Wisdom in the Face of Folly: Part 1 of 2

Several years ago, I purchased a collection of 1980s music, ostensibly the “greatest hits” of that decade culled onto seven CDs. The collection came bundled with a magazine-style booklet that provided photos, facts and trivia about each artist and song, along with snippets of news and information that helps place the music against a larger cultural background, i.e. “what else was going on” back in the days when this or that particular song was popular. As one reviews the fads, clothing and (especially) hairstyles from that era in American life, you simply can’t get away from a smug sense of superiority, one that asks, “Yeah, now, why did I ever think this song/band/hairstyle was cool? Why did anyone, for that matter?”

If you genuinely have been allowing God to work in your life, you almost certainly have had several “eye-opening” moments akin to my trip back into the sounds and styles of the 1980s. When God lovingly reveals to you some area of sin or rebellion that had previously been hidden from you, the new perspective you’re given allows you to see your thoughts and behaviors in a new light; seen with clearer eyes, you now see your old behavior with incredible distaste, coupled with with a strong desire not to repeat your error. In short, you are given the divine gift of wisdom, an insight that has the net effect of allowing you to see some manner of sin in your heart as the spiritual equivalent of a Flock of Seagulls haircut.

It is no accident, I suppose, that the Bible repeatedly uses blindness and the recovery of eyesight as one its central themes (Matthew 9:27-33; 23:16-19; Luke 4:18-19; Mark 8:22-26). One of the hardest things for most of us to do is to admit that we are blind, that we are the fools that Jesus is talking about in Matthew 23 and in several similar passages. For me, one of the most amazing passages in all of Scripture shows up in 2 Samuel 12, when Nathan the Prophet casually tells King David a story about some guy who swiped another guy’s sheep. Drawing David into his narrative, Nathan receives a strong emotional response from David, and it is at the point that David is enabled by God to see what an utter fool he has been by committing adultery and murder. It’s critical, I think, to meditate on the fact the David was fully conscious and aware of his sins prior to that epic moment, but he had suppressed the truth and allowed himself to become voluntarily blind and enslaved.

I am still not certain if it was intentional or not, but not too long ago our friend (and biblical counselor at The Crossing) Lynn Roush pulled one of those Nathan the Prophet Switcheroos on me, too. Handing me five pages of material on identifying foolishness, I eagerly went through the material to see how it would help me in those relationships that I find to be, well, “difficult.” In other words, I read through the material hoping to point to other people as foolish, but what I ended up with was a renewed sense of how foolish I am as well. In a subsequent conversation, Lynn and I discussed the idea that our initial temptation is to run off and begin labeling other people as foolish, but what we really need to do is step back, read what the Bible has to say about wisdom and folly, and then be brutally honest about where we find foolishness actively operating in ourselves.

The material presented below is based on Lynn’s study on what the book of Proverbs says about the wise man and the fool. While our natural human inclination is to read through this list and think of those we know who fit the description well, I’d like to suggest that you discipline your thoughts as Paul commands (2 Corinthians 10:5) and not allow yourself the luxury (or schadenfreude) of thinking about anyone other than yourself as you review this material. You probably will not receive a moment of insight if you are committed to playing the comparison game and judging others you know to be “far worse than me.”

Let’s consider the questions, “What is the biblical definition of a fool?” and “In what ways would the Bible say that I am foolish?” The characteristics listed below are taken from the book of Proverbs (as noted).

According to the Bible, a fool…

  • …despises wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
  • …hates knowledge. (1:22)
  • …is always right in his own eyes. (10:1)
  • …is quick to anger. (10:23)
  • …hates to depart from evil. (13:19)
  • …is deceitful. (14:8)
  • …is arrogant and careless. (14:16)
  • …does not understand wisdom. (17:16)
  • …has a worldly focus. (17:24)
  • …will not discuss any viewpoint but his own. (18:2)
  • …provokes others to strife and anger by his words. (18:6)
  • …has a smart mouth that usually gets him into trouble. (18:7)
  • …is quarrelsome/contentious. (20:3)
  • …repeats his folly, despite warning. (26:11)
  • …trusts in his own heart. (28:26)
  • …cannot resolve conflicts. (29:9)
  • …gives full vent to his anger. (29:11)

If you made your way through that list without even once thinking of someone else, congratulations…you are a living saint! I can’t do it. As much as I really try to read those characteristics in light of my own sin, folly and rebellion, I invariably find myself thinking about someone else who really needs to read this. So let’s stop, repent, and then read on to discover the effects of foolishness in our lives.

According to the Bible, the consequences of ongoing foolish behavior manifest themselves in…

  • a life which may easily be swallowed up by evil and violence; (1:10-19)
  • a life of naivety, simple-mindedness and scoffing; (1:22-24)
  • a life of calamity, distress and anguish; (1:27)
  • a life of uncertainty, destruction and an early death; (1:32-33)
  • a life of perversion, adultery, evil and treachery; (2:14-22)
  • a crooked life of abomination, wickedness, dishonor and curses; (3:27-35)
  • a life of darkness and stumbling; (4:18-19)
  • a constant dissatisfaction with life, searching for exhilaration through sexual immorality and eventual bondage to sin; (5:7-23)
  • broken and destroyed relationships, leading to isolation and despair. (6:12-15)

So how do we move from being a fool to being wise? The Bible says that to avoid being a fool, we must gain wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. How do we do that?

  • One must be willing to receive instruction and act on it. (1:3)
  • One must have ears to hear what is being taught. (1:5)
  • One must acquire wise counsel. (1:5)
  • One must pursue wisdom and seek her out as a precious treasure. (2:3-5)
  • One must humble themselves. (22:4, 29:23)
  • One must embrace (and not harden themselves against) the discipline of the Lord. (3:11,12; 6:23)
  • Above all else, one must fear the Lord. (1:7)

What are the rewards of being a wise person? According to the Bible, a wise person enjoys…

  • …a long life. (3:2)
  • …a peaceful life. (3:2)
  • …a good reputation in the eyes of God and man. (3:4)
  • …a straight path to walk on, guided by God. (3:6)
  • …a prosperous life. (3:10)
  • …a life without fear, full of confidence. (3:23-26)
  • …a life filled with light and righteousness. (4:18-19)

Lynn’s study led her to ask the all-important, extremely difficult question, “How do I know if I am a fool?”

We are all sinners, and none of us naturally desires wisdom, which means that we are all inherently foolish. Asking God to expose the foolishness in your heart is the first step to becoming wise. Submission to God, and fearing Him and His Word, is the hallmark of a fool who is choosing to turn his or her back on folly and seeking to live a life of wisdom and righteousness. Review the characteristics of a fool, listed above. Ask yourself, “Which of these qualities do I see demonstrated in my own life?” Write down the ones that apply to you. Confess this as sin to the Lord, and ask Him to give you greater sight to see how these tendencies are at work in your life. Ask other people that know you well to evaluate you in these areas. How do they see these at work in your life? Tell God that you want to repent and turn away from this folly, and find life and wisdom in Him and His Word. Go to anyone that you have sinned against in your foolishness and ask them to forgive you. Rooting out foolishness in our lives is an ongoing process that will continue until we die, but pursuing wisdom can be a lifelong endeavor that will lead to great blessing and spiritual prosperity over our lifetime.

Next week, Lynn will help us go into what may be even more difficult territory: the process of dealing with and wisely loving other people in our lives whose behaviors exhibit the biblical definition of a fool. We will never wisely deal with the difficult people in our lives if we haven’t honestly looked at our own foolishness, which is why we would both urge anyone reading this blog to spend the next seven days grappling with the book of Proverbs, the behaviors we exhibit and the heart attitudes that lie behind our words and actions. If we are honest, we will all start off by admitting that we hate to think of ourselves as fools and would prefer to look upon and judge the foolishness of others. Consider, though, that the very first step in handling our hardest relationships is by first examining and rooting out our own folly.

Matthew 7:3-5 (ESV)
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

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