The word fool, or one of its more hurtful cousins, has been used for many insults. It’s a word that can strike great blows to people and leave deep wounds.
So what is a fool? Since it is such a popular word to use today, what does it mean to be a fool? Thankfully, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes have much to say on the subject.
1. A fool is known by his many words
I was surprised to learn many of descriptions of a fool had to do with his words.
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in expressing his opinion” Proverbs 18:2.
“For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words,” Ecc 5:3
“The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly,” Prv 15:2
“Each of you should be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger,” James 1:19.
“A fool gives vent to his anger, but a wise man quietly holds it back,” Prv 29:11
A fool is known by his many words. The wise do not speak when they don’ t have anything to say. They don’t feel the need to fill every second of silence in conversation. They are quick to listen. In today’s culture there is more than enough opportunities for someone to speak or share their ideas, thoughts, pictures, etc. There are painfully few places where someone will listen. Also, my personal opinion is the fool the author of proverbs is describing used the words “like”, “umm”, “you know” and “just” generously in his blabbering, something I am very guilty of. A fool also lashes out immediately when provoked. He can’t bare an insult and must respond immediately even if it is incoherent and makes the situation worse.
2. A fool doesn’t listen to advice
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, fools despise wisdom and instruction,” Proverbs 1:7
“A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool,” Proverbs 17:10
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice,” Proverbs 12:15
A fool isn’t foolish for lack of wisdom available to him or even spoken to him, but because of his inability or unwillingness to listen to it. Fools are stubborn. They don’t want to be told they are wrong whether because they think they are right (Prv 12:15) or because they don’t want to change their ways.
3. A fool is proud
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in expressing his opinion,” Prv 18:2
“Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him,” Prv 26:12
To the fool the only opinion that matters is his. He doesn’t think another could have anything of value to say let alone more valuable than his own opinion. It’s not understanding he seeks, but the haughty satisfaction of being wise.
4. A fool brings ruin
“A fools mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to himself,” Proverbs 18:7
“The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense,” Prv 10:21
“When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against God,” Prv 19:3
A fool’s many words, refusal to listen to wisdom and his proud spirit will eventually bring him to destruction and ruin. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted,” Luke 14:11. In his ruin he will blame either God, others or both.
Jim Collins in his book Good to Great examines the characteristics of great leaders who built great companies. He makes this observation of a great leader he calls a level 5 leader:
“Level 5 leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well …At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility never blaming bad luck when things go poorly.”
The fool does just the opposite. When things go well he looks in the mirror to credit themselves for success and if things fail they point out the window at God or others.
Looking at a fuller description of a fool it’s somewhat scary to see parts of myself in it. Whether it’s tendency to talk too much, not listen enough, or another characteristic of a fool, we all play the fool at some point.
Yet we have hope.
If no sin is so great that God’s grace isn’t deeper still, then no folly is so foolish that we cannot receive grace and in God’s timing, his full and gracious transformation. The Apostle Paul, who is one of the greatest missionaries, theologians and preachers of all time said at the end of his life said he was the worst of sinners (1 Tim 1:15-17). Yet Paul clearly knew the love of Christ in a deeper way than most. If there is hope for Paul there is hope for us to hear this warning about fools and in view of God’s grace offer our lives as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1) to Him in obedience.