Wisdom and Folly

This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. If you have any questions or comments, please post them in the comment section on the blog.

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WISDOM AND FOLLY

If wisdom in God is the application and adaptation of all things to the goal of his own glory, then wisdom in us is the application, use and, adaptation of all things to the goal of God’s glory.

That is why we read in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” and in Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Without the fear of God, which is a godly reverence for him in which we avoid sin and seek his glory, we are, and will behave as, the greatest fools!

The book of Proverbs employs several words, which mean more or less the same thing. First, there is “wisdom” [chokmah] which we have explained. The word has the idea of skill or shrewdness. Second, there is “understanding” [beenah], which word has the idea of discernment, perception, consideration, or differentiation, which is the ability to distinguish between good and evil. Third, there is “prudence” [oremah], which word has the idea of sensibleness, slyness, or even subtlety. The book presents the wise, understanding, or prudent man as a good example. We ought to desire to be like the wise, understanding, or prudent man. That is because Jesus is the perfectly wise, understanding and prudent man.

On the other hand, there are words in the book of Proverbs, which describe the opposite of wisdom. First, there are at least three Hebrew words for “fool” or “folly.” Each of them has a slightly different shade of meaning: senseless, simpleton, stupid, dullard; devoid of moral or religious sensibility; sluggish, brutish, or spiritually stupid. Second, there is the word “simple,” which refers to a gullible or suggestible person.

Foolishness or folly, therefore, is not an intellectual problem, but a spiritual or religious problem. When the Bible describes the fool, it does not describe one who is unlearned or uneducated, but one who lacks moral judgment.

Perhaps we should point out that “fool” in the Bible is not an insult. In Matthew 5:22 Jesus warns, “But whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hellfire.” Nevertheless, Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees fools in Matthew 23:17, and he calls the disciples “fools” in Luke 24:25. Paul calls believers fools in 1 Corinthians 15:36. To call someone a “fool” is permissible, if the intention is to warn that person, but it is sinful, if the motive is hatred and a desire to vilify.

There are five main kinds of fools in the Bible. First, there is the simple fool—he lacks discernment, and is easily deceived. He makes decisions without thinking of consequences. “A prudent man foreseeth the evil and hideth himself, but the simple pass on, and are punished” (Prov. 22:3). Second, there is the silly fool—he is arrogant and determined to follow his own way. Rarely does he listen to advice, which gets him into trouble. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise” (Prov. 12:15). Third, there is unreasonable or sensual fool—he lives for pleasure, and does not listen to warnings from others, so that often he brings ruin upon himself by his foolish words and actions. “A fool’s lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes. A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul” (Prov. 18:6–7). Fourth, there is the scorning fool, or the scorner—he scoffs against parents, authorities, and God. He willfully persists in sin despite rebukes and punishments. “A scorner loveth not one that reproveth him, neither will he go unto the wise” (Prov. 15:12). Fifth, and finally, there is the stubborn fool—he rejects God completely and entirely, and none can reprove or correct him. “He that begetteth a fool doeth it to his sorrow: and the father of a fool hath no joy” (Prov. 17:21).

WISDOM IN US

True wisdom begins with God. If we are wise, we will live in the reality of God, and we will adapt ourselves to that great reality. We will adapt all things in our lives to the great goal, end or purpose of the glory of God.

The issue with wisdom is this—how can I, as a believer, in situation A, B, or C, apply and adapt the knowledge that I have, so that I act according to that knowledge to God’s glory? That is the point of the book of Proverbs—it is a book of “case studies” of wisdom and folly.

Here is how a wise man behaves in this situation. Here is how a wise man lives in this sphere of life—with respect to marriage, with respect to children, with respect to work, with respect to food and drink, with respect to speech, with respect to worship, and with respect to many other things. The lesson, then, is—follow the example of the wise, prudent, sensible man.

Here is how the fool behaves in this situation. Here is how a fool lives in this sphere of life—with respect to marriage, with respect to children, with respect to work, with respect to food and drink, with respect to speech, with respect to worship, and with respect to many other things. The lesson, then, is—take warning from, and avoid, the example of the foolish, simple, stupid man.

Remember—the fool is not an idiot. He is often very intelligent. He might even be highly educated, but he does not use the knowledge that he has. He does not apply the knowledge that he has. He does not adapt the knowledge that he has to the glory of God. He lives contrary to what he knows is true.

On the other hand, the wise man is not necessarily educated: he may have very little formal education, but he knows God, and he lives according to what he knows. Wisdom and folly are moral or ethical qualities, not intellectual ones.

To be continued...

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