So what does a wise man look like according to the book of Proverbs. You attend a church and want to be discipled by someone but you are unsure who you might approach. Though you are not wise in a Proverbs sort of way, you would not fit the mold of a fool either. You are a young man (stick ‘woman’ here anywhere you wish by-the-way) who wants to grow in wisdom. You seek wisdom from God because he tells you to in James 1:5 and you begin to then cast your observing eye around the church over the next few weeks, watching and listening. As you watch and listen you hear a lot more comments than you did before when you were busy talking. And as various comments are made by men you start asking them ‘why’ questions. Questions like, “Why did you decide not to go to that event next weekend, it sounded fun.” Or, “Why do you spend so much time reading those kind of books?” After a bit of time has passed you decide now to sit and carefully read Proverbs in search of how the Spirit of God describes a wise man so that you can compare it to what you have heard and observed in the lives of those with whom you have been.
Here are some things you begin to note:
- A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, But a fool is arrogant and careless. (Proverbs 14:16) The wise man respects and fears God. This means he also knows evil and avoids it for God hates evil. The fool thinks his is fine and can handle it. The wise man knows the exact opposite. He is not the mighty man, Jesus is. He is a man prone to fall so his walk is cautious and the first hint of evil is enough for him to back away.
- A wise man knows how to listen and learn from God–Proverbs 8:32-34. The take-away quote is in vs 33, “Heed instruction and be wise, And do not neglect it” Note that a person is wise when he hears instruction and does not neglect it or let it go (33). Both vs. 32 and 34 speak of the promise of blessing that comes from obedience. This is something that will come up over and over in the book of Proverbs. In 1:5 where it is written that a wise man will acquire wisdom. In other words, a wise man is one who is never too wise to learn more from God’s word. He has not arrived, he is on a journey that ends when he is in presence of the source of all wisdom, his Lord and Savior.
- Closely connected to this is the idea that a wise man will learn from others. He is not one of those spiritual men who only learn from God. He understands that God uses others to teach us many things. Therefore he seeks the advice of others–Proverbs 24:5,6. The wise man is strengthened in his knowledge by seeking the wise counsel of others.
- And connected to both of the above points we can even extend it further. He learns wisdom through creation. In Proverbs 6:6 Solomon says to go to the ant to learn what hard work and diligence looks like. If a fool will see it he will become wise. For the wise man, his eyes are always looking and his mind is always thinking about how God has ordered the universe, why things work the way they do.
- He learns from the mistakes of others–Proverbs 24:30-34. Here he goes by the home of the lazy man and sees the slow destruction of the home. Note that he doesn’t cluck his tongue and walk away, he thinks and considers and concludes. I would do this with my children as I raised them. I would show them those who made foolish choices and the results of those decisions and speak to their heart about it. I would show them wise people and praise those people, showing my children why they were worthy of imitation. The world is full of people from whom those seeking wisdom can learn.
- A wise man will learn from a rebuke. “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you, Reprove a wise man and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser, Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:8-10) Notice how a wise man acts when he is shown he is wrong: He shows love to the one who rebukes (9:8). He gains more wisdom (9:9a). And the rebuke teaches him what is really important (9:9b-10). Also, the motto of the book is repeated here–wisdom begins by fearing God.
There are more to see but this should be more than enough to chew on for the rest of the day. I have a sermon to work on, a wedding to prepare to officiate, a lawn out of control, and a basement that needed de-cluttering. Life on the edge.
Last week I did a short series developing the idea of a fool. That was primarily drawn from the book of Proverbs. This week I want to do some posts on the nature of what a wise man looks like in the book of Proverbs. Obviously this will not be an exhaustive examination of the subject, but it should be one that allows for solid thought, application, and self-examination.
So, what is a wise man? The idea of the wise man occurs 65 times in the book of Proverbs. The word used most frequently has the idea of one with sound judgment, prudence or shrewdness. Basically a wise man is one who is skilled in living his life. He has learned how to allow God’s word to control his life so that there is a godly purpose to life. When I write ‘godly,’ I mean a God-centered perspective. Along with that, if the fool is one who closes his mind to the Word of God, then the wise man is one who opens his mind to the Word of God. As in the case of the fool, the question is not mental ability but rather obedience. It is a heart issue that motivates and drives a person in his life. You can do wise actions out of a foolish heart. And a wise man will do foolish things. But the motivation of both as well as the response when the consequences of those actions come about will help reveal the heart of the person.
Here are some biblical examples of a wise man. The preeminent example is Jesus our Lord. Colossians 2:3 says that the treasure of wisdom and knowledge are wrapped up in Christ. One of those fascinating passages about His humanity is that as man he grew in relation to wisdom and knowledge (Luke 2:40, 52). Aside from our Lord my mind immediately goes to the example of Solomon. It was David, his father, who instructed his son Solomon to obey the Lord (1 Chronicles 28:8, 9). To the early life of Solomon was one of obedience to God, but even then you see it was not total wisdom (1 Kings 3:3, 9, 28; 4:32). Solomon was no longer a wise man when he turned his back on God’s word (1 Kings 11:1-11). And this is an important point that I will develop in a later post. Wisdom one day can become folly the next.
Every Christian needs to learn how to be wise. While much of the book of Proverbs is given over to the subject, I will over the next few posts offer a few principles on what a wise man looks like and how he lives.
Being a fool is not a static event; rather it is very active. The Apostle Paul calls our life a ‘walk’ and uses it to refer to our conduct in life, how we live out our life. And for the fool, since he is a fool, his walk is filled with folly. Note that the folly proceeds from the heart and nature of the person. He is a fool therefore he produces folly. Last post I gave one key characteristic of a fool, he lacks judgment, which shows up in a multitude of ways. Today I will explore the second characteristic, the fool is set in his ways:
- He is a man with perverse speech. “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity Than he who is perverse in speech and is a fool.” (Pro 19:1) The fool can’t keep folly off of his lips, let him speak and it will not be long that twisted, crooked, or false speech pours forth.
- He is a man with a perverse life. “Like a dog that returns to its vomit Is a fool who repeats his folly.” (Pro 26:11) You have to have a dog to understand this. They puke and then treat it like a second meal, every time. The fool lives out his folly and instead of seeing it for what it is, returns and does it again. He doesn’t learn the basic lessons of life. It is sad really.
- He speaks without thinking. “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly.” (Pro 15:2) The wise man makes his knowledge useful. Literally it means that he is skillfully using his knowledge. There is care in his speech. However, the fool has no control on his words, they flow like a spring. Note that there may be knowledge within the words, but that the words are not delivered properly. Proverbs 15:28, “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” Proverbs 29:11, “A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back.”
- The fool is in love with his own mind. “A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind.” (Pro 18:2) Remember, the heart of man is filled with foolishness. It is a traitor and yet the fool does not understand this fact nor does he properly fear his heart. Instead of having a healthy distrust of his own mind, he simply speaks of his opinions and is content. The task of ordering his mind and thoughts under the Word of God is foreign and drudgery to him.
So we have a person who has twisted words, twisted living, foolish speech and in love with his own opinions. But so what? Fools abound like dandelions in a field, why don’t we just ignore them? Because the true fool is a very dangerous person in reality:
- We should fear his influence in our lives more than we often do. “Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, Rather than a fool in his folly.” (Pro 17:12) What does it mean to meet a fool in his folly? Think the moment a drunken fool says he is fine and takes the car keys into his hand. Think the fool who looks at a dangerous part of town and says that you will be alright. Think, the fool who comes up with an idea and says, “Come on, it will be fun!” As a former cop, I saw it over and over.
- His mouth gets himself and others into a lot of trouble. “A fool’s lips bring strife, And his mouth calls for blows. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, And his lips are the snare of his soul.” (Pro 18:6) Again, a police officer knows this first hand. How many times I arrived at a scene only to find a fool who was bleeding. Why? Because he was a fool and opened up his mouth and ended up getting thumped by another. And it was not uncommon to find his friends bleeding too, simply because they were in his presence.
- He brings burdens into the lives of others. “A stone is heavy and the sand weighty, But the provocation of a fool is heavier than both of them.” (Pro 27:3) Live in a home where the father or mother is a fool and you will understand the weight of a fool’s presence. Have a son or daughter who is a fool and the weight will bear down heavily on the parents’ souls.
Here, then, is the fool. He brings pain upon himself and upon those around him. He is a man heading to destruction and does not even see it. The fool is warned in Proverbs 29:1 that if he hardens his neck against reproof, eventually he will be broken beyond remedy. And live your life for a reasonable length of time and you will find many a broken fool and it is never a pretty sight.
The gospel tells us that Jesus came and took up our folly and became sin on our behalf that we might be saved. The gospel tells us that though we may be heavy-laden with our folly, that in Jesus we will find rest. The gospel tells us that in Jesus there is life and a new heart with a new desire. When you see the fool, what you see is a man or woman who needs Jesus.
Yesterday I introduced you to the fool. Today I want to give you the basic characteristics of what makes a person a fool. Here is where it can get a bit sticky for some because depending on how you are approaching this a person can only be a fool outside of Jesus Christ or a Christian can also be a fool. Which way you land on this (including in between) is important to work through as you study a subject like this. In the Old Testament (I am primarily using Proverbs to draw out the marks of a fool) you are dealing with a people who are under the Old Covenant. The authors of the proverbs are not looking at “saved” and “unsaved;” rather they are looking at people who are part of the covenant and how they live under that covenant.
In the New Testament we find the same sort of assumption. The writers repeatedly speak of growing in wisdom, talking wisely, lacking wisdom and distinguishing between the wisdom of this world and the wisdom from God. These men are instructing Christians (people professing to be under the New Covenant) to not be foolish but be wise.
So, drawing from the book of Proverbs what are the characteristics of a fool? First, he lacks judgment:
- “The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge, But the mouth of fools feeds on folly.” (Pro 15:14 ) This speaks to the immature, shortsighted view of the fool. He has not trained himself to desire that which is good and right just as a foolish person fills his stomach with poor, unhealthy food.
- The fool enjoys foolishness. “Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool; And so is wisdom to a man of understanding.” (Pro 10:23) Note the contrast here, the fool finds his folly to be fun, but a mark of being wise is finding that same enjoyment in wisdom. This is why addressing a fool is so difficult, they simply don’t see the pleasure and delight in the same things you do.
- The fool has no capacity for wisdom. “Why is there a price in the hand of a fool to buy wisdom, When he has no sense?” (Pro 17:16) This one shows the fool trying to gain through money what can only be gained through the Lord. The idea is that even if he were able to buy it, he would not know what to do with it. It is foreign to him.
- The fool has no idea of a patient search for wisdom. “Wisdom is in the presence of the one who has understanding, But the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.” (Pro 17:24) Here we see the things that capture the minds of the wise and the foolish. Note how the wise man always has wisdom in his sight. He keeps it close to him. As we come to the New Testament we find it in the gospel bound up in the person of Jesus (1 Cor. 1), therefore we set our eyes up Him and order our lives in that manner–if we are wise. The fool, however, is constantly wandering about with his mind. He is captured by silly things. His best life is just over the horizon or around the corner.
- The fool trusts in himself. “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered.” (Pro 28:26) This literally says that he relies on his own mind. The problem is that his heart is a traitor that always leads him astray but he does not know that. This proverb has some implied points to it due to its parallelism. The idea is that the fool trusts in his heart and as a result will be suddenly destroyed, while the wise man (who does not look to his own heart for direction) will be protected. This goes so very counter to much counsel of today. Too often we are told to trust in ourselves and develop self-confidence; but in reality, the wise man looks not to himself, but to the Word of the Lord.
Next post I will layout the characteristic of the fool that he is set in his ways of folly. But right now it is enough that we learn to order our prayers that God would intervene in the heart of a fool that he would be broken and contrite, that he would see that he is set on a dangerous path and that he is in desperate need of the grace of God in his life.
Today I want to give a brief introduction to a subject often misunderstood or simply ignored. It is the person who is a fool. Not a fool as defined by the world, for they see the Christian as a fool. But the fool as God defines it. It is not a small matter as the next few posts will make clear. And it is something that parents need to strive to train out of their children through the practical application of the gospel and discipline.
So, what is a fool? There are three words for “fool” in the book of Proverbs, all meaning basically the same thing. The essential meaning is of one who is stubborn or lacking in judgment. In addition to these it also involves one who is dull, obstinate, or inappropriately self-confident. The bible has the idea of a person who is choosing this mind-set rather than one who is mentally lacking. To put it bluntly, a biblical fool is one who closes his heart to the Word of God.
The fool is not just the one who says that there is no God. The fool of the Bible is the one who spurns God and His ways. That is why you can’t reason with a fool—his foundation for all thinking and decisions is built upon himself; therefore, as you bring the Word to bear on the problem he rejects it. The essence of a fool is summed up in Psalm 14:1, “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” In the New Testament it is also seen in the same manner: Romans 1:21-22, “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” Therefore, because at his heart he is rejecting God and His ways the fool ultimately makes the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons.
The next post will look at the key characteristics of a fool.
Proverbs 1:20-33, Wisdom shouts in the street, She lifts her voice in the square; 21 At the head of the noisy streets she cries out; At the entrance of the gates in the city, she utters her sayings: 22 “How long, O naive ones, will you love simplicity? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing, And fools hate knowledge? 23 “Turn to my reproof, Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you. 24 “Because I called, and you refused; I stretched out my hand, and no one paid attention; 25 And you neglected all my counsel, And did not want my reproof; 26 I will even laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes, 27 When your dread comes like a storm, And your calamity comes on like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come on you. 28 “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they shall not find me, 29 Because they hated knowledge, And did not choose the fear of the LORD. 30 “They would not accept my counsel, They spurned all my reproof. 31 “So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way, And be satiated with their own devices. 32 “For the waywardness of the naive shall kill them, And the complacency of fools shall destroy them. 33 “But he who listens to me shall live securely, And shall be at ease from the dread of evil.” (NASB)
Here we see Lady Wisdom shouting faithfully crying out in a very public manner. This is a call to repent and to come to a fear of the Lord, the beginning of wisdom. She is honest in her dealings as she describes the difficult road of growing in wisdom, involving her reproof. But she also points out that she shall pour out her spirit upon the repentant one.
But notice what happens starting in verse 24. She offered her wisdom and actively sought people and they rejected it. She was not hidden in some alleyway daring people to find her, she is stretching out her hand for them, but is scorned. Therefore, in verse 26 there is the dire warning that she shall not be present when their evil befalls them. And that is really important. It is “when” not “if.” To reject wisdom is to reject life. Though the way of folly seems good (though only to a fool) its way always ends the same, broken and destroyed, filled with regrets that cannot be removed.
Verses 26-27 give us three dire results:
- It shall come in its appointed and appropriate time (26b and 27c). God is not mocked, whatsoever we sow, so shall we reap and for these people there is a time in the mind of the Lord that the cost of rejecting Wisdom’s call shall come.
- It shall come at an unexpected moment (27a). The word is “calamity” and is the word that is commonly translated as “evil.” It comes without warning, but when it comes, it comes as an earthquake that suddenly erupts around you, filling you with nothing but terror. Believe me on this one, been in a big earthquake and there is nothing fun about it–utter helplessness.
- It shall come at an uncontrollable speed (27b). Like a whirlwind, or tornado that suddenly becomes the center of your existence as it come bearing down upon you, so is the recompense of the Lord.
And for those who find themselves in these situations the picture is very bleak. They shall cry out for that wisdom that they had made their habit to scorn and she will only laugh at them. What a horrible place to be, desperately in need of wisdom and finding none. The silence of God is a terrible thing for needy man to experience.
What is the answer? Simply this: hear Lady Wisdom and heed her. Come to her and you shall find life. And where is Lady Wisdom found? In our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 1:3).