The Discipline of a Fool
Today, we’re going to be finishing our study in Proverbs concerning the topic of discipline. And again, discipline, in Proverbs and throughout the rest of the Bible, is not just talking about punishment. It’s talking the entirety of life training. Biblical discipline is bringing up a person to honor and fear and delight in the Lord.
All of us are commanded to grow up like this, and for us parents especially, this is how we’re called to raise our kids.
Ever since our kids were born, our house started receiving magazines about parenting. The magazines say they’re aimed at helping parents raise kids and improve the home, but really they are just an exhausting list of products they want you to buy. It’s all advertising.
Well, this past week I stopped to read one of the full-page ads in the magazine. One side of the page was for a brand of chocolate chip cookies, and the other side was for a company that sells a variety of grocery products. Well, in the ad, they weren’t selling a specific product. They were just trying to make a name for themselves.
The ad had a border made up of various families, and in the middle was a paragraph in large print. Here’s what it said: “The days of a single blueprint for the ‘typical American family’ are gone. It’s not just what a family looks like that has changed; it’s how we family.”
That’s true. American culture has changed the way people perceive of a family. THat's not necessarily a good thing, but it's the reality. The ad continues: “Sometimes we’re able to stick to traditions, but more often than not, we’re making it up as we go. And that’s not a bad thing; that’s a great thing. Because there is no rulebook for how to family, no one right way—just your way. So keep doing what you’re doing. Family how you family. As long as you’re doing it with love and conviction, we’ll have your back. Always have. And we always will.”
And the tagline for the ad says: Family Greatly. Family Greatly.
Well, God wants us to family greatly. He wants our families to succeed and to thrive. But the true definition of success is faithfulness to Jesus Christ. And contrary to the message of the ad, there are some traditions that need to be kept. That is the tradition of teaching and walking in the truth of God.
There is a rulebook for families. And there is a “right way.” You don’t get to determine that. God already has. And there’s a lot of freedom within those principles; things will look different from family to family. But in the end, the best families will always be pursuing the wisdom of God in Jesus Christ and in the Scriptures.
Proverbs simplifies God’s instruction into two distinct categories—there is wisdom and there stupidity. You can be a wise man or you can be a foolish man. That is the great contrast that Proverbs present us with. And it’s a helpful contrast as we think about life and as we think about how to train our children.
Life feels complicated at times. There are so many factors in the decisions we make. But at its heart, Proverbs reminds us that there are only two paths in life—the path of wisdom and the path of foolishness. And those paths are mutually exclusive. They head in two different directions.
And in order to help up in this pursuit of personal wisdom, I want to arrange some Proverbs for us into three, basic, simple lessons. It’s not going to be anything radically new for most of us, but it’s a reminder about the difference between wisdom and foolishness.
Here’s the first lesson. (1) The wise man receives instruction, but the foolish man rejects instruction. The wise man receives instruction, but the foolish man rejects instruction.
This is the starting point for a life of wisdom. It’s a life marked by humility and teachability. For the past couple weeks, we’ve been aiming this lesson a little more at us younger ones, or us children, but the lesson isn’t something we are meant to outgrow. All of us—children, parents, and grandparents—need a teachable spirit. And that lesson gets repeated over and over again in God’s proverbs.
I’m not going to cover all the Proverbs in this category. We’ve covered a lot already, and there’s still more that address this. But let’s continue tracing this theme for a bit, and hopefully the repetition wisdom of Proverbs helps something stick.
Let’s start this time in Proverbs 19:20—Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.
Rather than just pick on the teenagers, I want all of you to think about this, even us older ones. Are we prone to listen to advice? Do we accept instruction? Are we, even in our older years, still teachable? This is the attitude God wants for us.
Skip down to verse 27. Here’s the flip side to that. 19:27—Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.
Don’t listen to the unhelpful messages of the world, and don’t stop listening to the instruction of God. That is the path of foolishness.
What you allow and receive into your life sets the trajectory of your life. And maybe the best-known proverb in this regard is Proverbs 22:6—Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Now, keep in mind that we are in the book of Proverbs. And what’s a proverb? It’s usually a short, pithy, memorable statement, that is generally true and is intended to move you to some action. Proverbs are not iron-clad promises.
This is not a verse that God intended to cause parents grief or guilt if their children wander from the truth. No parent can guarantee an outcome in their child’s life. It’s also NOT a verse that should give us parents a false sense of security, when a child is wayward.
This is a verse intended at motivating us parents to begin teaching and training our children as early and as faithfully as we can. And the general principle is that the early instruction of a child lays the foundation for the rest of his life.
Most people read this Proverb in the positive sense, but it might be better to understand this proverb either in a more neutral, or even a negative, tone.
Looking at the Proverb in Hebrew, it’s a little tricky to translate. But a literal translation might be something like: “Train (or raise) a child according to his way; indeed, when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
But what does that mean? What does it mean to train a child “according to his own way”? Well, for starters, the word for child there is pretty broad. It can apply to anyone from 3 to 30 years old. So even a young adult counts in this case.
But raising a child “according to his own way” doesn’t mean it has to be good. I believe that it’s a reference to raising a child in a way that pleases him. And that is not a good thing.
We’ve talked about discipline enough now to see that Proverbs never advocates some system of parenting with which a child will never disagree. Discipline will include pain. It will include things the kid doesn’t like.
But, if you ignore the wisdom of Proverbs, and if you raise a kid according to the way he likes, then this verse is saying, he’ll never change. He’ll never mature. Does that make sense?
One Jewish philosopher gave this loose paraphrase: “Train a child according to his evil inclinations and he will continue in his evil way throughout life.” One modern commentator said it like this: “Let a boy do what he wants and he’ll grow up to be a self-willed adult incapable of change.”
In that sense, this verse isn’t promising some good result if you obey God. It’s promising a BAD result if you DON’T give your child the proper guidance. And that’s consistent with the rest of Proverbs and the rest of the Scriptures.
The wise man receives instruction and he gives instruction. The foolish man rejects instruction, for himself and for his children. And one example of that would be King David, Solomon’s father.
Solomon would have seen the effects of David’s poor parenting on at least one of his brothers. In 1 Kings 1:5, David’s fourth son Adonijah tries to set himself up as the next king. And he set up for himself a little army. And verse 6 says this about him: “His Father had never at any time displeased him by asking, ‘Why have you done this?’ He was also a very handsome man.”
So, you got a handsome, spoiled little boy, whose father never wanted to trouble him, and once he grew up, he rebelled against his father, seeking to establish his own kingdom. And he was eventually put to death when Solomon became king. What a tragedy! And the Bible gives some of that responsibility to his father, who didn’t want to bother him.
Dads, don’t follow that reasoning. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can be a great dad without ever having to correct and discipline your child.
And children, be aware that growing in wisdom means receiving correction, in one form or another, from your parents. So don’t harden yourself against that. Receive it. Be humble. Be teachable. The wise man receives instruction, but the foolish man rejects it.
Let’s continue this theme by looking at Proverbs 22:17-18. Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips.
Again, get that image in your mind: Incline your ear to wisdom. Don’t reject it. It is the fool who despises instruction.
Skip over to Proverbs 23. Let’s read verse 9, and then verses 12-14. Proverbs 23:9—Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.
Now verse 12—Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge. Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.
Once again, giving instruction and giving correction is an act of love. It trains the child. It shapes his conscience. And it should be done in the context of love and instruction, not uncontrolled anger.
The culture will say that corporal punishment damages a child. But, if done properly, it helps him. It preserves him. It lays the foundation for loving obedience and the order of society. And keep in mind, this is not some command that all adults can hit children. This is talking specifically about a parent and his own child. That’s the context.
There are more proverbs in chapter 23 that call us to listen to our parents and pursue wisdom, but in the interest of time, let’s skip to chapter 24.
Proverbs 24:13-14—My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off.
It’s the holiday season, so a lot of us are going to be eating a lot more candy for the next month or so. The equivalent of candy, in biblical times, was honey. And in the same way that candy makes you feel good and gives you pleasure, wisdom is the same thing for your soul. It benefits you.
Now, there’s another proverb that talks about eating too much honey, so don’t press the analogy too much, okay. You can’t eat all the candy you want; that’s not good for you. But you can and should do all you can to listen to and receive wisdom.
Jump now to Proverbs 25, verse 12. Proverbs 25:12—Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.
It was not uncommon in those days for both men and women to wear earrings, especially royalty. That was a mark of beauty or wealth. But, says this proverb, what makes your ear truly beautiful—truly praiseworthy—is that it listens to instruction. It listens to correction. The wise man, the wise woman, listens to instruction. Draw near to people who are willing to give you instruction and correction.
For the opposite of that approach, go to Proverbs 26:12. This is a warning—Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
If you think you’ve got life all figured out, that doesn’t make you wise; it makes you a fool. If you’re unwilling to accept correction, you are a fool; no matter what kind of education you have, in God’s eyes, you’re a fool.
We’re wrapping up our time on this topic, but let me just point you to Proverbs 28:9. This will show you just big a deal it is to have an arrogant, unteachable spirit. Proverbs 28:9—If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.
That’s a serious warning. If you don’t want to listen to God, then neither will He listen to you. That’s not a form of manipulation; that’s just the truth. If you have no desire to fear God and honor Him, then your prayers will be pointless, because you don’t want what God wants. So He will not answer them. Again, don’t be that kind of person.
A wise man receives instruction, but a foolish man rejects instruction. Let’s do everything we can to receive instruction from God through His word and through His people around us.
Let’s move on to lesson number 2. Distinction number 2: The wise man receives a blessing, but the foolish man receives a beating. The wise man receives a blessing, but the foolish man receives a beating.
We’ve seen this already in our study, so we won’t spend much more time on it. Following God’s ways invite His blessing into your life. And on the other hand, following sin and foolishness brings chastisement. It brings, as Proverbs calls it “the rod.” Which one do you want?
Our culture is bent toward allowing people to continue in their sin while minimizing the effects of it. But that’s not how a righteous God operates. Disobedience brings consequences, and righteousness brings joy.
Proverbs 15:31 says: The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.
That’s the blessing of wisdom. But Proverbs 18:6 tells us: A fool's lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.
You can honor God with your mouth and still have people get upset at you, but the fool who runs his mouth is much more likely. His mouth invites a beating.
This proverb doesn’t give us the right to hit someone for saying something dumb, but it cautions those of us who are loose with our mouth. A beating may come if you’re not careful.
Proverbs 19:29 says this: Condemnation is ready for scoffers, and beating for the backs of fools.
You know, if you read through the Old Testament, you can see how often God disciplined the nation of Israel for it’s sin and rebellious unbelief. It was part of His love and part of His justice. Sin and disobedience demands a payment. It’s not just about trying to fix a person. It’s not just remedial. It’s about God’s righteousness.
And God has placed parents in the home to uphold His standard of righteousness. And in society, He has placed the government. They punish wickedness and uphold righteousness. But that can be undone so easily.
I read an article a couple weeks ago about the giant increase in shoplifting, especially now that we’re in the holiday season. And many, many companies do almost nothing about it. Because if they confront someone, they get accused of harassment, and they get sued. So it had become increasingly easy to steal and get away with it.
Ecclesiastes 8:11 says: Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.
A wicked man deserves to be punished. That’s part of God’s law, and it written on our hearts. That’s why it hurts us when a criminal get away with something.
Proverbs 22:8 makes this connection: Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.
You reap what you sow. Disobedience brings a consequence.
Proverbs 26:3 says the same thing. A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools.
Those instruments weren't intended to abuse an animal, but to train it and guide it. And some things deserve a strong correction. In the same way, a fool bent on his foolishness will reap pain.
One final Proverb for this section, Proverbs 29:19. And this is just highlighting that for some people words are not enough. Proverbs 29:19—By mere words a servant is not disciplined, for though he understands, he will not respond.
Now, again, this is not advocating abuse. This is not giving us parents the right to smack our kids around. This is reminding us that within the context of loving instruction and discipline, there will be some lessons that are painful. And that’s by design. That’s how God trains us sometimes, and it’s part of how we train our children. Wisdom brings a blessings, and foolishness brings a beating.
I know that word “beating” can sound harsh, but back then, that’s what might have happened publicly for a criminal. He might have been whipped or beaten. And if the crime was severe enough, he was put to death.
That’s the progression of the consequences and it’s the final lesson for today. It’s the final distinction between wisdom and foolishness. Wisdom receives instruction, but foolishness rejects it. As a result, wisdom receives a blessing, and foolishness receives a beating. And lastly, principle number 3: The wise man inherits life, but the foolish man inherits death. The wise man inherits life, but the foolish man inherits death.
This is the contrast God wants us to know. One path leads to blessing and life. The other path leads to greater pain, and eventually death.
This is the message we’ve seen even from the very beginning of Proverbs: Refusing wisdom will cost you your life. Foolishness takes away life.
Wisdom, on the other hand, give length of days and years of life and peace. Again, this is a general teaching, intended to motivate us to fearing God and honoring Him.
Wisdom is a fountain of life. It’s a tree of life says Proverbs 3:18. That should take our minds back to Adam an Eve in the garden, delighting in life apart from sin, delighting in God Himself, delighting in unbroken fellowship.
Look with me at Proverbs 10:16-17. Here is the summary of this lesson—The wage of the righteous leads to life, the gain of the wicked to sin. Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.
Or, look at verse 27. Proverbs 10:27—The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short.
That’s not just some cosmic law, that was God’s covenant with Israel. A rebellious son, or a grievous sinner was put to death. And even the nation as a whole was judged by God if they continued in rebellion. That was God’s instruction to the Israelites.
And even to the Gentile nations, the New Testament tells us that God’s design includes a government that punishes the wicked.
Romans 13 says that God instituted the authority of the government as His servant. It bears the sword (which was an instrument of death) as an expression of God’s judgment. It’s a deterrent from sin. It the avenger on wrongdoers.
And we recognize that all authority can be abused, but the abuse of authority shouldn’t undo the authoritative structure God has put in place. God will judge everyone who abuses the authority. But He also uses the structures in place as a form of judgment.
Let’s keep looking at this theme of life and death. Look with me now at Proverbs 11:19—Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die.
Again, sin brings pain and death, but wisdom brings blessings and life. Look at Proverbs 12:28—In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.
Now go over to chapter 13, verse 14. Proverbs 13:14—The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.
That’s almost the exact same wording as Proverbs 14:27—The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.
This is the promise and the motivation of Proverbs. Don’t go toward death! Go toward life! Pursue God’s wisdom. Pursue the fear of the Lord.
There are many more proverbs that say the same. Again, in the interest of time, I’m not going to cover them. But you can look at them o your own. There’s Proverbs 15:24, Proverbs 16:17; Proverbs 16:22; Proverbs 19:16.
Proverbs 19:18 even says that if you fail to discipline your child, you’re setting your heart on his death. Again, strong language, but that's the eventuality of foolishness.
Then we also have Proverbs 20:7 and Proverbs 21:21 which speak to the blessing of obeying God’s laws.
Where does all this take us? How are we supposed to respond to this?
Well, on the one hand, this should prompt us to pursue godly wisdom. But if that were our only conclusion, we’d miss the starting point of God’s law.
Jesus told us how to respond properly in Luke 18, when he shared a story about a Pharisee and a sinful tax collector. Both of them went to the Temple to pray. And here’s how the Pharisee prayed: “God, thank you that I’m not like other men. I’m not a sinner. I’m a righteous man.” That’s the wrong response.
The proper response, Jesus said, was the sinner who beat his breast and begged God for mercy. That man went home having been declared righteous by God.
Before we go running off to try and live in God’s wisdom, we need to meditate on the two contrasting ideas and recognize what side we are on, in and of ourselves.
True wisdom fears God. True wisdom invites and receives instruction. True wisdom receives a blessing. True wisdom deserves life, and the praise of God.
Foolishness, on the other hand, rejects instruction. Foolishness rejects correction when it’s given. And then foolishness deserves a beating. And ultimately, foolishness deserves death.
That us. That’s what we deserve. We had someone in our FLG last week say to the group: “You know, the more I hear about Proverbs, the more I realize that I’m the fool. I keep doing things I shouldn’t be doing, or not doing what I should be doing.”
That’s the right response to all of this. We are the fools. You are the fool. We don’t rightly receive God’s instruction. We deserve the beating. We deserve death. We deserve to have God abandon us to this world. We deserve God’s wrath.
Do those phrases sound familiar to you? There are many, many fools in the Bible. And there are many examples of men who were beaten. Men who were condemned. Men who died because of foolishness? You might recognize names like Nadab, Abihu, King Saul, Achan, Onan, Ananias, Korah. All examples of the death of a fool
But who in the Bible is the most prominent? Who is the greatest example we have of a man being punished for sin and foolishness? Who is it?
It’s Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. He who knew no sin. He who walked in perfect wisdom. He who perfectly obeyed the Father. He who deserves all glory. Died like a common fool. He was beaten like a fool. He was bruised like a fool. He was whipped like a fool. And He was put to death like a fool. Why?
To the rest of the world, it’s because He was a fool. He deserved it. But we know the true answer. Jesus Christ endured the judgment of a fool in our place. He died for sin, but not for His own, but for ours. We are the fools, and He bore our punishment. This was God’s perfectly wise plan, to fulfill His righteousness.
We deserved the curse of God. But Galatians 3:13 tells us what happened. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us… so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Our King died a fool’s death in our place. And our King was raised from the dead in victory. And our King will return in glory to bring God’s perfect judgment. And until that time, our King has given to us His Holy Spirit, to watch over us, and to guide us into all wisdom.
Left to ourselves, we don’t choose wisdom. We don’t choose the fear of God. We serve ourselves.
But in Christ, as one author puts it “all the promises of Proverbs are ours—just not yet. Because we now live in the tension between the already and the not yet, we still face trouble in this world... But through faith in King Jesus, all the covenant promises will be ours for all eternity. Through King Jesus, we’ve obtained the promises of a new covenant: a new heart, God’s Spirit, and personal knowledge of God. Through King Jesus, we’re equipped to walk the way of wisdom.”
If you’re here this morning, and you have not surrender to Christ as King, that would be your first step of wisdom. If you refuse Him, you will face death. Not just physical death, but eternal death under the judgment of God.
But that is not what God wants for you. Turn away from your sin. Abandon whatever it is you need to abandon, and follow Jesus Christ. Place your faith and your trust in Him. And He will save you. He will keep you. He will make you one of His own.