The book of Proverbs is part of what is called “Wisdom Literature” in the Bible. Then it should be of no surprise that not only does the book speak of those who are wise, but also its antagonist the fool. In fact, the word fool or fools is mentioned 99 times in the books 31 chapters. The term appears approximately 360 times throughout the Old and New Testament. So, who is a fool? Persons who do not possess wisdom are called “fools.” A fool’s behavior is described as “folly,” which is silliness and craziness. Folly is the opposite of wisdom. Interestingly, in the Bible, both wisdom and folly are described as philosophies or perspectives on life. Wisdom leads to victory and folly to defeat. A simple definition of a fool is a person who is thoughtless, self-centered, and obviously indifferent to God. Do not think that I am trying to be harsh. We all act foolish or fool-like from time to time in life. The truth is that I am a recovering fool. However, there is a big difference between a person seeking wisdom who acts foolishly and a fool who does not really seek wisdom at all.
There is no way to avoid encountering foolish people. We cannot get away from them. So, the question is not whether or not we will encounter fools, but what to do when we do. We receive this advice from Proverbs:
“Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge. The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving. Fools mock at the guilt offering, but the upright enjoy acceptance” (Prov 14:7-9).
You’ve heard the saying, “Be careful who you hang around.” This is a wise saying. The associations we have can influence us for good and bad. We need to be careful whom we let into our inner-circle, those who have the greatest influence on our lives as these words express: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov 13:20). We should avoid association with fools for they will bring with them negative consequences.
We discover in proverbs truths for us to follow in dealings with fools. For one, we are not to try to teach or correct a fool (Prov 23:9, Prov 17:10). Trying to teach a fool is useless. A fool does not even care about what a wise teacher has to say. The fool will go as far as to despise the wisdom shared with them. Now I am not saying that God gives up on people. Nor should we give up hope on people. But listen closely to me. I have said it before, and I will say it until the day I die: Every decision to do one thing is a decision not to do another. Every decision to pour into one person is a decision to not pour into another. We all only have so much time and energy. We need to be wise stewards of these God-given resources. It is foolish to waste time and energy pouring into a fool when there are so many others who genuinely desire to grow.
We are not to partner with a fool (Prov 13:19-20). One way to become wise is to associate with wise people; on the contrary, to associate with fools brings problems. When it comes right down to it, humility is essential to success, but the fool will not let go of pride. There are stories after stories about wise men and women destroyed by partnering with fools. We must be very careful. It’s been said that you should not be surprised if you pick up a rattlesnake and it bites you. Neither should you be surprised when a fool disappoints you.
We should not argue with a fool (Prov 20:3). Arguing is not respectable. It’s been said, “Once you defend yourself you have lost.” I believe this is true. Discussing a matter is healthy and helpful, but once arguing occurs then relational unhealth and disruptiveness take over. Of course, I am not talking about arguing in the legal sense, which means an informed discussion, but in its crudest sense, which is an all-out fight. In any discussion, the key is to seek to understand before seeking to be understood. A fool only seeks to be understood. Arguments can be avoided by overlooking insults, by dropping issues that are potentially explosive. Fools refuse to do these things. They are quick to argue.
We want to be careful not to become a fool or act foolishly (Prov 14:16). This can be difficult. Again, I fully acknowledge I am a recovering fool. We must be careful. Our pursuit of wisdom needs to be a priority, or over time we may turn to folly. Wisdom comes from God. We need to let Him direct us in all of life, especially in dealing with fools.
Dr. Henry Cloud offers a diagnostic question to ask in determining whether or not a person is a fool. Here it is: “What does a person do when truth comes to them?” He offers the insight that a fool often responds to truth with anger. He suggests we limit our exposure to such people.
I want to be crystal clear that I am not saying that we should not love everyone. In fact, we are to love every person, even a fool. But, we are not to join them or become one of them. This would be foolish. We need to love them, but not join them. However, we ought never to give up hope and be willing to follow the Lord’s leading in offering opportunities for them to come to Christ and be renewed.
I am so blessed to do life with each of you. Perhaps, you are in a situation where you just need God’s wisdom in dealing with a potential fool. Maybe, you believe yourself to be a fool and want to change your life philosophy or perspective. God is in the business of directing and redirecting people to rightness. Turn to Him. You will find love, acceptance, and wisdom. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!