Every Christian has been confused by Scripture at times. Here’s part of a message I received from someone after a study I taught:
Last week, I took the entire chapter [from the study], copied it to Word, and then made spaces for notes. I thought I was prepared. But I wasn’t as prepared as I was hoping. I will just keep working on it.
I can tell the person was discouraged, and this is something I’ve encountered regularly. Here are two passages that should discourage us from being discouraged:
“Our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand“(2 Peter 3:15-16). The Apostle Peter himself read Paul’s letters and found them difficult to understand at times.
“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating” (1 Peter 1:10-11). The prophets were given the very words of God. Even they had to “inquire” and “search carefully” to understand the revelation in each other’s writings.
Why does God allow certain parts of Scripture to be confusing?
Since it’s the 27th, Katie and I read Proverbs 27 together this morning; whether you believe God gives us a chapter of Proverbs for each day of the month, it still works out nicely for us to introduce wisdom into our lives regularly. During our reading this morning, I was encouraged by a number of verses and wanted to pass along some thoughts; the point isn’t to comment on every verse, but share what stood out…
1 Do not boast about tomorrow,
For you do not know what a day may bring forth.
This isn’t condemning planning or preparing for the future as that would conflict with other Proverbs telling us to do just that: Proverbs 6:6-11, 21:20, 27:12. It’s is a criticism of declaring what will happen in the future; it’s condemning the pride of being a false prophet and foretelling the future. The same warning is given in the New Testament in James 4:13-16.
2 Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth;
A stranger, and not your own lips.
My wife made a good point that the word “Let” shows it’s not bad for others to speak well of us; it’s only bad if we’re the ones doing it.
3 A stone is heavy and sand is weighty,
But a fool’s wrath (or provocation in the NIV, ESV, NASB, WB)is heavier than both of them.
When a fool provokes you, it’s very hard not to respond. I wrote about this in a recent post: “How to Deal with a Fool.”
5 Open rebuke is better
Than love carefully concealed.
6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.
18 Whoever keeps the fig tree will eat its fruit;
So he who waits on his master will be honored.
19 As in water face reflects face,
So a man’s heart reveals the man.
The heart – and not the way someone looks outwardly – is the real revelation of a person.
20 Hell and Destruction are never full;
So the eyes of man are never satisfied.
One of the strongest verses in the Bible discussing the emptiness people experience looking at porn.
21 The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold,
And a man is valued by what others say of him.
Fire tests gold and silver and reveals the value of it, and the same is true of people when they’re praised:
Praise tests whether people become prideful.
Praise reveals whether people have the character to stay humble.
22 Though you grind a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, Yet his foolishness will not depart from him.
Fools don’t listen, they don’t learn; they can experience terrible consequences as a result of their foolishness, but they stay the same. I discussed this verse in the post I mentioned earlier: “How to Deal with a Fool.”
23 Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, And attend to your herds; 24 For riches are not forever,
Nor does a crown endure to all generations. 25 When the hay is removed, and the tender grass shows itself,
And the herbs of the mountains are gathered in, 26 The lambs will provide your clothing,
And the goats the price of a field; 27 You shall have enough goats’ milk for your food,
For the food of your household,
And the nourishment of your maidservants.
Although these verses aren’t primarily for pastors, I found tremendous encouragement and exhortation as a pastor:
Know your flock and take care of the people that are part of it (v. 23).
Riches and wealth don’t last and can’t take care of you, but if you take care of your flock, your flock will take care of you (vv. 24-27).
Learn how to avoid being foolish ourselves. Even though certain people are identified as fools, there’s some foolishness in all of of us. Learning about fools can convict us of our own foolishness.
How to identify a Proverbs fool…
They’re described as unteachable:
Proverbs 1:7b Fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:22c Fools hate knowledge.
It’s not that they literally hatewisdom, instruction and knowledge. They hate it in the sense that they won’t gain any because they think they know everything:
Proverbs 12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.
Since they refuse to learn, they continually make the same mistakes.
Proverbs 26:11 As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.
Instead of learning:
Proverbs 18:2A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart.
This is to say they don’t want to understand. They just want to listen to themselves talk. This leaves them very puffed up:
Proverbs 14:3a In the mouth of a fool is a rod of pride.
This pride leaves them blind to their own foolishness. They’re deceived:
Proverbs 14:8 The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way, but the folly of fools is deceit.
Wise people know the truth about themselves. They see themselves accurately. Fools on the other hand have deceived themselves into thinking they’re wise. As a result they think they’re speaking wisdom, when in fact:
Proverbs 15:2b The mouth of fools pours forth foolishness.
Proverbs 15:14b The mouth of fools feeds on foolishness.
This is why their mouths and ignorance get them in trouble:
Proverbs 18:7 A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.
Proverbs 10:21 Fools die for lack of wisdom.
What’s the solution for fools? How can they avoid the destruction their foolishness brings? The solution is to become teachable:
Proverbs 8:5 O you simple ones, understand prudence, and you fools, be of an understanding heart.
How to deal with a Proverbs fool…
Now that we have an understanding of the characteristic of fools, this is the obvious question!
The simple answer is you don’t! Proverbs says the best way to deal with fools is by not dealing with them at all:
Proverbs 14:7 Go from the presence of a foolish man, when you do not perceive in him the lips of knowledge.
When you recognize people are fools, it’s time to get away from them!
If you choose to hang around fools though, the Bible also lets you know what to expect:
Proverbs 13:20b The companion of fools will be destroyed.
What if you don’t want to be the “companion of fools” but you want to try to reason with a fool. In other words, what if you try to deal with a fool? The reality is you can’t, because it’s inevitably going to become an argument. Scripture is clear about the hostility you should expect dealing with fools:
Proverbs 12:16 A fool’s wrath is known at once.
Fools are quick tempered and often respond in anger. This is how miserable it is:
Proverbs 17:12 Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs,than a fool in his folly.
A fool will hate what you have to say:
Proverbs 23:9 Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words.
The clear instruction from Scripture is not to waste your time trying to deal with a fool; it is a futile, frustrating endeavor. You can’t talk any sense into a fool, and not to sound too simple, but this is what makes him a fool: he won’t listen. He won’t learn. He could experience terrible punishment and discipline, but he won’t change:
Proverbs 27:22 Though you grind a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his foolishness will not depart from him.
If fools would listen they’d cease being fools, but since they won’t it’s best to let them continue in their foolishness. What’s the problem with this though? If you’ve been around a fool it’s hard not to respond!
Proverbs 27:3 A stone is heavy and sand is weighty, but the provocation of a fool is heavier than both.
The difficult dilemma with fools…
You shouldn’t respond to a fool for the reasons mentioned, but you know if you don’t respond the person will remain a fool. The situation is described perfectly:
Proverbs 26:4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. You want to respond so he doesn’t continue to think he’s right and remain a fool.
Answering a fool makes you “like him” in two ways:
It is so foolish to answer a fool you have to be a fool to do so.
You won’t be able to help but look like a fool when you respond, hence the quote, “Don’t argue with a fool because onlookers won’t be able to tell the difference.”
Proverbs 26:4 says not to answer a fool, and then Proverbs 26:5 says the opposite? It looks like a contradiction unless you consider how well it captures the predicament you’re in with a fool:
You can’t answer a fool because of his foolishness.
You should answer a fool so he learns some wisdom.
Despite the strong urge to respond, DON’T! Unless you want the frustration the Bible clearly warns you’ll experience.
Do the verses in Proverbs help you recognize a fool? More importantly, do they warn you against being foolish yourself?
Have you dealt with a fool before?
Requiring some humility, when have you acted like a fool?
Share your answer(s) in the comment section below!
You know how certain chapters are associated with various topics? 1 Corinthians 13 is the love chapter, James 2 is faith without works, etc. 1 Kings 12 is like the “bad advice chapter” and here’s why: Rehoboam had just taken over for his father Solomon and the people came to him and said, “Hey your dad built a lot of great stuff, like the temple, all his cities and gardens, but he had to work us really hard and tax us pretty heavily to do that, so can you lighten up on us?” (12:3-4).
Rehoboam said he’d get back to them and then went to older people for advice. They said: “Treat the people well and they’ll treat you well.” Not liking their advice he asked his younger friends (because we know younger people always have better advice than older people) and they said, “Tell them, ‘You thought my dad was tough? I’m going to be even tougher!’” He told that to the people and they said, “Okay, sorry. We’ll do whatever you want.” Not! Ten out of twelve of the tribes rebelled against him and started their own nation and when Rehoboam sent someone to try to make amends, they stoned him.
Now here’s the tremendous irony…
Sunday’s sermon discusses Jeroboam, the king of the ten tribes that rebelled. Only a few verses after Rehoboam asked for advice that led to a civil war in his nation, Jeroboam – who only happens to have a nation to rule because of Rehoboam’s foolishness – DOES THE EXACT SAME THING and asks for advice that leads to the downfall of his nation (1 Kin 12:28). I think 1 Kings 12 could seriously contain both examples of the worst advice anyone in history ever received.
As a pastor, I’ve seen the tendency in people to do this. People will ask me for counsel. I’ll give my thoughts. They won’t like what I have to say, so they’ll go and ask others until they find someone who will tell them what they want to hear. Other times I’ve had people ask me for counsel, and I could tell they didn’t like what I had to say. When I’ve pressed them, I could tell they’d already talked to someone else and they were going to do that because it agreed with what they wanted to do.
Next time you’re considering advice shopping – just looking for someone to validate foolish desires – read 1 Kings 12. Job nailed it when he said, “The counsel of the wicked is far from me” (21:16) and the psalmist when he said, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…but his delight is in the Law of the Lord” (1:1-2).
You can listen to the sermon discussing Jeroboam here.