I can remember as a kid flipping through the book of Proverbs to find the proverbs that sounded funny. One of my favourites was, “better to live on the corner of a roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” I also liked one that was quoted by Jesus when he said to love your enemies and to do good to them. Mostly I liked it because it says that by doing this I would heap burning coals on the heads of my enemies. I thought this gave me a sneaky way to get revenge on my big brother, thereby completely missing the point of the proverb.
If I had looked at what Jesus said next I would have seen the directive to not be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. Let me give you a visual of what overcome means. Wendy and I went to Hawaii with her folks for their 25th Anniversary. We were sitting on a beach together and she went into the water to cool off. She wasn’t far off shore but was about chest deep as the bottom dropped away sharply. Unfortunately she didn’t realise the significance of the water dropping to about knee level or my shouting and pointing before it was too late. A massive wave came out of “nowhere” and towered over her. She panicked and eyes wide with sudden terror tried to outrun the wave. You can imagine what happened: she was overcome by the wave. (By the way if this happens to your wife, for the love of Pete, don’t let her see you laughing when she crawls out of the foam gasping and sputtering, hair in her face and sand everywhere!)
That’s the picture (the wave, not my poor wife) that Jesus had in mind; an irresistible wave of love and mercy and grace overcoming everyone in its path. The problem is that if you try to live like that on the strength of your own love, mercy and grace you will be the one overcome. The first couple of verses of 1 John 5 tell us that anyone born of God overcomes the world. Jesus overcame the world by living his life in submission to God’s spirit within him and that’s the only way we will overcome as well. Next week I hope to explore “overcoming the world” a little more. Till then go dump some coals on someone.