Wisdom in the Face of Folly: Part 2 of 2

Last Monday on ESI, I posted some thoughts on wisdom and foolishness that I have found to be particularly helpful as I take up the daily (and somewhat-daunting) task of interacting with other human beings in a fallen world. These two blogs are based almost entirely on a study written by Lynn Roush, biblical counselor at The Crossing, on the Book of Proverbs. Keeping it in mind that we are all fools by God’s way of seeing things, and remembering our call to be patient with one another, let’s step through some very basic questions about how we humble, “self-identified fools” can wisely and biblically interact with the other fools in our midst.

Proverbs 23:7
“As he thinks within himself, so he is.”

If you have begun the difficult task of assessing your own foolishness, then with humility and thoughtfulness it’s time to look at your relationships through the same Proverbial lens. Some of us are in relationships with people that seem to be full of conflict and discord. When problems arise, there is almost never resolution. No matter how many attempts you make at reconciliation, there is never harmony. If this is true of any of your relationships, the reality is that at least one of you, if not both of you, are acting like fools. But how would you know if that’s the case? Part 1 of this study was a guide to help you do some self-diagnosis through prayer and personal examination to see the ways that you may be acting foolish. But how do you know if you are dealing with someone else who is a fool?

Going back to Proverbs, we can find some more clues about the characteristics of foolish people. Jan Silvious, in her book Fool-Proofing Your Life, offers this evaluation:

According to Proverbs, a person who is a fool by character doesn’t know he is a fool and has no clue about his impact on relationships. In fact, he doesn’t care, because he believes there is only one way to relate – his way…A fool is closed to any suggestion that his thinking might be flawed or that his behavior might be inappropriate…Fools rebel against anyone who might dare to intervene in their lives and test their emotional or spiritual IQ. Because fools’ ways are always right in their own eyes and because fools take pride in airing their own opinions, they never confess or repent…This mindset is at the very core of the fool’s being, and it controls all he is and everything he does. (Pgs. 30-31)

Silvious goes on to explain that a proverbial fool is:

  • …closed-minded, and rejects information and feedback from others.

  • …spiritually bereft, and his lack of understanding make him impossible to reason with and usually difficult to please.

  • …hardened, and insists that it’s “my way or no way.”

  • …intelligent and at times creative, charming, and charismatic. One minute you see the negative, strident, unbending side, and the next you experience the benevolent, ingratiating, generous side.

As you can see, Proverbs doesn’t pull any punches when it describes a fools’ persona. But sometimes identifying a fool is difficult because their charming side throws you off balance. This is why many people end up confused by a fool because they simply cannot correctly interpret the person’s behavior. Maybe you live with someone who displays the classic characteristics of a fool, but they cannot see it in themselves. This makes a loving, caring relationship with this person extremely difficult, because trust and intimacy is always being eroded by their foolish behavior. Identifying a fool may bring a sense of relief because it finally describes the chaotic behavior that you have grown accustomed to. But Proverbs does not merely offer a description – it also offers help to those who find themselves connected to a fool in their marriage, family, business or social circles.

How do I honor God while dealing with the fool in my life?
After you have addressed your own folly, it is time to consider how to deal with people in your life that are also fools. Without the intervening work of God in their lives, they remain blind to the ways that they hurt, destroy or cause calamity in the lives of those around them. It often happens that the people that love or live with a proverbial fool find themselves acting in foolish ways in an attempt to change the fool in their lives. This usually ends in continual confusion and chaos in the relationship, because both people are acting and reacting out of a foolish heart. As long as one person in the relationship (will it be you?) can step out of this foolish cycle of destruction, then there is greater hope that the relationship can be preserved. If the relationship is beyond repair, then at least one person can gain wisdom and instruction from it, and continue to live a life of peace, light and confidence.

How do I deal with a fool with wisdom and integrity?
There are many words of guidance that Proverbs and all of Scripture offer us to help us know how to relate to a foolish person. Ultimately, it requires total humble submission to God, expressed through a complete trust in His provision for every circumstance that you will encounter in your life. This is followed by obedience to His revealed Word, and continual heart surrender to His authority in your life.

Practically speaking, what does this look like?

  1. The first wise step that you can take in how you relate to your fool is to realize that there is nothing, NOTHING, humanly speaking, that you can do to change them. You may be doing everything that you can do to change them, to help them see their foolishness, to rebuke or correct them. It is no more possible to change your fool than for you to undertake and accomplish the task of making a blind man see. Such spiritual transformation can only happen through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives and heart. Abandon any agenda that you may have for the fool, and place yourself wholly and completely in the competent hands of God, telling Him that you submit all of your desires for changing your fool into His sovereign care. Take yourself out of the position of being “the One” who can change this person and find rest and peace in trusting your fool to God (Proverbs 3:5-6, 29:9).

  2. By the power of the Holy Spirit, work to gain complete control over your responses to your fool. This person has learned ways to manipulate, aggravate and provoke you to frustration, confusion and anger. Although you may be justified in your anger because you feel that you are continually being sinned against, responding in anger will not accomplish God’s purposes (James 1:19-20), and will only communicate one thing to the fool: that he is right (Proverbs 26:4-5). Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back.” Learn to respond to this person calmly, steadily and with self-control. This will demonstrate your trust in God to rebuke the fool when necessary, and will maintain your integrity and emotional well-being. This will take a lot of practice, and will only grow out of your ongoing pursuit of God and reliance upon His protection and power in your life (Proverbs 25:28).

  3. Fear God, NOT your fool. Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.” Care more about what God thinks of you than what your fool thinks of you. Though you may have spent many years accepting, believing and reacting to your fool’s opinions and interpretations, a wise person will listen to and believe God’s perspective and evaluation. If you are seeking godly counsel and you are teachable and willing to receive instruction, then you can be confident in what God is revealing to you. That wisdom is unshakeable and unwavering in the face of the fool’s accusations. “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering and without hypocrisy” (James 3:16-17).

  4. Stop DEFENDING yourself, and learn to BE yourself. Ask God to give you the strength to live a life of freedom and joy. If you know what is true about yourself, and you now understand the thinking and reasoning of the foolish person, then you do not have to be defined by the fool. God has given you your worth by purchasing you through the precious blood of His Son. This value cannot be taken away from you, no matter how convincing your fool may be. Knowing who you are in Christ is essential to maintaining a sense of dignity and purpose in your challenging relationship (Galatians 2:20).

  5. Treat the fool with love, compassion and respect. Proverbs 25:21-22 says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” The biblical response to mistreatment is to love, pray and be kind to your offender. Notice that you do not have to trust them. No, you are wiser than that. But you can demonstrate your love and fear of God by obeying Him in this way. You are fighting against your desire to punish and humiliate the fool by offering him a cold drink of water on a hot day. This also means that there is no room for self-righteousness in dealing with the fool. You are not “better” than they are. You have simply been given eyes to see the extent of your own foolishness, and you are praying for God to bestow the same grace upon them (Proverbs 24:17-18).

  6. Become aware of, understand and wisely combat your fool’s tactics of manipulation: guilt, blame, shame, denial and deception. This takes time and practice. It involves digging into Scripture to understand the foolishness and hardness of the human heart, and how God responds to it. Proverbs will offer you the most practical insight into this. Also studying how Jesus responded to the Pharisees will shed light unto how this can be done in a winsome way. It involves self-control, wisdom and confidence. Establishing boundaries with your fool is a challenge, but necessary. They must bear the burden of their own foolish choices, and boundaries will allow them to feel the consequences of their sin.

  7. Flee from evil. Anticipate, Avoid and be Aware of situations that your fool could put himself or you in where there is a toying with evil. Do whatever you can to stay away from these situations and protect yourself from any manner of evil. Psalm 26 is a helpful prayer here. Psalm 97:10 says, “Hate evil, you who love the Lord.” Renew your mind through Scripture meditation, prayer, and the support of others who love you and know your situation. This will encourage your heart and strengthen your resolve in the face of your fool’s unwise behavior.

  8. Finally, work patiently to see God’s sovereign purposes in your life, even in this difficult relationship. God may be using the fool in your life to increase your trust and dependence on Him, and to give you greater spiritual sight and maturity. God may be using you in the life of the fool to help keep him from total destruction, for him to hear truth, to be warned about his folly, confronted with his foolishness and to feel the consequences of his choices. God uses trials in our life to test our faith, to produce perseverance, and to bring about His glory and our good.

It probably goes without saying that living by the eight points provided above will not be easy. It will require continued dedication to God and His Word along with strong determination to set aside years, and perhaps even decades, of “learned behavior” and trust that God is at work in this (and every) situation.

If you are at all like me, the temptation is great to question God and argue with Him over His wisdom in allowing foolish people to enter into our lives. But God is far more interested in your holiness than He is in your existential happiness. If He is indeed sovereign, as most Christians of the reformed variety believe He is, then it stands to reason that the fool in your life could, by God’s miraculous intervention, “become a non-issue” in the blink of an eye. If your fool remains, then, you can be assured that this is “God’s Plan A” for your life, at least in the short term.

Because our own hearts are desperately hard and impossible for even us to understand (Jeremiah 17:9), the dual challenges of rooting out our own foolishness and dealing with the foolishness of others will take time and repeated study, and must go hand in hand. The next time you enter into battle with foolishness – whether your own or that of another – you will be sorely tempted to “conveniently forget” one or more of the eight points listed above. Together, though, let’s pray that God would use this study to help us offer a better response in the heat of battle, and by doing so provide the watching world with another opportunity to see Christ lived out through our lives. Amen.

Proverbs 8:5
“You who are simple, gain prudence; you who are foolish, gain understanding.”

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