perhaps, in the past, we loved the world more than we did God. As we understand more about His love, we ought to carefully examine ourselves and seek to love Him more.

We may wonder: Since the Lord is in heaven, how do I love Him? The Lord lacks nothing, what can I offer Him? We can offer our best to the church. The church of the Lord is here in the world. While some may claim that the church is merely a group of human beings, we know that the church is the body of Christ purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28). We should repay God’s love by putting in our best efforts to help, love and support the church. When Christ comes again, this church will be lifted up. Are we part of the church? Is what we say or do helping or harming the church? These are fundamental questions, because they concern the salvation of our soul.

CONCLUSION

Each of these three coal-related scenarios is necessary in sustaining our spiritual lives. The coal fire prepared by the Lord Jesus fulfills our needs, satisfies our soul, and inspires us to serve Him to the end. The burning coal that touches our mouth cleanses our tongue so that our speech may be pure and glorifying to the Lord, and that our hearts may remain undefiled. The burning coal heaped on the head reminds us to respond to evil with good, illuminating our hearts with the peace and joy of the Lord. May these three types of coal burn brightly in our lives, to sustain and empower us for our journey to the heavenly kingdom. Amen.

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Author: Aun Quek Chin
Publisher: True Jesus Church
Date: 09/28/2018
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