Say the word “fool” and the image of one who is easily duped comes to mind: Larry, Mo and Curly, Barney Fife, Laurel and Hardy. Yet they, and the characters they portrayed were not so much fools as simpletons who were essentially harmless, innocent, and amusing. Not so with the fool.
Scripture is clear that a fool is not mentally deficient, but morally depraved. Proverbs especially is replete with statements of what it means to be foolish (cf. Prov. 1:7, 22; 3:35; 8:36; 9:10; 10:1, 8, 13-14, 18-20, 23; 11:28-29; 12:15-16; 13:16, 19; 14:1, 9, 18, 24, 33; 15:2, 13-15, 20; 17:16, 24; 18:2; 19:1, 13-14; 20:3; 22:15; 23:9; 24:3-7; 26:1-12; 27:3, 20; 28:26).
Reduced to its essence, here are three fundamental characteristics of foolishness:
A fool refuses teaching. This is Solomon’s thesis in Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7; cf. also 9:10).
Being unteachable is disastrous for the believer because growth and change are primary in the spiritual life, and fundamental to being changed is a willingness to be taught (cf. 1 Thess. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pt. 3:18). The fool, on the other hand, presumes that he has sufficient knowledge and discernment to be successful in life. He doesn’t know that is like attempting to dance with a lame man (26:7). So he rejects correction and ignores counsel and when the inevitable results of his sin rest on him, wisdom scoffs at him (Prov. 1:23-27).
A fool embraces sin. Solomon asserts, having watched the way of the world, “Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool; and so is wisdom to a man of understanding” (Prov. 10:23).
The fool not only embraces his sin, but it is a harmless game to him — thrills and excitement with no lasting consequences. The fool fails to see that the sin in which he delights himself is destroying his soul (1 Pt. 2:11) and cauterizing his conscience (1 Tim. 4:2). The fool not only does not run from his sin (1 Jn. 2:1), but he looks at it, contemplates it, touches it, and then embraces it (Js. 1:14-15). And he does all this with disastrous results.
A fool returns to his sin, despite warnings of consequences. Consider Prov. 26:11 — “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” The fool is the one who keeps engaging in sinful acts though he repeatedly suffers difficult and disastrous results from his illicit activities.
I had never seen a dog retrieve his retchings from the ground until my wife and I adopted a black lab pup several years ago. Then one day I saw him regurgitate his meal and before I had a chance to move over to help him, the meal was back in his stomach! “That,” I told my wife, “is one of the things that makes him a dog, and me a man!” Just as it is inconceivable for a man to eat such a meal, so it is inconceivable to continue indulging in sin, yet that is the very thing a fool will do.
What’s the antidote to foolishness? How can a man keep from the enslaving bindings of foolishness? Rather than naively chasing the whims of the flesh, intentionally pursue the wisdom of God (Prov. 1:7a). The wise man heartily receives teaching and instruction and delights in God’s fellowship (Prov. 1:24-25). The wise man abhors his sin and embraces confession and the forgiveness of Christ. The wise man returns repeatedly to the righteousness of Christ and the wisdom of the cross.
If the definition of a fool is one who is morally bankrupt and depraved, then the wise man is the one who pursues moral uprightness and conformity to God, walking worthy of His calling as a believer (Eph. 4:1; 1 Jn. 2:3-6). May we be known as those who embrace only Christ’s “foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18ff).