2005-10-06 - Better to be Thought a Fool
Matt 5:22 "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (NASB)
I was discussing a problem with a friend at work. It was a problem with the contentious nature of coworker. My friend blurted out in frustration, "He's such a fool!" I quickly pointed out that the person in question was extremely bright and had been trained in nuclear physics. What he had done was very foolish, but he was certainly not a fool. He had behaved like a fool, but was not actually a fool. It called to mind a saying that was impressed upon me by my father: It is better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.
Even very well-educated, and other wise intelligent people are capable of doing foolish things. It is one thing to be foolish. It is quite another to be a fool. A fool is someone who is more than devoid of wisdom. It is not simply someone who has been duped or tricked. In our more modern use of the term, those are common definitions. In this reference, the word fool speaks of someone who is without grace, a reprobate, abandoned by God. This is a brutal denigration of a person spiritually. It places the accuser in the position of judgment over the one accused of being a fool. The truth is that none of us are in any position to stand in judgment of another to the degree that we separate them from God. To do so would be, ironically, foolish, acting like a fool.
According to Matthew Henry, this firey hell may have been a reference to a third and most severe form of capital punishment:
Matt 5:21-26 "burning in the valley of the son of Hinnom, which was used only in extraordinary cases"
It is not a case of eternal separation from God, but it is a shadow or type of that state, and a horrible way to die. Rash speech was apparently not taken lightly in Israel at this time. A note in this section of Matthew Henry's commentary indicates that this form of verbal attack is a violation of the sixth commandment - Thou shall not commit murder.
Matt 5:21-26 Now this is a breach of the sixth commandment; malicious slanders and censures are poison under the tongue, that kills secretly and slowly; bitter words are as arrows that would suddenly (Ps 64:3), or as a sword in the bones. The good name of our neighbour, which is better than life, is thereby stabbed and murdered; and it is an evidence of such an ill-will to our neighbour as would strike at his life, if it were in our power.
This all brings renewed gravity to the scripture where Jesus tells the story of the rich man who decided to store up his riches here, and died while planning to build even bigger barns to hold his wealth.
Luke 12:20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? (KJV)
Learn to give the other person the benefit of any doubt. This does not mean to repeatedly tollerate foolish behavior. A repeat offender needs correction. And when they do something that is foolish, remember there but for the grace of God go I. Remember, even in correction of the offender, that God has shown each of us unmatched mercy and grace. It is a short, but very dangerous, step to move from calling something done foolish to calling someone a fool.