"The wise of heart recieves commandments, but the prating fool will come to ruin."
World Magazine often has a page devoted to quirky things that happen in the world. Oftentimes they include some snippets from the world’s worst crooks. For instance, one of the latest issues reported how a drug dealer was tracked down. No great detectives were needed in this case. The police found his home quite easily. The dealer apparently thought he could better serve his clientele by passing out his business card. It is one of those things where you want to say, “How dumb can you get?”
Sometimes you wonder about people, don’t you? You catch yourself saying that, “how dumb can you get?” Perhaps you will catch yourself saying that about yourself at times!
When you study the book of Proverbs you may find yourself saying that on occasion. We may find ourselves aghast as we sit in our seats, and we will want to blurt out “How dumb can you get?” And if we are judging ourselves correctly we will be saying that about ourselves at times.
The book of proverbs is written to the “son.” He’s the youth growing up and coming into his own. And if there is one trait about young people it is that we are oftentimes dumber than we believe ourselves to be.
But things don’t change much as you get older, do they? John Hyatt, a preacher of Spurgeon’s day, was recorded to have said, “There is no point on which the world is more dark than that of its own ignorance.” As we grow older, we gain more knowledge. But does that knowledge lead us to think about how much we really do not know?
As we look at these proverbs—or look at any part of the Bible for that matter—we should be led to ask the question, “how dumb am I?”
Certainly, that may be the case this morning. In our verse we have two men presented before us. If you don’t mind, I would like to call them Dumb and Dumber. and I would like to consider each in that order. Our passage presents us with two men who you might say are mentally challenged. Both possess this quality of stupidity, but one is much worse off than the other.
Let us begin by considering the less sever case. This is the man who I call…
As an astute Bible reader you will probably say “Wait a minute! It starts out by saying “‘The wise of heart receive commands.’ Matt, this is the wise man. The only dumb one here is you!”
Well, you may be right about that! But look at it again. If he is wise, why does he receive commands? He is called wise because he knows how much he doesn’t know!
The wise man here isn’t wise just because he has a degree or because he has built up a lot of knowledge over the years. He very well may have a Ph.d. (or he may not), that does not make a difference. He is called wise because of his humility! He knows that he does not know what he is supposed to know.
Your first step to becoming wise is getting a right understanding of yourself. And yet that can often be the hardest thing to do. I heard that there once was a tombstone with an epitaph that said: “Anthony Benezet was a poor creature, and through divine favor he was enabled to know it.” (we need that kind of grace, don’t we?)
Do you know what one of David’s favorite prayers was? It was “Teach me your way, O Lord.” We find it (or a form of it) in a number of places throughout the Psalms. It was the prayer of a humble man. That was a prayer of a man who knew he didn’t know what he needed to know, yet wanted to know it. That was a prayer of a humble man. This was David! He wrote most of the Psalter! Certainly he of all people had a grasp on what God taught, right?
We make fun of the disciples at times, don’t we? And rightfully so. They were a bunch of bumbling fools. It seems that the only time they do anything right is when they shut up. Perhaps their most glamorous moment is when they came to Jesus and said, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
We should take a lesson. Wisdom begins when we have a right view of ourselves. That’s part of the fear of God. When we see ourselves as creatures who are lesser than God and needing to draw from him. That’s when you are humble. When you are on your face before God you gain wisdom, because you realize you don’t know half of what you’re supposed to know.
But notice that the wise man isn’t wise simply because he is a humble man, he is wise because he is also an open man.
Look at him! He may be dumb, but “he receives commands.” This is the man who is ready to listen. More than that he is ready to accept what he hears.
You remember what Jesus said, “Whoever hears these words, and puts them into practice, he is like a man who built his house on the rock.” (Matt 7:24). There were most likely people who were listening to Jesus who didn’t accept what he said. They heard, but they didn’t listen. They didn’t receive what he said.
You find a lot of people in the church like that. They come to church, but they are as open as Fort Knox. There are those who are approached by brothers who want to gently correct them, but they will have none of it. If you approach them about their character traits, they snap! That’s not a wise man. That is not a man who is wise of heart. The wise man comes to church eager to learn. The wise man will listen to someone who rebukes him.
Professors in seminary said to us, “Fellas, you will have people who will critique your sermons. And you will have people who critique you. A lot of what they say will be garbage. But even if you think that what they say is way off the mark, you need to weigh what they say.” He was telling us to be receptive—to be open to what even the oddest or harshest people have to say.
And that takes us into the next thing you need to know about this man. This dumb man is a wise man because he is humble, because he is open, and because he is discerning.
The man receives what? He receives “commands.” This is nothing more than God’s Word. This is a man who is willing to listen, ponder what is said and then accept what it so long as it is true! He may be dumb, but he is no fool! He is not gullible. This man is searching for diamonds and will not accept anything less, no impostors will be permitted. Only if it is in accord with what God says will he receive it.
We here a lot today about “having an open mind.” This usually means we must accept what other people say wholesale--without any disagreement or critique. We are just supposed to take their words. But such a person is not wise. He is downright stupid. Who could be dumber?
I have been in conversations with people—talking to them about Christ and the gospel. And as I tell them about the exclusive claim of Christ—Either you follow him and have life or you come under his condemnation—they will say, “Well, you need to have an open mind.” By that they mean, “what you say may be true, but there might be other alternatives equally as true.”
In the 1920’s liberalism was beginning to take over the Presbyterian Church. Conservatives, in an attempt to save their denomination, passed a resolution that said that ministers in the church must affirm 5 fundamental tenets of the faith to be a minister—i.e. that Jesus was born of a virgin, his atoning death, and his bodily resurrection.
The liberals of the church had that overturned. They said that “these are only some ‘theories’ of the Christian faith.” In other words they were saying we should be “open minded.”
Yes we should be open. We should listen to what other people have to say. But what is false should never be received! We need to be discerning and only receive those things that are in accord with God’s Word.
In the book of Kings there was a prophet who was told to deliver a message to one of the kings of Israel. But he was also told that he was not to refresh himself in that land. He was to boycott any food or drink that anyone there might offer him. But after he delivered his message a man came along and tested the man. He claimed to be a prophet. He said that he received a message from God that he should eat and drink at his house. The prophet agreed to do so, but it was to his demise. He was mauled by a wild beast as soon as he left.
I guess you could say, he was a little too open-minded.
And there you see the last trait of this (so called) dumb man. A man who is dumb, but is wise enough to receive commands will be a safe man. Jesus said, He who hears these words is like a man who built his house upon the rock. The storms came, but it did not fall because it was founded upon the rock.
As I have said before: the man in the first half of the verse may be dumb, but he is no fool. However, the man in the second half of the verse is a fool. That is what makes him dumber.
As we turn to contemplate this second specimen, let us look at his identity and his destiny.
The first thing we notice is his identity. He is described as a “prating fool.” That means one that talks foolishly. The idea comes from a child who just babbles. Words are strung together, but they do not have any meaning or coherence. If you have listened to small children speak you have heard them do this. They just say whatever comes to their head.
That’s what the prating fool is. He is one who is full of words, but empty of knowledge.
When fountain pens were popular you could sometimes find instructions that came with the pen that said, “When this pen flows too freely it is a sign that it is nearly empty.” That is the same sort of caution that we should use with humans. The mouth flows too freely, it can be a sign that one’s head is empty. Someone whose mouth is given to rambling is one who typically is lacking understanding. He’s a prating fool.
But let’s consider his identity a little more. Bible scholars link this prating fool to a man mentioned in 3 John. His name is Diotrephes. John says 2 things about this man: He identifies Diotrephes by saying that “he loves to be first” and that he “gossips maliciously” against the Apostles. Isn’t this an apt description of a “prating fool?” He is a fool—he doesn’t care about truth. He just wants to be first. He wants prominence and prestige. He wants to be admired. So what does he do? He makes himself out to be a scholar. He parades himself before others as a learned man. And he ends up leading other people astray.
In Romans 16 Paul talks about those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way. He says they do their damage by their “smooth talk.” That is really what makes the false teacher so dangerous: He talks so much. He sounds so eloquent. He seems so religious.
You have to beware: This is Public enemy number 1 for the church. He (or she) might look and sound like a trustworthy person, but in all actuality he/she is a fountain of sewage. Those waters are contaminated, and anyone who drinks of is in serious trouble.
This is why John in his first epistle says, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God.” Don’t be mesmerized by their talk. Just because they talk a lot, doesn’t mean they know a lot.
Ø Now that you’ve seen something of this person’s identity, I want you to consider his destiny.
The passage says that the prating fool “will come to ruin.” You could translate it by saying, the fool will be “thrown down.” It’s sort of like a divine body slam.
If you ever watch the Discovery Channel or the History Channel you might see a documentary from time to time on an ancient civilization. They will show pictures of what is left of their city or what has been unearthed through excavation. You could tell that it was once an incredible place, but there is not much left of it now. We call those remnants “the ruins” of a city. You could say that this great city has been “thrown down.” It has been destroyed.
That is what will happen to the prating fool. He will be thrown down, ruined by God’s powerful hand.
Take for example the Sadducees. If you are familiar with the Bible you may have heard of these people before. They were some of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. They were supposed to be the priestly class, but they were prating fools. They denied the existence of angels and demons. They did not believe in the resurrection. Most of all they opposed Jesus himself! As a result, they were thrown down.
Just a generation after Christ in 70 AD, there was a war. It is often called the Jewish War. In that war some of the leaders of the Sadducee sect were executed and the rest of that band seemed to vanish from the face of the earth. In one swipe of God’s hand they were gone.
There are many other examples of this that we could look at.
You may think of someone like Karl Marx, one who advocated a worldview greatly opposed to the Christian faith. It is said that:
Two of his daughters and a son-in-law committed suicide. Three of his children died of malnutrition. Marx feeling no obligation to earn a living, lived off of friends. He fathered an illegitimate child by his maidservant. He drank heavily. Though Marx and his wife were poor, he kept investing in the stock market where he constantly lost. His wife left him twice, but returned. After she died, he didn’t even bother attending her funeral. Then, to top it all off, his own death was preceded with mental anguish and despair.
You can also think of Fredrick Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s is known for his Nihilism and for coining the phrase “God is dead.” Nietzsche lived to be 56 years old. The last 12 years of his life quite unproductive because he suffered a mental collapse when he was 44. It is said that his insanity was so severe he could not even communicate.
Now I recognize that not all fools suffer that kind of ruin in life. This is certainly true, at least to some degree. But I want you to recognize that their lives do end. They may have escaped catastrophe in this life, but in the end they will fall. It will be just as Jesus says, “Whoever builds his house on the sand will fall with a great crash.” And elsewhere Jesus says, “whoever causes one of these little ones to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone was tied around his neck and he was thrown into the sea.”
He will be ruined. He will face death. And after death, he will be thrown into hell. That is his destiny.
If we might borrow from the great theologian Forest Gump “Stupid is as stupid does.” A fool will do foolish things and face a fool’s future. But a man who knows how foolish he is will be wise because he will seek the Lord’s counsel.
In the end, the question becomes: Which person describes you? Perhaps a better question would be, “How dumb are you?” Are you foolish enough to be a wise man—one who receives the teaching of the Bible? Or are you so dumb that you ignore the Word of God and bumble through life?
I pray that it is the former. However, if the latter would characterize your life up until now, I hope that you will wise up by submitting yourself to the Lord and his word.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.