by Chris Ritter

We have been studying the Book of Proverbs which focuses on the art of living wisely… the art of living well.  Most of Proverbs is written in the voice of a father speaking to his son.  Solomon wants his son to avoid the many pitfalls of life and take advantage of the wisdom all around him.  In part of the book, wisdom is personified as a woman calling out to all those who will listen.  We are never foolish because wisdom is unavailable.  We are foolish because we are not listening.

We said in Week # 1 that “Everybody Plays the Fool Sometimes.”  None of us are immune to foolishness.  Even Solomon, the wisest person in the Old Testament, succumbed to great folly by the end of his life.  So the question really isn’t, “Am I foolish?”  We are all fools (hopefully fools in recovery.)  The better question is “What kind of fool am I?”

Today we study the different types of fools described in Proverbs.  Because we are all individuals, we are wise and foolish in different ways.  Someone can be very foolish in one area of their life and wise in other ways.   You maybe have that friend who is highly intelligent but makes bad relationship decisions.  Or maybe a friend who is very educated, but exercises poor financial judgement.  None of us have it all together. 

Have you ever noticed that our strengths also have a dark side?  Some people call this the “shadow side” of our otherwise bright spots.  For instance, maybe there is a person with a gift of empathy.  They have a big heart.  They love helping others.  I have run into some of these people who have ended up in disastrous relationships.  In extreme relational and emotion pain, they say, “Well, I thought I could fix them.  I thought if I just showed them enough love they would change.”

Or imagine someone who is a very high achiever.  They build their identity around being the best.  It’s good to achieve, right?  But the dark side is that their happiness and identity gets overly tied to performance.  Soon, nothing is ever good enough.  

We are all prone to pitfalls.  To walk in wisdom, I am learning that I need a few things:

  • I need soul-searching prayer.  David prayed, “Search me, O God” (Psalm 139). A life of honest, introspective prayer is essential to spiritual growth. 
  • I need the Word of God because it gives me something against which to measure my life.  The Bible inspires and informs, but it also challenges and confronts.  It is one thing to read the Bible, and it is another thing to let the Bible read you.
  • I need community, because my gifts only make sense in light of the part they play in the larger mission.  We are not whole without one another.  I need others to help me see myself in a different light.  I need the Church.  And I need to let friends get close enough to me that they can speak into my life.

Foolishness doesn’t come in just one flavor.  It is more of a Baskin-Robbin, 31-Flavors kind of thing.  What are the different fools described in Proverbs?

The Babbling Fool

Proverbs mentions fools that err with their mouths:

The wise of heart will receive commandments,
but a babbling fool will come to ruin.

Proverbs 10:8 (NIV)

Before a baby learns to talk, they learn to make noise.  In fact, they make a lot of noise.  Studies have been done on this.  Boys tend to make noises like truck motors and the like.  Girls mimic conversations even before they can form the words.  It is cute.  They are babbling.  You probably have heard of the “babbling brook.”  The water keeps flowing over the rocks and babbles on and on.

A babbler chatters continuously and do not filter what they say.  But words are too powerful to waste.  James (sometimes called the Proverbs of the New Testament) says the tongue is like a match that can set a whole forest on fire.  It is also like a rudder that can steer a great ship.  Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).

Proverbs maybe thinking specifically about those who pontificate to others, but do not apply the word to their own life.  The choice between being a person wise of heart who receives the commandment and a babbling fool who talks a good game, but whose words are empty.  This reminds us of Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees who were quick to teach others but neglected their own hearts.

When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

Proverbs 10:19 (NIV)

If you are a babbler, sooner or later you are going to run out of anything constructive to say.  You may veer off into gossip, hurtful words, or other undisciplined speech.  We should ask ourselves:  Is it true?  Is it helpful?  Is it kind?  If not, let’s keep it to ourselves.

The average man speaks about 7,000 words per day.  The average woman speaks 20,000 words a day.  (I know couples for whom those numbers are reversed.)  One husband told me that, when he comes home, he has already spoken his 7,000 words, and his wife is just getting started on her 20,000!  Men maybe don’t get into trouble with the amount of their words, as they say the wrong or superficial things.  Many women are exceptional at using their words to relate.  Those of us less wordy need to learn to talk more on the level of the heart.

Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

Proverbs 17:28 (NIV)

One of my favorite Lincoln quotes is “Better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than open your mouth and remove all doubt.”  My experience of babblers are that they are nervous, fearful people.  Chattering away has become a coping mechanism.  This may be why one of the spiritual disciplined practiced by some monastic Christians is the discipline of silence. 

Take It Easy

Another type of fool that Proverbs teaches us about is the sluggard, the lazy fool.

30 I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
31 and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
32 Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
33 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
34 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.

Proverbs 24:30-34 NIV)

The teacher here has walked by the vineyard owned and operated by the slacker.  The whole point of a vineyard is grapes.  But this vineyard is growing only thorns.  The stone wall intended to keep out vermin and thieves is broken down.  The whole place is in disrepair.  It didn’t happen overnight.  The scene is the result of a pattern of neglect.

Some of you know that I grew up next door to my grandparents who were dairy farmers.  The local TV stations for us were Marion or Carbondale, Illinois; Paducah, Kentucky; or Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  Sometimes these stations would show pictures of local scenes when they paused for station identification.  More than once, we noticed grandma and grandpa’s farm on television.  It was a beautiful place with the red-roofed dairy barn on a hillside with two silos. 

The reason why it was a beautiful place, however, is because my grandpa always had a project.  There was always a fence that needed mending, a wall that needed painting, or a tree that needed trimming.  He stayed after it. 

There is really no substitute for daily discipline.  The best things in life don’t work on auto-pilot.  We get out of them what we put into them.  This is true is marriage, parenting, and our professional lives. 

I tell future husbands during premarital counseling:  The word “husband” is an agricultural term.  Perhaps you have heard of animal husbandry?  In the King James Version of the Bible, the vinedresser (keeper of a vineyard) is called the husbandman.  What does a husbandman do?  We walked through the vineyard.  He looks at the vine.  He pulls weeds.  He waters.  He protects.  If he has done a good job, the vine will be fruitful. 

Instead of applying diligence, the lax fool offers excuses:

The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!
I shall be killed in the streets!”

Proverbs 22:13 (NIV)

If you want an excuse, there is always one available.  But a wise person knows their priorities and translates those priorities into daily habits.  Keep cultivating what is most important.

The Reckless Fool

Another type of fool covers the spiritually reckless.

One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless.

Proverbs 14:16 (NIV)

It’s funny that we call careless people “reckless” because they actually wreck… more.  Fools don’t take evil and sin seriously.  They cut ethical corners.  When God draws a line, they dance on it.

Proverbs 9:10 says that wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord.  Fools, on the other hand, place other things of higher value.  In fact…

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

Psalm 53:1

Athests make an easy group for a preacher to pick on.  Did you hear the one about the atheist who complained about having no holidays?  “Christians have Christmas and Easter, Jews have Passover and Hannukah, and Muslims have Ramadan.  We atheists don’t get any celebrations.” 

The response came back:  “Well, there is always April 1.”

That may be a sick burn on atheists, but we would do well to consider the aspects of our own lives where we live as practical atheists… live as if God did not even exist.  Some people are atheist with their finances.  Others may be atheist with their business dealings, or sexual morals.  There are even some Christians who live like God does not exist from Monday through Saturday.

It is a foolish creature that pays no heed to his/her creator.  The fool has said in his heart there is no God. 

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10

In our world, it will make you seem more foolish, out of step with prevailing wisdom, to love, serve, and honor God.  That brings us to the final type of fool I want to discuss today.  There is a good type of fool mentioned in the New Testament. Paul called himself a fool for Christ.  Consider his words to the Corinthians:

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Roman culture valued grandeur, power, magnificence and authority.  The Gospel proclaims a crucified Savior.  Those words seem contradictory.  The message of the cross sounds like foolishness to a world concerned with self, but it is the power of God unto salvation for us who believe.

If you follow Christ, you will always seem a little foolish by the standards of this world.  You will say no to things that everyone else is clamoring after.  You will give when it doesn’t make sense.  You will love the unlovable… forgive the unforgiving. 

The Gospel defies human reason and wisdom.  In Luke 11, Jesus told his listeners that something greater than Solomon was happening among them.  God was bringing, through Jesus, salvation by faith. 

I am a big fan of reason. I like logic.  I enjoy things that make sense.  The scientific method has yielded many great benefits to our world.  In following Jesus, I have found that some of the best things can only be acquired by faith.  Faith, in God’s economy, is the great equalizer.

Our faith is not opposed to reason, but neither is it constrained by it.  That means there is wisdom, the deepest wisdom, that can only be found in those with great trust in God.  The fool has said in their heart there is no God.  The wise have decided in their heart to follow… even when it doesn’t make sense.