Straight From the Heart/What Defiles a Man: Foolishness

(Message 12-27-09)

This morning we conclude our series from Mark chapter 7 on the evils which defile the soul of a man.  In response to the Pharisee’s obsession with the keeping of external ordinances regarding external cleanliness, Jesus taught that spiritual impurity is not the result of unwashed hands, but of unclean hearts and that evil does not overtake a man from without but is arises from within out of the evil treasures of a self-centered and sinful heart.  Our scripture text is from Mark 7, verses 21-23.

Mark 7:21-23 (KJV)

21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:
23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

The topic today is Foolishness.


As usual, I think it’s helpful if we understand the terms we’re dealing with since many meanings of words are often corrupted or subject to vague interpretation.  The applicable definitions of the word “fool” in the dictionary are as follows:  A person lacking in judgment or prudence; a harmlessly deranged person; one lacking in common powers of understanding; idiot, moron, imbecile, simpleton.  To be foolish is to indulge folly, the absurd, the ridiculous.  (Webster’s Dictionary)

I’d like to suggest another definition which I believe might provide a good working understanding of what it means to be foolish, especially as it applies in the context of evils which defile us.  Foolishness is behaving in a manner which is contrary to what is known through evidence and experience.

For example, a small child is not being foolish when he touches a hot stove for the first time.  He may be incapable of interpreting the environment which might have provided clues as to the danger (the evidence of heat emanating from the source) and since he hasn’t made this mistake before he has no basis for comparison (experience).  An adult, on the other hand, would be foolish to touch the same hot stove.  Why?  Because the adult understands what “hot” means and knows that heat can be evidence that danger is near.  He can see the evidence that the dials on the stove are not in the “off” position and, therefore, are indicators that the stove is probably hot.  In addition, he has probably been burned before and his experience tells him that being burnt is not a pleasant sensation.  To proceed to touch the stove even though he possesses evidence and experience telling him that such an action will harm him is foolish.  Sometimes a person lacks judgment or prudence, as we learned earlier.  Sometimes he simply refuses to act on the evidence and experience at hand.  Both are foolish.

So how does foolishness rise to the level of being classified as evil?  After all, isn’t foolishness mostly just indulging folly – engaging in pointless but otherwise harmless pursuits?  Well, that is how we most often characterize it.  But foolishness in the context of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 7 has a very specific connotation.  The same Greek word translated “foolishness” in this verse is translated elsewhere in scripture, “senselessness, thoughtlessness, recklessness.”  Senselessness suggests the failure to apply adequate reason to a situation, thoughtlessness means to act without proper consideration or to simply give little or no thought to something, and recklessness is the result of not exercising either sense or thought before taking action.

Now let’s bring this home to where we all live and I think we’ll begin to discover why Jesus gave such weight to foolishness.  Listen to what David wrote in Psalm 14.

Psalm 14:1-3 (KJV)

1 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.
2 The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.
3 They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

Who says “there is no God?”  The fool.  Compare the tone of Psalm 14 with the tone of the verses we’ve been studying in Mark 7.  David says the fool has “said in his heart, There is no God,” Jesus said that wickedness proceeds from the heart.  David says the foolish are corrupt, Jesus calls them defiled.  David says the foolish do abominable works, Jesus says their works are evil.  David says the foolish are become filthy, Jesus says they are defiled within.

It seems that every generation produces yet another crop of fools – those who claim in the face of overwhelming evidence in creation and contrary to their own experience with the miracle of life itself that God does not exist.  By far, the gravest mistake any man can make is to deny the existence of God because without God there is no hope of redemption.  Sadly, the folly of the fool is that he believes that no God is a good thing.

The opposite of foolishness is…Wisdom.  A good way to grasp the contrast between wisdom and foolishness is to read many of Solomon’s proverbs in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  In these proverbs you will find descriptions of the both the wise and foolish and often direct comparisons between them.  For example, Proverbs 1:7 says,

Proverbs 1:7 (KJV)

7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrote,

Ecclesiastes 2:13 (KJV)

13 Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.

Jesus taught that foolishness — the failure to exercise good reason, the absence of careful consideration, the abandonment of due care that reason and careful thought guard against – is evil.  Foolishness separates us from God and any hope of salvation.  Part of the danger and evil of foolishness is that it sometimes masquerades as wisdom by incorporating elements of truth into an otherwise foolish proposition.  A very simple example of this would be the proposition that God does not exist because He cannot be seen.  Here we have an element of truth – the fact that God cannot be seen – used to support the totally erroneous conclusion that God does not exist.  Evidence to the contrary is everywhere.  This is akin to arguing that the wind does not exist because it cannot be seen.  The person whose home has been flattened by a hurricane has evidence to the contrary and does not buy into the false conclusion that there is no wind simply because wind is invisible.

The apostle Paul painted a vivid picture of foolishness pretending to be wisdom and the danger it presents.

Romans 1:18-25 (KJV)

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
21 Because that, 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.
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

We are foolish and evil when we attempt to make God like us or to equate ourselves with God.  The evidence is so overwhelming to the contrary that God has already judged that “we are without excuse.”

As we pause during this week between the celebration of Christ’s birth and the onset of a new year, it’s a perfect opportunity for us to reflect on the wisdom of following Jesus.  The fool says God doesn’t exist, the wise “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) and enjoy peace with God.

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