Proverbs 18:1-8 - The Ruin of a Fool
Over the past couple of weeks we have been witness to some of the most remarkable political spectacles in modern American history. From the impeachment of the President by the House of Representatives in December and the President’s acquittal on all charges in February (just hours after his State of the Union address marked by extraordinary pettiness and deliberate breaches of protocol on both sides), which itself came just a day after the utter collapse of the Democratic Caucus in Iowa, it has been a fascinating time to be watching the national political landscape.
And isn’t it remarkable that we can turn to God’s Word and see the current behavior of our political and cultural leaders described so clearly! This Book really is alive and active and speaks with startling relevance to our world here in the 21st Century, and there is hardly a better example of how relevant it is than by reading the first eight verses of Proverbs 18 with an eye toward our political and social climate:
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. When wickedness comes, contempt comes also, and with dishonor comes disgrace. The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook. It is not good to be partial to the wicked or to deprive the righteous of justice. A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul. The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.
It’s all here—the high-handed arrogance, the refusal to listen to an opposing side, the self-serving, immature tweet-storms, perverting justice by leaking salacious details about a political enemy, contempt for people and processes, partiality to the wicked, arguments that devolve into screaming matches, gossip, and on it goes. (And make no mistake—there is plenty of this on both sides of the political aisle!)
God’s living, active and authoritative Word speaks into all of this foolishness with singular clarity and power, and what it says is clear:
A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.
The warning here in these verses is as clear as day:
A foolish mouth will ruin you.
And we are seeing it happen, right before our eyes. To paraphrase one author, watching the various activities of the Democratic Party these days is like watching a helicopter land sideways—it seems clear to me that the good Lord is administering a good old-fashioned butt-kicking to a group of people who have built their entire political careers on foolish, contemptuous, arrogant, unjust words.
But this is not the time to pile on gleefully or get carried away with gloating over their downfall—because that whole political meltdown is a reminder that God means what He says. And if their foolish mouths resulted in their ruin, you might very well be next. Proverbs 19:25 reminds us of how we are to respond when we see this kind of judgment:
Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence; reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge.
It’s easy to read through these verses in Proverbs 18 and see other people’s faults in them, isn’t it? And in fact it is appropriate to look to God’s Word to help us understand the foolishness of the world around us. But how much more foolish is it for us as God’s people to look into the mirror of His Word and ignore what these verses show us about ourselves? So let’s spend our time together reading through these verses in Proverbs 18 to understand what happens when our lives are characterized by our foolish mouths.
First, your foolish mouth will ruin you because
I. You will isolate yourself (vv. 1-3)
I. You will isolate yourself (vv. 1-3)
Look with me at verses 1-3 again:
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. When wickedness comes, contempt comes also, and with dishonor comes disgrace.
We touched last week on one of the characteristics of foolishness that it doesn’t want to listen and learn, it only wants to speak and be heard. These verses build on that attitude, and show that the effect of that unwillingness to listen results in isolation—you don’t engage with others because you don’t believe they have anything worthwhile to offer you. The phrase “seeks his own desire” is very difficult to translate, but the idea seems to be of a self-centered person who doesn’t want to listen to anyone else’s opinion but his own. And one of the results of that kind of foolish heart is that it causes you to
Ignore sound judgment (v. 1)
Instead of listening and learning from others, you only want to force your own opinions on everyone around you; your foolish mouth will keep running so that you don’t have to listen or interact with people who disagree with you. It’s the proverbial “echo-chamber” that exists in so many social media circles today: Everyone loudly and constantly voicing their own opinions and shouting down (“breaking out against”) anyone who tries to inject any common-sense into the discussion.
A foolish mouth keeps running so that it can ignore sound judgment, which leads to
Contempt from other people (v. 3)
When wickedness comes, contempt comes also, and with dishonor comes disgrace.
When you isolate yourself from sound judgment and look down on others as having nothing to offer you, eventually people begin to see you for what you are: An arrogant, conceited know-it-all who nobody wants to see coming, who nobody wants to have to engage with. You start off distancing yourself from people because you don’t want your opinions challenged, and the result is contempt, disgrace and dishonor. If you’ve ever seen someone in that position—they’ve “broken out against sound judgment” for so long and with so many people that they have burned all of their bridges, destroyed all of their relationships, and have no one left in their lives who can stand to be with them anymore. God means what He says—a foolish mouth will ruin you.
A foolish mouth will ruin you—you will isolate yourself, and
II. You will pervert justice (v. 5)
II. You will pervert justice (v. 5)
It is not good to be partial to the wicked or to deprive the righteous of justice.
This is a theme that we see over and over again in Proverbs. This verse warns us of two specific behaviors that we are to avoid. First, we must not use our mouths to be
partial to the wicked
This same warning appears in Proverbs 28:21:
To show partiality is not good, but for a piece of bread a man will do wrong.
The idea here is of lying in order to protect some powerful person that is in a position to help you: “When they ask you if I was on the loading dock yesterday afternoon, just say you don’t know and I’ll buy you lunch all next week...” When you show partiality by lying to cover up someone else’s wickedness, your foolish mouth will cost you:
A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will not escape.
And when your foolish mouth shows partiality to the wicked, you will inevitably
biased against the righteous
as well. Because shading the truth in order to favor the wicked means that you are “depriving the righteous of justice”. The word righteous here in the Old Testament refers to someone who is faithful to obey the Law of God—who seeks to honor Him in their lives, who wants to be obedient to what God has commanded. In our day it is the Christian wedding photographer, the floral designer, the baker, the calligraphy artist who seeks to be obedient to God’s design for marriage by not celebrating rebellious and sinful corruptions of marriage. They seek to be faithful, but are routinely threatened with lawsuits and government penalties. God says that those who slander and attack the righteous and deprive them of justice are fools, and God will not allow that slander to stand:
Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.
A foolish mouth will ruin you—you will isolate yourself, you will pervert justice, and
III. You will commit gossip (v. 8)
III. You will commit gossip (v. 8)
Look with me at verse 8:
The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.
Now I realize that this is not typically the way we refer to gossip, as something we “commit”—we usually talk about “spreading” gossip, or “indulging” in gossip. But I think it’s important to say it the way I do because we have to get past the illusion that it is harmless or inconsequential.
I think it is very revealing, when we refer to gossip as something that we “indulge” in, because we also use the word “indulge” when we talk about something that we eat, don’t we? “Oh, I’ve been avoiding sugar this month, but that chocolate raspberry cheesecake looks so good I think I’ll indulge myself just this once...”
This is exactly the way that Solomon talks about the words of a “whisperer”—someone who has some “juicy details”, some gossip about another person:
We are enticed by it
You see this all the time online, in what has come to be called “clickbait”, don’t you? A picture of some celebrity with an awkward facial expression with a caption that says something like, “Such-and-such’s family finally confirms the rumors that we’ve always suspected” or “Remember such-and-such? Take a deep breath before you see what she looks like now!” Or “The real reason such-and-such’s Hollywood career ended”.
See—it’s playing on that deep, foolish desire that we all have to hear something embarrassing or humiliating about another person. Website creators know they can play on that enticement to get you to click on their site (which generates the ad revenue that they’re after.)
But the truth is that it’s not just Hollywood gossip that we crave from websites and Entertainment Tonight—we are just as susceptible to indulging in that gossip about our own friends and family. A friend’s marriage blows up or one of their kids goes off the deep end, or someone loses their job or gets into financial difficulty, and right away you have to call and tell someone— “Did you hear about what happened to her?” “Did you hear that his wife left him?” “You’ll never guess what I just heard about so-and-so—his son went to jail for drugs!”
Now Christians have a particularly good camouflage for gossip, don’t we? We call it “prayer requests”— “Oh, we should pray for so-and-so, because he got caught embezzling at his job!” And of course we should be praying for each other when we fall into one kind of distress or another. But it is remarkable how many of these types of “prayer requests” get shared all over our Christian circles without anyone ever praying a single time for them.
That’s your rule of thumb—the next time you come across some enticing bit of gossip about someone, you don’t tell anyone about it until you have spent a minimum of one solid hour of prayer for them. Because it will take at least that long for the Holy Spirit to get your lust for gossip by the neck and kill it dead before you can be trusted to tell someone else. And if you haven’t taken it to God in prayer and prayed for that person until you can feel their pain and be committed to guarding their dignity and loving them with the compassion of Christ, and you just spout right off and share that juicy story with everyone—you haven’t shared a prayer request. you’ve committed the sin of gossip against them.
And the Scriptures are clear—gossip is not harmless, it’s not innocent fun, it’s not an inconsequential indulgence. Because when our foolish mouths commit gossip,
We are destroyed by it
At first glance, the phrase “goes down to the inner parts of the body” sounds like more of the process of eating and digesting and being satisfied by gossip. But the Hebrew phrase rendered “delicious morsels” can also be rendered (as in the King James) wounds that “go down to the innermost parts of the belly”. In his commentary, the Puritan preacher Matthew Henry likens gossip to a so-called “gut-shot”. If you’re a hunter, you might cringe when you hear that term, right? A gut-shot deer will die, but it may suffer a long and agonizing death—sometimes 8 to 12 hours.
Beloved, that is why I say that gossip isn’t something you just “indulge” or “spread”. Gossip is an act of violence that you commit against someone else—it is destructive to the person who it is about, it is destructive to the person who hears it, and it is destructive to the person who delivers it.
This world is littered with the corpses of gut-shot relationships that were torn apart by the sin of gossip. You may think it’s a harmless little tidbit of news you want to share, you may think that it’s “no big deal” to spread a little juicy gossip here and there. But God’s Word is clear—a foolish mouth that commits gossip can destroy friendships, it can destroy marriages, it can destroy a church. As we read from James earlier in our worship—that tasty, enticing little bit of gossip on your tongue can burn down your world. A foolish mouth will ruin you when you commit the sin of gossip.
A foolish mouth will ruin you—you will isolate yourself, you will pervert justice, you will gut-shot yourself with the sin of gossip. And verse 4 tells us one more thing that you will do with your foolish mouth:
IV. You will reveal your heart (v. 4)
IV. You will reveal your heart (v. 4)
Look at verse 4:
The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.
Solomon says that our words are like “deep waters”—in one sense, the idea is that our words often say more about us than we intend; they are “deep” in the sense that there are hidden attitudes and feelings in the words that come out of our mouths than we realize. Think of it this way:
You can’t stop deep waters from flowing
You may think you’ve dammed up your foolishness, pettiness, bitterness, lust or hatred, and they don’t show up in your words—but you can’t stop deep waters from flowing. You may think that you are hiding the condition of your heart, but your bitterness, hatred, lust and pettiness might be plain as day to someone else listening. That may be what Solomon is getting at when he says something similar in Proverbs 20:5:
The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.
A fool doesn’t realize how much his mouth is giving away about the condition of his heart. But one who is wise—who understands the fear of the LORD as the beginning of wisdom—can see right through the facade, can see the truth behind the fine-sounding words.
Your mouth will always reveal the condition of your heart. And so, if you want to have a mouth of wisdom instead of a mouth of foolishness, if you want the bright, overflowing “fountain of wisdom” to characterize your words instead of the murky depths of foolishness, God’s Word is clear:
A new mouth requires a new heart (cp. Luke 6:45)
Jesus was as clear as could be about this truth in Luke’s Gospel—in Luke 6:45 He said,
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
If you look back over these verses in Proverbs and you see that you have been isolating yourself by your foolish mouth that only wants to be heard and never listen, if you have covered up for the wicked with your words, if you have commited the self-destructive violence of gossip against others, what is that telling you about the condition of your heart?
If you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, if you have repented of your sin and the life you live in the flesh you live by faith in Jesus Christ, then can’t you see that this kind of foolishness has no part in your life?! You read these very words with your own mouth a few moments ago:
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
Christian, you have no business letting your mouth bear the fruit of foolishness. Your mouth is meant to be a fountain of wisdom bubbling up in freshness from the sweetness of the life of Jesus Christ living through you. Stop spewing the rotten sewer water of foolishness out of your mouth! You need to drop the arrogant pretension that refuses to listen to good counsel, you need to stop covering for the wicked with your words and you need to stop letting the righteous be denied justice by your silence. And you need to stop committing acts of gossip against your brothers and sisters in Christ—don’t you dare gut-shot the Body of Christ here at this church because you love to pass on juicy details about someone else’s struggles instead of dropping to your knees in an hour of private prayer for the sake of their restoration!
And if you are here this morning apart from Christ, you need to hear what Jesus is saying to you this morning. your mouth speaks what is in your heart—you can try to bear good fruit with your mouth, you can try to censor your words and carefully hide the darkness inside you, but it will always come out. Jesus makes it clear in Luke 6:43-44:
“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.
Can’t you see that your words have demonstrated what kind of heart you have? Your foolish mouth has revealed your foolish, rebellious heart. Your words condemn you, but Jesus Christ is the Word that saves you! When everyone else dismisses you as a wicked, contemptuous, disgraceful, isolated loser, Jesus Christ suffered the contempt of the religious leaders and the Roman authorities while being tortured to death on the Cross for your sake!
When you were providing cover for the wickedness of others and denying justice to the righteous, Jesus Christ suffered the ultimate injustice, dying under the wrath of God for sins He never committed!
When you were committing self-destructive acts of gossip against others, Jesus was suffering the slander of people spreading lies about his mother being a whore, and He suffered the worst ridicule, humiliation and mockery of all as He hung naked and bleeding outside the gates of Jerusalem so that by His blood He could wash you clean from your sins of slander and gossip and make you pure and clean in His sight!
Do you want that purity this morning? Do you want to have a heart that overflows with the wisdom that starts with the fear of the LORD? This is why Jesus has brought you here this morning—so that you can hear the same invitation that He gave at the Feast in Jerusalem in John 7:
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ”
Are you thirsty for forgiveness and cleansing and freedom from sin and shame? Do you want your heart to overflow with rivers of living water, for your mouth to overflow with a fountain of wisdom instead of the stinking sludge of self-destructive foolishness? Right after the service this morning, come down front and talk to me or one of the deacons and let us show you how you can call on Jesus for salvation, that your faith is resting in His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of your foolishness and sinful rebellion against Him. He invites you this morning—if you are thirsty, come and drink. Believe in Him and see the promise of Proverbs come true—that your heart will overflow with the pure, clean water of the life of Jesus Christ!
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
How do you react when someone offers you sound judgment? Are you more inclined to listen, or to start arguing in order to defend yourself against them? What do your words at a time like that that tell you about the state of your heart?
What are some ways that people tend to use their words to “show partiality” to someone who is behaving wickedly? How might someone “deprive the righteous of justice” by their silence? What are some ways you can use your words to defend those who are seeking to honor God and His Word?
What does this passage say about the nature of gossip that makes it so dangerous? What are some ways you can respond when someone wants to bring you in on some juicy secret about a mutual acquaintance?
Take some time this week and listen carefully to the way you talk with your family members, your co-workers, your friends. Look over your texts, the posts you make on social media, etc. How do your words reveal what kind of heart you have? Spend time in prayer asking God to reveal where you can use your words as a “fountain of wisdom” for people in your life.