In Ephesians 5:15, Paul exhorted believers, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise”. What does the Bible mean by the word “fool”? Why is the idea of “fools” such a grave matter that we are told not to be or behave like fools?
Jesus warned against calling a brother “fool” (mōros). He said, “Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:22). Using it as a derogatory term on a believer is forbidden because it is to accuse and condemn a person as a “godless” individual, which is an indictment of the highest guilt.
However, Christ and the Scriptures repetitively referred to certain people as “fools”. Consider the following words of Christ to the Pharisees – “Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?… Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?” (Matthew 23:17, 19). “Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?” (Luke 11:40). “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). Likewise, the apostle Paul rebuked the erring Galatians, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” (Galatians 3:1; cf. 3:3).
According to the Scriptures, the greatest fool is the person who denies the doctrine of God and lives apart from God. Psalm 14:1 describes such a fool – “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good” (cf. Psalm 53:1). The fool lives as a theological or practical atheist, or as both, denying God by his actions as well as his words.
Romans 1:21-22 sheds further light on those whom God regards as fools, who “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools”. Scripture further reveals that fools, in their natural, unregenerate state, would discount, disregard and discard spiritual matters—”But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). No matter what the level of his intellect, education, wealth or reputation may be, the fool will not esteem divine truths and counsels.
By his words and his actions, the fool will show his disregard for God and His perfect counsels. The
- Scriptures assert that the fool’s speech, attitude and deeds will give evidence to his folly:
His foolish speech: Denial of God (Psalm 14:1; 53:1); blasphemy and reproach of God (Psalm 74:18b, 22b); making a mock at sin (Proverbs 14:9a); lying and slandering (Proverbs 10:18), utter foolish talking (Proverbs 15:2).
- His foolish attitude: No fear of the LORD (Proverbs 1:29b), hatred of godly knowledge (Proverbs 1:22b, 29a); despising wisdom and instruction (Proverbd 1:7; 15:5); lack of delight in understanding (Proverbs 18:2), refusal to depart from evil (Proverbs 13:19b); self-conceit (Proverbs 12:15); self-confidence (Proverbs 14:16); self-trust (Proverbs 28:26); self-deceiving inclination (Proverbs 14:8); corrupt and abominable lifestyle (Ps. 14:1; 53:1); angry disposition (Eccl. 7:9; Proverbs 14:17a); contentious nature (Proverbs 18:6); slothfulness (Ecclesiastes 4:5); self-righteous and hypocritical behaviour (Matthew 25:2-12).
- His foolish actions: Engaging in mischief as sport (Proverbs 10:23); holding on to evil (Proverbs 27:22); walking in darkness (Ecclesiastes 2:14); disobedient response to the Word of God (Matthew 7:26); idolatrous conduct (Jeremiah 10:8; Romans 1:22-23).
The fool always sets himself up as his own god. He thinks highly of himself, and considers his thoughts and feelings to be superior to all others, even that of God’s. Proverbs 12:15 states, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.” Whatever he finds acceptable and pleasant to his corrupt reasoning and carnal sense, he would pursue, even though it is forbidden by God! His self-righteous mindset justifies all his ungodly conduct and rejects godly counsels. To him, even open profaneness becomes acceptable.
Such a foolish living, according to the Scriptures, will meet with tragic repercussions. Honour is unbecoming to him (Proverbs 26:1, 8); his own words shall ensnare his soul (Proverbs 18:7); afflictions resulting from transgressions shall plague him (Psalm 107:17); retribution and punishment will be upon him (Proverbs 19:29); divine condemnation will ultimately catch up with him (Proverbs 26:10; Matthew 23:17, 19).
Those who live foolishly within the church are they who are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). Those who are guilty of the foolish walk must repent at once and seek the Lord for forgiveness and restoration, lest they “die for want of wisdom” (Proverbs 10:21). For this reason, Paul cautions all who claim to be Christians that “ye walk … not as fools”.
As we have already seen, even clever, determined, self-assured people can be trapped in foolishness that brings divine retribution upon them. Only the knowledge from God can grant a foolish individual deliverance from his folly and all its painful results. Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord (cf. Proverbs 1:7), and continues by acknowledging His truth and ways. Only “the holy scriptures… are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15b).
Some believers also “play the fool” when they regard the things of this world above God and His Word. To drive home the peril of such attitude, Paul told Timothy that “they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Timothy 6:9). Hence the apostle exhorted Timothy to live different from those who walk foolishly– “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:11-12).
Let us heed the counsel of the apostle Paul: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17).