When I hear the word fool, I can’t help but picture Mr. T with mohawk, gold chains, and a cut-off T-shirt saying, “I pity the fool!” Whether or not you watched the A-Team, the truth is, we all can play the fool from time to time. So it is good that God’s Word gave us an entire book to warn against folly and encourage us toward godly wisdom. In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon lovingly pleads with his teenage son to walk in the way of wisdom. One of the best ways to guide us toward wisdom is to expose folly. Solomon describes the fool (or simple), the sluggard, the scoffer, and the wicked (or sinner) in similar ways: those whose life choices are governed more by self than the Lord and others. So when are we acting a fool according to God’s Word, and how can we turn from it?
- We’re being fools when we resist negative criticism and always assume we’re right (Proverbs 1:7; 5:12-13; 9:7-9; 10:1, 17; 12:1, 15, 16; 15:5, 20; 17:10, 21, 25; 18:2; 19:13; 26:5, 12; 29:9)
“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (12:1).
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (12:15).
- We’re being fools when we ignore the clear warnings of God’s Word and other Christians (Proverbs 7:7ff; 10:23; 14:16; 15:21; 22:3)
“One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless” (14:16).
“The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it” (22:3).
- We’re being fools when we are careless with our words (Proverbs 10:13-14, 19; 13:16; 14:3, 7; 15:2, 7, 14; 18:2, 6-7)
“Whoever restrains his lips has knowledge…even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent…a fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (17:27a, 28, 18:2).
“A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul” (18:6-7).
- We’re being fools when we are easily annoyed (Proverbs 14:29; 17:27; 19:11; 20:3; 29:11)
“Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (14:29).
“He who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (17:27b).
“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back” (29:11).
- We’re being fools when we return to our folly and don’t learn from it (Proverbs 26:11; 27:22)
“Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly” (26:11).
“Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his folly will not depart from him” (27:22).
How can we avoid being fools?
Keep the Gospel front and center
The Bible is pretty clear that becoming occurs through beholding. Paul writes to the church at Corinth, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). There is nothing that will keep you humble and gracious like reflecting on Calvary. When you’re presently aware you’ve been given marvelous and unfathomable grace by the God who should have judged you, suddenly it is okay when others think you’re in the wrong. Years ago a prominent Christian man was being interviewed by a liberal news media reporter. The reporter criticized him for his biblical views and the Christian simply said, “Well, I’m a much more horrible person than even you think, but my hope is in the Gospel.” This remark surprised the reporter, who quickly shifted gears in the conversation. When we’re aware of the ugliness of our sins and keep holding ourselves up against the backdrop of God’s holiness, we’re able to more readily own our faults and repent of them. Our failure to behold the Great Exchange by our Great Substitute is why we play the fool.
Be diligent with the means of grace
James described God’s law as a mirror, so we must daily let Scripture show us our faults and help us look away from ourselves and look to Christ’s righteousness for us. Also, the more we pray, the more we’ll avoid folly. Struggle with your words? Pray with David, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Keep ignoring God’s warnings? Pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). Also by maintaining corporate worship and close, open-hearted fellowship with our church family, we open ourselves up to more of God’s leading in our lives and are better able to avoid folly, or at least turn from it before we go too far into it.
Live Coram Deo
Those who loved R.C. Sproul will know this phrase as he often repeated it. Coram Deo means, “before the face of God.” We live all of life before God’s presence, but we often don’t live like it! This is what David meant when he wrote, “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good” (Psalm 14:1a). David was primarily warning against practical atheism. Christians can sometimes be practical atheists, denying by their lifestyle the doctrines they claim to believe. Brother Andrew was famous for saying we must, “Practice the presence of God.” In our fallen state, humans do not do this naturally. Even as believers, we live outside the garden, so we must constantly remind our hearts that, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3).
Repent and believe…rinse and repeat!
The first of Martin Luther’s famous 95 Theses that sparked the Protestant Reformation was, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” I think Luther would probably say the entire life of believers should be one of faith as well. We don’t merely repent and believe at the start of our Christian life, but everyday we live as Christians. As we turn from our old manner of life and turn toward the Gospel and God’s will for our lives, we are then able to avoid folly and walk in wisdom. So let’s keep on repenting and keep on believing until our faith becomes sight.
May we all examine our hearts for folly and strive after the wisdom that pleases our great God.