The Fool's Errand: A Study of Wisdom from Proverbs
I want to be a wise wife, don't you? But what if our husbands aren't being wise but acting foolish? How do we remain gentle and wise while living with someone who disregards our wisdom? What if we're the one acting foolish?
I've been going through the book of Proverbs in a Facebook group, and it's really been hitting hard. When I came to chapter 26, the Holy Spirit really struck me with how easy it is to be a fool! That's not something I want to be called. To avoid foolishness, there are steps I can take to become wise, especially in my marriage. You can, too.
First, what is a fool? Jesus said that to call someone a “fool” is a very dangerous thing.
Matthew 5:22: “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (ESV).
So we had better know what it is to be a fool, hadn't we?
A fool is not just someone who does something silly or absent-minded. And it's not just based on one act. A fool, rhaka in the original Aramaic, means:
...empty-headed. This term expressed contempt for a man's head, viewing him as stupid (without sense) – i.e. a "numbskull" who acts presumptuously and thoughtlessly (TDNT)....a term of reproach used by the Jews in the time of Christ *
A fool is a person who habitually sneers his or her nose at what is right, who refuses to change. Indeed, they don't see anything that needs to be changed. Dictionary.com defines “presumptuous” as “saying or doing something without right or permission.... unwarrantedly or impertinently bold; forward.”
A fool came to be known as someone who presumes to know everything but it's obvious to everyone else that they don't even know what they're talking about; they put themselves forward as the expert and refuse to listen to anyone else.
If we're dealing with a fool in our marriage—either our husbands or ourselves—here are three actions to take to remain loving, wise, and sensible: use strictness, don't argue but answer, and don't trust but use caution.
1. Guide a Fool with a Rod to his Back
Proverbs 26:3: “Guide a horse with a whip, a donkey with a bridle, and a fool with a rod to his back!” (NLT)
Use Strictness and Firmness. As a parent, I know from experience how miserable it is for an authority figure to be required to “crack the whip,” figuratively speaking, in order to get anything done.
As a homeschool mom, I felt like I had to do this often when we first started. This means being firm and even almost harsh in tone, just to motivate them to action. My boys have now, at least most of the time, learned to do their work on their own. I only occasionally need to firmly remind them to get back to work.
In our marriages, this can be tricky. The husband is to be the authority in the marriage, but not to lord it over his wife, in the same way that the wife is to be the authority over the children without lording it over them. See Ephesians 5:21-6:4.
Since we are not our husband's authority, we probably should not use this technique on them. But we can remind their authority of this, if applicable, and if we have prayed about this. I wouldn't recommend mentioning it to anyone unless it's a certified marriage counselor or a trusted pastor or spiritual mentor.
As underneath his authority, we can take this to heart. If we don't want to be a fool, we need to avoid making our husbands feel we can't be trusted to supervise ourselves. We do this by accepting instruction and correction humbly and striving to remain reliable enough to complete our responsibilities without being constantly lectured or nagged.
Proverbs 6:6-8: “Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter” (NLT).
I don't know about you, but I'd rather be associated with the industry of an ant than the whip of a fool. That's enough to make me focus on my getting my housework done a little better this week.
2. Don't Argue; but Answer
Answer their foolish arguments but not in the same way. Proverbs 26:4-5 is hard to understand. I think verse four means that you shouldn't argue just like the fool is; don't get upset and use illogical reasoning and refuse to see the other side like a fool does.
However, the very next verse, verse five, says that we should answer the foolish arguments of a fool. Is this a contradiction? Not at all. The Hebrews often used contrasts to make a point. I think verse five means that you shouldn't just be quiet and let a fool think they're right, or they will become proud. And we see from verse 12, as bad as fools are, the proud are even worse, because they think they're wise but aren't. They refuse to admit that they could possibly be wrong.
So, if a fool argues with you, don't argue back. But you should respectfully and lovingly show them that they're on the wrong track. The way to deal with an argumentative fool is gentle guidance. They probably won't like it. They probably won't even really listen. But it's our duty to our neighbors to lovingly set them straight [see Jesus' definition of a neighbor in Luke 10:25-37]. How they use our wise counsel is their responsibility.
3. Don't Trust a Fool, and Don't Give Honor to Them
Be loving but cautious. Just because we love them and do what's best for them doesn't mean throwing common sense to the wind. Don't give a fool responsibilities they won't complete. Don't trust them to carry messages (v. 6). Don't hire them as employees (v. 10). Don't trust their words; even wise sayings in the mouth of a fool are useless, even harmful (v. 7. 9). Because of their unreliability, they have no honor (v. 1). Don't assign them honor that they don't deserve (v. 8).
How does this play into our marriages?
If your husband is acting foolish, don't be rude or disrespectful or mean. But be cautious. You don't have to trust him with your deepest vulnerabilities until he's proven he can be trusted with them. This is a hard place to be, and I'm not saying it's easy. But you can live respectfully under him without making it easy to be walked all over.
Continue to calmly and lovingly answer his foolishness (step #1 above), but wait until he has learned some wisdom before trusting him with your heart. I pray you do not stay in this situation long. My heart breaks for the woman who lives in these conditions.
But God is faithful to be all you need. Rely on Him and wait on His timing. If you truly love your husband, and if you're listening to the Good Shepherd's voice, He will lead you as to when to move and when to stay still. He will let you know when to open your mouth and when to keep it shut.
Conclusion: Here are three ways to wisely deal with your spouse when they're acting foolish (and to avoid acting foolish yourself). Use strictness (or responsibly fulfill your responsibilities), don't argue but answer (or humbly listen to correction and differing opinions), and don't trust but use caution (or don't walk all over them but respect and value your partner).
Join the Conversation: How about you? Is there one of these three areas you're struggling with right now? Mine is #1, not keeping up with my responsibilities. I have been doing only the bare minimum lately. And while my husband has not been strict with me yet, I would have deserved it. What are you struggling with or against?