September 8, 2019
Good morning. We are going to conclude our study in the Proverbs this summer, so if you have your Bible, you can make your way there. We’re going to close this series with a bang by taking a close look at the fool. I thought this would be an interesting study until I studied it & discovered that I have played the fool most of my life, so I need prayer before we jump into this study.
It has been said that we’re living in a 2ndgolden age of television. The 1stgolden age occurred when the television was first popularized in the 50s & 60s. But with new platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, & Hulu, the TV industry has boomed. We have more options than ever. But if you’re anything like our family, when we do come around to watching a show, we’re drawn to the shows from a previous era. Shows like Andy Griffith, & Little House on the Prairie, (& the occasional Bob Ross). Now, I realize that these old programs presented an unrealistic picture of life. Mayberry was idyllic, even for the 1950s. But here’s what I like about the old shows: the main characters were normal. They had jobs & families & were concerned about the community. Of course, there were fools in these shows (Otis always showed up drunk), but the fools were in the background. Today’s golden age is different. On today’s shows, everyone is a fool. Try watching a sitcom this fall if you can stomach it; you won’t find a normal character. You can’t do it. We live in a world that glamorizes folly. And I’m not just talking TV shows. It’s everywhere. When the next presidential election comes around, you will see folly on full display. This Thanksgiving & Christmas when you will gather with your family, you may encounter folly. The next time you casually scroll through Facebook, you will see it.
Our world loves folly, but according to the Proverbs, that is not wise. The fool is a major character in the Proverbs. Solomon painted a picture of the fool 3,000 years ago, and it is striking how much it resembles a 21stCentury American. I simply want to look at a few character traits, and then see how the Bible offers hope for the fool.
But first, we need to define it. What is a fool? It only takes 7 verses for the fool to show up in Proverbs. Proverbs 1:7says that a fooldespises wisdom and instruction. Fools have rejected God. They don’t need wisdom & instruction; they have all the resources they need to live. This is stated directly in Psalm 14:1. The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”And so, we could say it this way: Foolishness is a way of existing in a world in which God doesn’t exist. (x2) It is not surprising, then, to see folly on full display in 21stCentury America. We live in a world that does not acknowledge God. We kicked him out of the universe. But now we need to find a way to navigate his planet without him. How do we do that? Through folly! It’s cruel & ugly, but it gets the job done. This is one of the harsh realities of living in a post-Christian society. Foolishness flourishes. And as much as we hate to acknowledge it, it flourishes in our own hearts. We need to look at it clearly so that we can name it, and by God’s help, overcome it. So let’s go to the text. What does a fool look like? I have organized the verses into a few character traits.
First,fools are self-protective.If God doesn’t exist, the rules of evolutionary science must apply to every element of your life. Only the strong will survive, so you must protect your dignity, your worth, your reputation, your status, your stuff. And so, fools are extremely protective. Their personal Department of Defense is a highly budgeted, well oiled machine.
Look at Proverbs 12:16– The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult. If you cross a fool, you will know it. When they’re offended, God is not there to defend them, so they must diligently guard their own reputation. The defense is often dramatic. Proverbs 29:11– A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. A few weeks ago, Josh Hayes gave me a tutorial on his Big Green Egg. It is an incredible work of human ingenuity. At the bottom of the grill is a vent that controls the airflow. The airflow controls the heat. The further you opened the vent, the more oxygen the fire gets. If you give it full vent, the fire would rage. This is Solomon’s picture of a fool. They give full vent. When they argue, they open the vent and let the fire burn. This is why Proverbs 17:12says: Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs rather than a fool in his folly. If you take every fight to a level 10, you might win some arguments & buy some peace in your home, but it’s a horrible way to build a family. If my kid spills something on the carpet, and I burst a blood vessel in my forehead in anger, I might prevent another spill. But I will cause my child to live in a prison of fear. I will save my carpet & lose my kid. That’s not a good trade, but a fool is willing to pay the price.
Now, this doesn’t mean that every fool is a rage monster. There are sophisticated fools. Look at Proverbs 20:3– It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling. Instead of blowing up in anger, they can wear you down with constant nagging. Or they can give you the silent treatment. (Have you ever received the silent treatment? It’s miserable & effective). These quieter methods are just as deadly. I have learned that I don’t have to punch a hole in the wall to get my way. I can win an argument with my quick mind. God has given me the ability to consolidate & process information quickly. This is helpful when I prepare a sermon. I can read through the Proverbs and give you a few points on a fool. But it’s foolish when I use my spiritual gift to win an argument. When my wife & I have a conflict, I am able to quickly analyze a situation and organize my case into three quick points that all begin with the letter P… It’s not fair. It’s hard to fight against that. Fools win fights… but at what cost?
Let’s look at the second point: Fools are self-sufficient.Fools don’t need to think or listen or read or pray or ask questions to come up with a solution. They just know the answer. Proverbs 12:15– The way of a fool is right in his own eyes…This is one of the reasons that it is impossible to argue with a fool. If you gave them a solid idea, or a new perspective, they’ll just blow it off. They can’t handle it. Proverbs 29:9– If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.They’ll just brush off a good point. They won’t listen & consider what you have to say because that is too much of a threat. Some of you live with fools, and you stress out over every word you say. You try to carefully craft your arguments to make sure you’re fair & balanced. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Fools can’t handle the weight of being wrong, so they’ll just rage & laugh & make you feel guilty for even trying.
Proverbs 18:2– A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the Bible was written thousands of years ago. This verse describes our world. Solomon could have written this after watching an hour of cable news, or listening to sports radio. You can get a first class education on folly if you absorb cable news and sports radio every day. The hosts and “expert panels” don’t find any pleasure in understanding. When was the last time you heard a talk show host say, “Wow, that’s a great point!” They don’t say that because they aren’t trying to understand & learn. They just want to express their own opinion. They live for the sound bites and zingers. If we immerse ourselves in that type of folly, we shouldn’t be surprised when we bring that same mentality into our relationships. Fools are self-sufficient.
This leads to the third point. Fools are self-defeating. The great John Wayne said it best. “Life is hard… it’s even harder when you’re stupid.” Here’s the sad reality about being a fool. It doesn’t work. Yes, it works in the short term (and that’s why people embrace folly). You can freak out on your 7 year old kid and get her to do what you want. But when she gets old enough, she’ll just leave. Fools are so obsessed with their own problems& perspectivesthat they force everyone away from them. Proverbs 14:17says leave the presence of a fool, for there you will not find words of knowledge.Proverbs 10:1says that a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother. A fool will drive everyone away except for his mama (she’s stuck with him), but she will be sad for her boy. It is a self-defeating lifestyle. It doesn’t work.
This is so ironic because if you were to go inside the mind of a fool, they genuinely think that they have life figured out. It works for them. Their yelling and manipulation gets results. And so instead of listening & learning, they are always correcting & controlling. But they don’t actually help anyone. The only thing they offer the world is more folly. Proverbs 14:24says that the folly of fools brings folly. They sow folly and strife into all of their relationships, and so when the harvest comes, they reap… folly and strife. It is a sad and self-perpetuating cycle that is nearly impossible to break. Proverbs 27:22 – Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestlealong with crushed grain,yet his folly will not depart from him.
OK, so that’s the fool. I’ve laid it on thick. What do we do with this? This is a heavy character study, because every one of us plays the fool. Folly is bound up in the heart of a child. We enter the world as a fool, and I’m not sure it ever entirely goes away, especially when we’re immersed in a culture that feeds on folly. Is there any hope for fools? Yes. It is a dim hope, and the longer fools live in their folly, the harder it gets.But there is always hope. This is why we come to church. Turn to Proverbs 26. This chapter begins with a sharp rebuke for the fool. The first 11 verses pound on the truths that we have just seen. It is impossible to live with a fool. Fools do more damage than good. Like a dog that keeps returning to his vomit, the fool cannot leave his folly. But this list is just setting us up for verse 12. Look at it. Proverbs 26:12 – Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
So the door is cracked for a fool to receive salvation. There is hope. If a fool can muster the words: I might not be right,his entire life would change. This is a painful admission for someone that has built his life on the premise that he knows everything, but if he can admit his lack of self-sufficiency, & acknowledge his need for God, he can begin to experience the healing grace of the gospel. This humble confession is the beginning of wisdom. Pr11:2– When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.
This is God’s brilliant plan. Jesus says that the meek will inherit the earth. The humble will be exalted. If you want to navigate this broken world with skill, you can only do it in power of the gospel. And you can only experience the power of the gospel when you humble yourself before the Lord. As Tim Keller says, all you need is need. All you need is nothing.That is the key to wisdom. For the rest of our time, I want to briefly see how the humble, Spirit-filled life stands in direct contrast with a foolish life.
We saw that fools areself-protective. They fight hard to protect their own worth & dignity. They challenge every offense. How does a humble person handle criticism? They let things go. It’s that simple. Look at Proverbs 19:11– Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. Wise people overlook insults.
I played a lot of basketball when I was a kid. Almost every day after school, I would go to the basketball court and imagine a dramatic scenario at the end of a game. My imaginary team was always down 2 and needed a half-court shot. The coach would always call my number, and I would heave half court shots until I made one. I would imagine my team carrying me off the court. That was my picture of glory. Fast forward to 10thgrade. My JV basketball team had made it to the JV Invitational Tournament in Wilson, NC. We were playing our bitter rivals, Friendship Christian Academy. No lie: the game came down to a final play. Two seconds on the clock. My entire childhood was a preparation for this moment. I wanted to be on the court to experience my moment of glory. When our coach picked the team to go on the floor, he overlooked me, and put in another kid (who was not nearly as good as I was). I’m not lying: as I watched from the bench, the other team stole the ball, heaved a half-court shot and beat us as the buzzer went off. I was crushed. It was a double blow for me. Our rivals got all the glory, and my coach didn’t even let me in the game. For whatever reason, the Lord brought that story to mind this week as I contemplated Pr. 19:11. I thought my glorious moment would come when I did something significant, like make a half-court shot. But I passed up a moment of greater glorythat afternoon. According to the Bible, it would have been my gloryto overlook his decision to put me on the bench. What if we lived like that? What if this were our picture of glory?
Listen, this world is frustrating, and until Jesus returns, it’s not going to change. As long as you drive on a road, you will get cutoff. As long as you live in a home with other people, you will get frustrated. As long as you have a job, you will get looked over and passed by and devalued. The fool cannot handle these little scenarios. Every offense is an attack on his dignity. But the man with good sense can overlook offenses. It is his glory. He can take it to God in prayer and let God vindicate him.(Did you know that the Psalms are filled with prayers for just this occasion?)If Jesus didn’t overlook offenses, he would have never made it to the cross. What offense do you need to let go of this morning?
We saw that fools are self-sufficient. They have all the information they need, so they don’t need to listen.They take no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing their opinion(Proverbs 18:12). If they’re in a conflict with you, they’re not going to listen to you; they know exactly what’s wrong, and so they’ll expend all their energy trying to change & control you.
God teaches us a better way. Humble people love to listen. They know that they don’t know everything, so they engage their ears before their mouths– not out of strict self-discipline, but out of pleasure & curiosity. You know you’re in the presence of a wise person, when they’re asking you great questions. The wise person takes genuine pleasure in understanding!
Is there a better gift you could give to another soul? To take a genuine interest in knowing another soul… What would happen if we evangelized this way? Most of us think evangelism is all about an effective presentation. But I think good evangelism begins with good listening. Tell me about the home you grew up in… How did that impact your view of Christianity? What do you think about this verse?If we can give people the gift of genuine concern & interest, I bet they’d be more receptive to our position. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Finally,we saw that fools are self-defeating. Foolishness looks powerful, but it really isn’t. It’s like a shadow on a wall. It looks scary and intimidating, but soon enough the lights will come on and your folly will be exposed. Foolishness doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because it’s based on the assumption that God doesn’t exist.
But God does exist! And God does demand our respect. And he has told us that greatness is not achieved through power and money and success. It is achieved throughhumility. It is one of the greatest paradoxes of our world, and to fully understand it, you must believe it in faith, but it is absolutely true. Pride leads to destruction, but humility leads to glory. Proverbs 15:33says: The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before… honor.
If you need help understanding how this paradox works, just think about the life of Christ. He is clearly the most influential human that has ever lived. 2,000 years after he came, people are still gathering to worship him. How did he achieve this position?
*Did he come as a powerful king? No, he was born in a manger and lived his entire life in poverty. He worked as a carpenter in a Podunk town.
*Well then, surely he was a beautiful & attractive leader. No, Isaiah said that he had no beauty that we should desire him.
*Ok, he must have achieved his success by foolishly demeaning his opponents. That’s how we find success in our world today. But that’s not how Jesus did it. He never played the fool. Instead, he faithfully entrusted his soul to God. 1 Peter says that when he was reviled, he did not revile in return. When he suffered, he did not threaten. He was perfectly humble. And because of that humility, God exalted him to the highest place so that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is the LORD! This is the brilliant wisdom of God. He uses the weak things of the world to shame the strong. The path to glory goes through the cross. Humility comes before honor.
This message has revealed a lot of foolish places in my heart. I believe that God exists, but there are places in my life where I’m still holding on to control. That is foolish, and it is always expressed in my foolish behavior. I would imagine that some of you feel the same way. If God has revealed a foolish area in your heart this morning, don’t ignore it. Have the courage to repent. Maybe you need to apologize to someone. Or maybe you need to do what Proverbs 30:32 says: If you have been foolish, exalting yourself, or if you have been devising evil, put your hand on your mouth. Sometimes you just need to close your mouth so you can listen to God. Yes, it might make you look weak, but that’s the point! Humility is never easy, and that is why we reject it so strongly. But it’s exactly what your heart needs. Don’t refuse the medicine this morning. Humble yourself before the Lord. Pr11:2– When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.
(Prayer – Fools despise wisdom, but the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.)
Lord, you have shown us over and over that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fools cannot stand your good and sovereign rule, but we want to learn to submit to you.)