Don’t Correct the Fool
“He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, and he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself. Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.” (Proverbs 9:7-9)
The difference between a fool and a wise man is not that the wise man knows so much but that the fool never learns. Anyone who lives life has to accumulate some wisdom as the years go by but fools never learn anything and so they grow old and, are still as stupid as the day they were born. What a sad situation. An old English proverb (pre 1500 AD) says “there is no fool like an old fool”. One of the saddest things I have witnessed in life is people who grow old and have learnt nothing through their many experiences, especially those who have gone through hard times without being enriched by the wisdom that such times can bring. What a waste of time and suffering.
Fools simply do not want to learn and so any attempt at correcting such is not only a waste of time, but is counter-productive and will only bring problems to the one who brings the correction. What can we do for such people if correcting them is a waste of time? Nothing. There is nothing we can do for those who are not open to correction except to pray and to mourn as they make a mess of their lives. Just as tragic as it is to see an old fool, it is to have to stand by as someone boldly and arrogantly marches to their ruin without being able to do anything to help them.
Look at what Solomon says about such persons: “Poverty and shame will come to him who disdains correction, but he who regards a rebuke will be honored”. (Proverbs 13:18); “He who hates correction will die” (Proverbs 15:10); “He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding” (Proverbs 15:32); “He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Proverbs 29:1).
A wise person, on the other hand, hardly needs to be corrected. Such a person will be evaluating their own progress all the time and will be sensitive to the Holy Spirit to correct and lead them. When they are corrected, whether by the Lord, or a friend, they receive the correction and make the adjustments that are required. Such people want to learn and want to improve their walk every day. The fool is self-confident and thinks that he is always right and never wrong. And here lies the heart of the issue – pride.
The difference between those who accept correction and those who turn on anyone who should dare bring correction to them is simply one of pride. The arrogant fool thinks he can do no wrong and has never come to terms with how weak and foolish we are at the best of times. The wise man has come face-to-face with the weakness of his flesh and knows all too well how imperfect he really is and so his humility allows him to receive correction. Why should the fool accept correction when he never makes a mistake? “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise” (Proverbs 12:15).
Even Paul after all his powerful revelations, miracles and education lived with the possibility that he could have made a mistake. Paul said that even though he had received his doctrine directly from the Lord (he was the last and one of the few that had this privilege), he still went to Jerusalem to meet with the Twelve to check whether his doctrine was right “lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain” (Galatians 2:2). Has any of us received revelation like Paul did or do any of us have a ministry that comes close to his? So why is it that most of us think so highly of ourselves that we never ask for advice and never feel we could be wrong? Could it be that we have not learnt the lesson Paul had that in spite of all his abilities, he at one time was so wrong that he actually persecuted the church?
The same Paul warns: “Do not be wise in your own opinion” (Romans 12:16) and Solomon says there is more hope for a fool than for a man who is wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 3:7). Can it be that someone can be so full of himself that the possibility that he could be wrong never crosses his mind? Very definitely! Just think of Saul when he raised a monument to himself after being disobedient in the destruction of the Amalekites, and Uzziah who refused to listen to the advice of the priests when he wanted to offer the incense, and of Judas who brazenly sat at the table with Jesus with the pieces of silver in his pocket and of Diotrephes who refused to have John the Apostle visit “his” church. The list of arrogant fools is endless and will continue to be added to until the Lord comes.
What is the solution and what will prevent us from falling into the same sad situation? The solution is in two words – humility and brokenness. Anyone of us simply needs to take a honest look into our own past, right up to yesterday, to see how often we have erred. For those who look into the past and see no failure – there is no hope. The wise man recognizes the fact that he knows very little and often makes mistakes. This honesty generates a great fear of his own abilities and a great dependence on the Lord and others who are able to provide wise advise and council. Now for those whose knee-jerk reaction is that we should be self-confident and be positive about our abilities I have one response: This message is not for you but about you.
My son, if you… incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:1-6).
[Reprinted with permission of Anton Bosch]