The Ways of the Fool
Main Idea: Fools make poor lifestyle decisions that reveal an absence of godly wisdom and lead to humiliating and destructive behavior.
- A Fool Lacks Wisdom (18:1-3).
- He isolates himself (18:1).
- He is opinionated (18:2).
- He will be humiliated (18:3).
- A Fool Is Loose with His Words (18:4-8).
- He does not see the delight of his words (18:4).
- He does not see the disgrace of his words (18:5).
- He does not see the danger in his words (18:6).
- He does not see the destruction in his words (18:7).
- He does not see the disease in his words (18:8).
- A Fool Is Lazy concerning Work (18:9).
- He is poor in his performance.
- He keeps company with destructive partners.
The early twenty-first century is a time of remarkable change and transition. It is mind-boggling to think about how rapidly things change and also how much has changed. It is an awesome time to be alive. It is also an anxious time to be alive.
Yes, the world today is definitely a different world from the one we left behind just a few years back. Go back less than a century and what do you discover? You discover a world where there is no penicillin, polio vaccine, frozen foods, photocopiers, contact lenses, Frisbees, or “the pill.”
There are no credit cards, laser beams, ballpoint pens, pantyhose, dishwashers, microwave ovens, clothes dryers, electric blankets, air conditioners, or permanent press clothes.
There are no FM radios (much less satellite radio!), CD players (which will soon be gone), electric typewriters, word processors, computers, iPads, or cell phones. Smartphones?! Imagine the laughter such a phrase would have generated.
- A “chip” means a piece of wood.
- “Hardware” means a hammer and nails.
- “Software” is not even a word!
There really are five-and-dime stores where you can really buy things for a nickel or a dime. For a nickel you can
- buy an ice cream cone with sprinkles;
- buy a soft drink (called a soda pop);
- make a phone call in a telephone booth; or
- buy enough stamps to mail a letter and two postcards.
Gasoline is eleven cents. Grass is something you mow not smoke. Coke is a soft drink not an illegal drug. Pot is something you cook in. AIDS are helpers not a disease. School shootings and metal detectors are not even science fiction.
Yes, the world certainly has changed, and we can expect even greater changes in the very near future. We are smarter and wealthier people, but a nagging question continually haunts us: Are we wiser? Have we really learned anything? Are we ready for what lies ahead? Are we ready to meet our God?
Every generation has the potential for good or evil, to live wisely or play the fool. It is hard to be optimistic when you take an honest look at our world today. Several years ago an outrageous rock star named Marilyn Manson commented just one week after the massacre at Columbine High School, “I try to show people that everything is a lie—pick the lie you like best . . . and I hope mine is the best” (Veith, “Youth Anti-culture”).
Perhaps we could adjust the Bible a bit, as we too often want to do, and describe the modern mindset this way: “Father, forgive us, for we know not what we are doing—and please don’t tell us. We won’t listen!” We too easily buy into lies. We too readily play the fool. We can easily see this foolishness in someone like Marilyn Manson, but we often do not see it in ourselves. We disobey God’s Word because we think that our lives, our marriages, our money, or our parenting situations are the exception to God’s clear teaching. When we think that, we show we would rather live a lie—like a fool—than live the truth.
Proverbs continually contrasts the way of the wise with the way of the fool. Proverbs 18:1-9 continues that pattern with “a description of the fool’s antisocial nature, activity, and consequences” (Waltke, Proverbs, Chapters 15–31, 68). Waltke notes the text naturally divides into three sections: verses 1-3, 4-8, and 9. He points out that the fool “is mentioned explicitly in verses 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, and 8 and inferentially in verses 5 and 9. verse 5 speaks of an ordinary person in contrast to the wise. Moreover, verse 5 is the only one containing antithetical parallels to contrast the two. All the rest are synthetic, devoted entirely to the fool” (ibid.).
As we analyze these verses in three movements, what does King Solomon teach his son about the ways of the fool? In particular, what does he teach him concerning a fool’s antisocial behavior (vv. 1-3), his words (vv. 4-8), and his work ethic (v. 9)?
A Fool Lacks Wisdom
A fool in Proverbs is a person who lacks wisdom. He is a person who “does not delight in understanding” (v. 2). He is not able to see life from God’s perspective and act accordingly. He is oblivious to the ways of God and refuses the counsel of true friends. Three aspects of his lack of wisdom are noted in verses 1-3.
He Isolates Himself (18:1)
A fool is a person who isolates himself from others. He is antisocial and a loner who is absorbed with himself. His interests are located in his own desires, his own self-gratification. Further, because he is self-centered, he does not listen to the “sound wisdom” of others. When those who love him try to reason with him, “he breaks out” (ESV), “he starts a quarrel” (NIV), “he rebels” (CSB). The fool is a loudmouth who only causes trouble because he never listens to anyone. He is quick tempered, rages emotionally out of control, and refuses to receive godly wisdom. The Message paraphrases verse 1 this way: “Loners who care only for themselves spit on the common good.” Proverbs 11:14 reminds us, “Without guidance, a people will fall, but with many counselors there is deliverance.” A wise person will surround himself with good and godly friends who love him enough to tell him the truth—even when it hurts. He will not play the Lone Ranger. After all, even the Lone Ranger needed Tonto!
He Is Opinionated (18:2)
Verse 2 informs us, “A fool does not delight [ESV, “takes no pleasure”] in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions.” The fool has a closed mind but an open mouth, a small mind and a big mouth. He does not listen, but he is quick to tell others what he thinks. Pride is alive and well in his soul. He is convinced that what he thinks is what everyone else ought to think. He is too clever and cute for his own good. God gave us two ears and one mouth; perhaps we would all be wise to listen twice as much as we talk. James 1:19 provides a very wise word of counsel at this point: “Understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”
He Will Be Humiliated (18:3)
Because a fool keeps to himself, will not listen, and loves to hear the sound of his own voice, he will eventually humiliate himself. In this instance his foolishness leads him into wickedness. Because his character is flawed, wickedness characterizes his life. He is not a wise person but a foolish person. He is not a good person but “a wicked person.” His foolish choices eventually cost him, and they cost him big time. Three words describe the fool’s humiliation: contempt, dishonor, and disgrace or derision. Derek Kidner calls these three “sin’s traveling companions” (Proverbs, 127). Robert Alden notes,
Sin belongs with shame as dishonor goes with disgrace. The series starts with sin which leads to shame (or contempt). Shame is just a step away from dishonor which leads to disgrace. . . . Sin is a road which progresses downward; the consequences of walking it are progressively more severe. (Proverbs, 138)
A Fool Is Loose with His Words
When you go to the doctor for your check-up he or she always looks at your tongue because it is an indicator of your physical health. God says that you should listen to what flows from your tongue because it is an indicator of your spiritual health. Unfortunately, apart from salvation in Jesus, who redeems the total person, the tongue runs wild and spews all sorts of poison and venom. James 3:8 says, “No one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Proverbs repeatedly speaks to the importance and power of the tongue, and it does so again in 18:4-8. Here the focus is specifically on the words that come bubbling out of the mouth of the fool.
He Does Not See the Delight of His Words (18:4)
This verse contrasts the words of the fool with the words of the wise. The idea is that the words of a wise man are a continuous supply of blessing and nourishing counsel (Ross, “Proverbs,” 1023). Deep waters are cool, pure, and refreshing. They bless and do not curse. They build up; they do not tear down. They are like a beautiful “flowing river” or a “fountain of wisdom.” A contrast is implied: a fool’s words are stale, possibly bitter, potentially poisonous. They cater to the wicked (v. 5), stir up strife (v. 6), ruin lives (v. 7), and find a home with those who gossip (v. 8). There is no delight to be seen in the fool’s words.
He Does Not See the Disgrace of His Words (18:5)
Verse 5 places us in the context of the courtroom. The fool shows “partiality to the guilty by perverting the justice due the innocent.” He takes the side of the wicked (through his testimony?) against the righteous. Perhaps he thinks the evil person can help him out and further his agenda while the innocent person cannot. His actions and words turn truth upside down and betray the innocent. We cannot help but immediately think of Jesus and the false witnesses who sided with the wicked and powerful Sanhedrin against the innocent and sinless Son of God (Mark 14:55-59). The fool forgets or ignores the wisdom of Proverbs 19:5: “A false witness will not go unpunished, and one who utters lies will not escape.”
He Does Not See the Danger in His Words (18:6)
“The 10 Commandments of Human Relations” are attributed to Robert G. Lee, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, 1927–60:
- Speak to people. There is nothing as nice as a cheerful word of greeting.
- Smile at people. It takes seventy-two muscles to frown, only four to smile.
- Call people by name. The sweetest music to anyone’s ear is the sound of one’s own name.
- Be friendly and helpful. If you would have friends, be friendly.
- Be genuinely interested in people. You can like almost everybody, if you try. (If you cannot like them, you can still love them through Jesus.)
- Be generous with praise—and cautious with criticism.
- Be considerate with feelings of others. There are usually three sides to a controversy: yours, the other person’s, and the right one.
- Be alert to give service. What counts most in life is what we do for others.
- Learn to trust people. That trust builds relationships.
- Have a sense of humor. If you add to the above a good sense of humor, a big dose of patience, and a dash of humility, you will be rewarded manifold.
As you might expect, a fool values none of this wise counsel. Actually a fool, as verse 6 teaches, is really good at talking himself into trouble. “A fool’s lips lead to strife, and his mouth provokes a beating.” The ESV says, “A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.” The Message paraphrases it quite colorfully: “The words of a fool start fights; do him a favor and gag him” (cf. 19:29). A fool’s words push people over the edge, and he is the one who pays the price with a tail-whipping!
He Does Not See the Destruction in His Words (18:7)
Verse 7 repeats the idea of verse 6, but it advances the argument. The fool receives a beating in verse 6, but he is destroyed in Verse 7 (Waltke, Proverbs, Chapters 1–15, 73). Solomon tells us, “A fool’s mouth is his devastation [ESV, “ruin”; NIV, “undoing”], and his lips are a trap for his life.” Words are powerful weapons, and sometimes we use them to our own ruin and destruction. The picture is of a man who lays a deadly trap and he does so for himself! And he does this with his own lips, his own words. The fool is the man who cannot keep his mouth shut even though his words will ruin him; they will wreck his life. There is a self-destructive nature to the words of a fool as he reaps what he has sown (Gal 6:6-7). Proverbs 10:14 reinforces the truth of his verse: “The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of the fool hastens destruction.” Proverbs 12:13 adds, “By rebellious speech an evil person is trapped, but a righteous person escapes from trouble.”
A wise man will never forget that a lifetime of building a good reputation can come crashing down and be destroyed with one careless word. He will also remember a very simple axiom: if I don’t say it, I won’t have to apologize for it. There are far more regrets in life for what we did say (tweet, post on Facebook) than there are for what we did not say. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 12:36-37,
I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
He Does Not See the Disease in His Words (18:8)
Proverbs 18:8 and 26:22 are identical. They address the wicked and destructive sin of gossip. People love to gossip. It is virtually a universal human addiction. We just cannot get enough. Like a man strung out on heroin or crack cocaine, we just have to have more. Solomon helps us understand why this sin—and it is sin—is so powerful. He tells us that gossip is like “choice food [ESV, “delicious morsels”] that goes down to one’s innermost being.” The GNT says, “Gossip is so tasty—how we love to swallow it!” Going into the innermost being, the words become a part of who we are. And they always “stimulate the desire for more” (Ross, “Proverbs,” 1025). Waltke says they are “a delectable contagion and so more dangerous” (Waltke, Proverbs, Chapters 1–15, 73). Proverbs 16:28 says, “A contrary person spreads conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” Proverbs 26:20 adds, “Without wood, fire goes out; without a gossip, conflict dies down.” Ray Ortlund summarizes the matter of gossip well:
Let’s all admit it. We love gossip. We love negative information about other people. We love controversy. We find it delicious. It is a delicacy—to our corrupt hearts. We gulp these words down with relish. But the contagion goes down into us and makes a deep impression and leaves us even sicker than we were before. Truly, God is not mocked.
He then goes on to raise some very good questions and, in the process, he puts every one of us on the spot! Ortlund asks,
Do you speak up when others are put down? Or do you just stand there and listen in sinful silence as the blast of gossip and slander hits you in the face? God says, “Open your mouth.” With every unkind word that goes unconfronted a reputation dies. So much is at stake in our words. They matter not just to us but even more, far more, to God. We are always speaking before the face of God. (Proverbs, 134)
A Fool Is Lazy concerning Work
Verse 9 concludes this section with a quick and simple word about our work ethic. Walt Disney said success is “doing something so well that people will pay to see you do it again.” President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing” (“Address to the New York State Agricultural Association”). Unfortunately the Proverbs fool is completely out of touch with these kinds of perspectives. Shoddy workmanship and a poor work ethic is no problem for the fool. He has no problem being a slacker.
He Is Poor in His Performance
A fool is lazy in doing his job, or “slack in his work” (ESV). He is content to do just enough to get by. A poor job performance review is of no concern as long as he keeps his job. He is not known as a hard worker and he does not care. He is not known as an honest worker and he does not care. He is not known as the guy who gives 110 percent and he does not care. He is not known as the guy who will go the extra mile and he does not care. Colossians 3:23-24 calls the devoted follower of King Jesus to a different and higher mindset when it comes to our work. There Paul writes,
Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.
He Keeps Company with Destructive Partners
The fool is a slacker and “is brother to a vandal.” Laziness and slothfulness are destructive. Laziness and destruction are twins, two peas in a pod, bedfellows. They are related to one another, similar in nature. Ross says, “The one who is slack may look for shortcuts, and may make things that fall apart. His destruction may be indirect and slow in coming, but it is just as problematic” (“Proverbs,” 1025). Do you cut corners at work? Then you are a fool. Do you take shortcuts to save time and energy? Then you are a fool. You are selling yourself short, neglecting the gifts and abilities God has given you, cheating others, and potentially putting people at great risk. So I don’t tighten the bolt on the car wheel. What’s the big deal?! When you realize that you are always working for a King who knows your name and sees everything that you do, it will make a difference in how hard you work and in the quality of your work. He gave his best for you. Does he not deserve the same from you?
Jesus Christ is the quintessential Proverbs man, the embodiment of the Wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:30). He is also the antithesis of the fool in 18:1-9. The fool lacks wisdom, but Jesus is full of grace and truth ( John 1:14). Jesus was not isolated but surrounded himself with friends and companions with whom he shared life. He was not opinionated but spoke words of truth, healing, and grace. As John 7:46 says, “No man ever spoke like this!” It must be admitted that he was humiliated, but his humiliation was for the benefit of others as “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). He was dishonored and disgraced so that we would not have to be. And slack in his work? Not a chance. Not a hint. John 4:34 nails it: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” Praise God, Jesus did finish the work the Father gave him and declared it to be so in John 19:30 when he said, “It is finished.” The Wisdom of God, the Lord Jesus, makes it possible for us to walk in wisdom and to not play the fool. His invitation is to all. How you will respond is up to you.
Reflect and Discuss
- Do you often make decisions that focus on yourself and disregard the interests of others?
- Are you open to, and even desirous of, the counsel of others?
- Are you a loner? Can you identify a circle of good and faithful friends?
- Are you more of a listener or a talker?
- Do you feel like you always have to win an argument? Do you see destructive results from such conversations?
- Would you characterize your speech as a flowing river of wisdom? If yes, why? If no, why?
- Do you cozy up to those who can further your agenda whether or not they walk with Christ? If yes, is this really wise?
- Can you think of times when your mouth has gotten you into trouble?
- What are your attitude and actions concerning gossip? Try to answer honestly.
- Evaluate your work ethic. Do you do your work as unto the Lord, knowing that it is Christ you serve?