A few years ago, the book Dealing with Difficult People became a best-seller. If today’s passage were a book, it would be entitled, Fools, Sluggards, and Troublemakers: Recognizing Difficult People.
Recall that Proverbs presents three types of people. The simple are open to instruction, and Proverbs was written for them. The wise receive and apply wisdom. They flourish and are a blessing. The foolish, however, reject God’s wisdom. They deceive and seduce others. In the end, they come to ruin.
Today we see that fools come in many flavors! Before looking at this unsavory crowd, recall the twofold purpose for these sayings. First, they reveal fools’ true nature so that we won’t be ensnared by them. This doesn’t mean that we don’t love and pray for such people, it just means that we’re careful in our dealings with them.
Second, these proverbs caution us to avoid these characteristics in our own lives. Proverbs gives us “black and white” portraits of certain types of individuals to make these traits very clear to us. Within any one of us, both wise and foolish traits vie for control, and we need to be able to distinguish between them.
The first section reviews the nature of fools (vv. 1–12). The rod (v. 3) underscores how fools resist instruction . . . you can’t even beat sense into them. Because a fool is stubborn and lacks sense, it’s pointless to debate him (vv. 4–5). In fact, to do so will make him think he’s wise! But, in fact, a fool’s “wisdom” is lame and ineffective. Verse 11 graphically shows that fools like being obstinate. Clearly foolishness is a choice, not an IQ level.
When it comes to irresponsibility, the fool’s cousin is the sluggard (vv. 13–16). He invents perils to get out of work so that he can stay in bed (vv. 13–14). Because of his excuses, he can’t see that the problem is really his own laziness.
Another close relative to these two is the troublemaker (vv. 17–28). He meddles in other people’s affairs and stirs up gossip. He says malicious things and then hides behind, “Just kidding!” What a dangerous way to handle relationships!
It’s easy to read today’s passage and say, “Wow! I know someone like that!” or “That describes So-and-So perfectly!” But it’s much harder to read these proverbs and ask, “How am I like a fool, a sluggard, or a troublemaker?”
These verses speak about our tendencies to justify our character flaws or rationalize our sin. After all, we can tell ourselves that everyone tells “little white lies.” Each of today’s portraits challenges us to root out these traits from our own lives.