That's what we're going to look into today. We don't have to look far in today's culture to find ways people are attacking other people. They range from the physical and emotional to the verbal and spiritual. If you haven't heard the "word" aimed at another (or yourself) yet, there's no doubt you've encountered the attitude––someone is treating someone else like they're a fool. Is it the behavior of a wild and crazy guy, or a carefree lady, that everyone is happy to enjoy––just some harmless good fun? Are we losing control of our better faculties for some reason outside (or within) our control? Are we unleashing anger and hatred that's been dying to get out?
What does the word "fool" actually mean?
When We Say "Fool," What Do We Mean?
When one uses the words "fool or foolish," what do they mean? I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who uses these words without an insulting or demeaning connotation. Can they be used respectfully? Have I been oblivious to this usage all this time? I don’t see how, but if there are greater uses besides those that belittle or shame or exalt yourself, I would be interested in hearing them. This possibility is also gone from our discussion.
As far as I know, we use "fool" to describe someone who's opinion is so radically different from our own that they are hardly worth our time to engage. The things they say are foolish, they can't see the value of the wisdom we are sharing, and they might even be incapable of reasonable thought––in short, they are fools. We call them fools when they are so unlike us that it infuriates us. But I don't think it even stops there. We talk with them for awhile, we reason and maybe even try to win an argument, but the time comes when we get tired of trying to reason with them and we resort to personal attacks. This is an argument fallacy called ad hominem, meaning "to a man." It describes those times when argument and reason fail and we resort to calling names, slandering our opponent, and verbally trying to discredit their ability or trustworthiness. The question is whether or not our use of ad hominem would also account for the kind of attitude that leads us to call someone a fool, or at least find them foolish in some way. But for my purposes today, I want to keep this discussion less personal.
Today, I want to look at what the Word of God says about this term, because there are some potentially confusing, and yet easily explainable, usages in scripture that deserve our attention.
What Does God Say About Fools?
Perhaps the most painful passage on the subject of fools is the first part of Psalm 14:1. But if you look at the passage in the context of the entire psalm, you read how David is speaking of the wickedness of people who live as though God does not exist.
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
According to the Word, the fool is a fool because He denies the Lord who made Him—in thought, word, or deed. The fool lives as godless in the world and takes others with him. This is what Jesus says of the religious leaders in Matthew 23. Note how Jesus says they don't enter the kingdom of heaven and they keep others from entering as well; he says they look good on the outside but inside they're filled with dead men's bones; he accuses them of claiming Abraham as their father but murdering the prophets sent to call them back to the Lord. They are living as fools, and making others "twice the son of hell" that they are––their rebellion against God carries eternal consequences for themselves and others! They are fools, as God defines a fool, and God in the flesh is pronouncing a sure judgment against this behavior!
I once had a student bring to me what Jesus said in Matthew 5:22, then Matthew 23. In brief, Jesus says calling someone a fool makes you guilty enough for hell’s fire, and then He calls the Pharisees fools. This student's purpose was clear—he thought he'd found a clear contradiction in scripture (as is historically and predictably found in skeptical literature). Jesus must've forgotten what he said earlier, or the apostles recorded it wrong. We can imagine it's almost ANYTHING but our lack of understanding. That just doesn't seem... likely, does it?
This is why Christians MUST go beyond simple scan-reading, milk-based perusal of the Word; we must study, devour it like meat, and be ready to answer these poor objections! If we examine the context of Matthew 5:13-48, we will see that Jesus' desire for us is a pursuit of righteousness and a rejection of the sin that damns. If we are in a pursuit of righteousness, we're actually going to be following God––imperfectly, of course, but tripping and fumbling our way in the right direction (toward God). In so doing, we're going to learn about what God calls "good" and what God calls "evil;" what the consequences are for evil and the blessings are of good; and the involvement of God in guiding us toward good and away from evil.
Remember what God said about the fool in Psalm 14:1?
The Responsibility of God, The Nature of Man
God (who alone is good, see Mark 10:17-30) gave us life and sustains that life by His mercy toward us––even as we reject Him and rebel against His commands. We call ourselves good even as we live apart from Him, and we call the evil we do "good" and the good that others do "evil" (see Isaiah 5). Why? Because His ways are not our own and we heartily approve of the very evil He has forbidden (see Romans 1:28-32). We do not understand the harm our evil brings to ourselves and to others, just as surely as we excuse that evil in light of the perceived good we do. If our evil isn't punished immediately, we sometimes think it must be okay––good even. Unlike God, we do not have the foresight to know the far-reaching results of the evil we do, and there can be an empty comfort in that. No harm, no foul, and all that. The movie with Keifer Sutherland, called The Confession, shows this idea powerfully. Our bias leads us to excuse our evil and accuse the evil of another, but that bias also keeps us from being able to judge rightly, as God does. Our judgments are weak and self-serving, and we desire more grace than we are willing to give.
Proverbs 9:8 says we will be hated by fools when we correct them according to God's wisdom, but the wise will appreciate us for it. I have been rebuked by family and friends according to the truth and, even if I didn't receive it well in the moment, I later came to appreciate their concern for me. I've even apologized to people for my sin against them and God (or else for my bad attitude) when they rebuked me! They were trying to spare me from the consequences of my sin. They were being used by the Spirit of God to remind me of the truth of God's Word and rescue my soul from death.
I could have rejected their counsel and earned what my sins deserve. But as a follower of Jesus, the Spirit convicts me, prompts me, reminds me, and transforms me into the image of Christ. It's an on-going process that doesn't end until my physical death wipes away even the stain of sin in the presence of His glorious grace. As I walk with the One who IS truth, He guides me to love the truth. The point? The wise will always grow in wisdom by their pursuit of righteousness, even when it comes through others in the way of a painful rebuke.
The wisdom of God, however, seems foolish to those who are perishing by their very foolishness. We can't see the truth of God for the same reason criminals can't find a cop––they don't want to! They fear the law and avoid those who enforce it because they know they are doing wrong. Our conscience is the God-given, internal enforcer of His law (see Romans 2:14-16), the very thing that convicts us of the sin we do. 1 Timothy 4:2 says we can sear our conscience by ignoring the truth and following false beliefs.
Answering The Fool...
Do not answer a fool according to his
A Moment of Truth...
- If you are an unbeliever, know that the Word of God says you are unbelieving because you are in open rebellion against Him. It is not for lack of evidence for God, but for fear of having your deeds exposed that you do not come to the Lord (see John 3). Not only does creation testify to God, but He has revealed Himself to us in the written Word (the Bible) and the living Word (Jesus), in our conscience, and in the law He has written on our hearts (see Romans 1-3). The Word says you are blinded from seeing the truth of the Word (1 Corinthians 2:14-15)––by your own sin and by the god of this world, who is not a god at all but the one who is condemned and yet still accuses you (see 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, Revelation 12:9-11). In short, you are the fool that God is talking about in the Word. You deny the God who gives you life and breath, and He continues to extend you grace and opportunities to turn from sin and believe. This is not an insult to you, meant to demean, but the truth, meant to set you free. You do not have to reject Him.
- If you're a believer, know that this post is for you as well. 1) Some of you will be tempted to reject the scripture you've read today, if you read it at all. You will find it offensive. 2) Some of you will be happy about it, but that's as far as it'll go. After you close this browser you'll return back to whatever, and won't think much about being ready to make a defense (1 Peter 3:8-17), much less stand up against a barrage of ungodliness in the world. 3) Some of you will be cut to the quick and find the motivation to change in light of the Spirit's conviction. I want to speak to each of you in turn:
- I hope you'll repent. I pray you'll leave behind the arguments of the fool, those who deny the Lord who bought you, and return to His truth. It is, after all, the only truth we can be sure of. The stakes could not be higher. Please consider what the Spirit is calling you to do. Dig into the Word. Be a Berean. Examine the text. Hold fast to the truth and then obey the Lord. Do not fear the abuse of the world who will make fun of you if you actually walk according to the truth. Christ is worth it.
- Please hold fast to the Lord who gives us strength and says, "Do not fear." Have you developed a habit of listening to voices in your mind or in the culture that spread doubt in you about the truth of God and the reliability of His Word? Please repent, study the Word, and turn away from the deceiver. He's out to steal, kill, and destroy you (see John 10:1-21). Do not let him. Resist him.
- Do not fear the arguments of the world, but learn to distinguish between the world's lies and God's truth. Also, remember Satan masquerades as an angel of light and tempted Jesus with scripture. Do not follow man, even men or women who claim to speak for God but lead you from the Word. Use the Word you've got to discern truth from lies. Don't be quick to respond or believe what others are saying (even me), but take the time to look into the Word yourself and understand what you read. Don't condemn yourself by being impetuous or foolish in your responses to others. Sometimes it's better to say "I don't know" and go study than feel like you must say something... and be wrong.
This is our moment of truth. When we know what the Word says, we are doubly accountable. We must throw ourselves on the mercy of God through Jesus Christ, or we may die a fool. And O, how nice it would be to know when we're going to die! But since we don't, 2 Corinthians 6:1-10 reminds us to glory in whatever we face because now is the day of salvation and the acceptable time! Let us not fear, but may we handle the Word of God accurately, with truth and grace.
God bless you all!