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
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.
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
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.
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:
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
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:
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
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.
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
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.
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.