Two Wise Men Got into an Argument…

It is better to heed a wise man’s rebuke than to listen to the song of fools.  Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools.  This too is meaningless.

Extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart.  Ecclesiastes 7:5-7.


Let’s be honest with ourselves, if with no one else, and just bring it out in the open: all of us can be bought with something.  It might be value by another person we respect, money—which can be for security or pleasure—respect itself, power, and the list could go on and on.  Until we understand where we are vulnerable, we remain a danger to ourselves spiritually—and even knowing doesn’t guarantee the danger is over.  A sinner cannot save or change him- or herself because “Without me you can do nothing,” as our Master made so poignantly clear.  The branch gets its nourishment from the tree or main vine, without which it withers.

The song of fools sounds like a great song title and subject to explore (guess what I’m gonna do with it), but the imagery of the thorns crackling under the pot didn’t make clear sense until I started writing this post just now.  Those thorns under the pot are burning up; they are on fire.  In a way, Solomon might be suggesting anyone looking just to party their life away will burn, and burn out eventually—sooner rather than later.  In the mean time their lives will be a fog, indistinct and numb.  Laughter which doesn’t come from a happy, joyful place internally cannot be serious happiness but is merely a veneer we put over “life” to distract ourselves from whatever we feel is boring, dull or depressing.  In other words, we use the words “really living” to point to the exciting things we do rather than the responsible life we live.  The former are the hilltops; the latter the rest.  Yet “really living” isn’t just the peaks in what we call “life”, it’s the whole journey.

Notice Solomon doesn’t stop with the wise man’s rebuke and the emptiness of a fool’s laughter.  He moves on to tackle a subject most of the powerful would probably rather he leave alone.

A fool is one who is morally or spiritually compromised, meaning doing something shady for their own gain.  A wise person who chooses extortion (which implies not only theft by exorbitant graft but deception and oppression as well) in order to benefit themselves will be transformed into a fool.  It’s foolish to believe we can benefit ourselves at the expense of others and not pay for our sins eventually.  It never works that way because someone always pays.

I know the following thought might not seem comforting but it is for me:  Even the wise like and need to feel good, secure and happy.  I don’t know that they would essentially sell their souls to get any of those things, but since they are human just like the rest of us and crave to matter as well as do something with people who matter to them.  Most of us don’t feel comfortable enough with the opinions or possible reactions of others to confess our constant need for wisdom in all areas.  Some of us have established a line in the sand or built fences as boundaries around ourselves to demarcate what is right and wrong, but it doesn’t stop us from craving or indulging in many of the things we preach against.

I remember hearing about Jimmy Swaggart before his big scandal hit.  I couldn’t listen to him at all because all he talked about was how sinful everything was and the need to repent.  It wasn’t that I disagreed with him entirely but more a sense that this man was obsessed with one aspect of human nature.  When his secret became public I understood who he was preaching to—himself.  His guilt destroyed any amount of joy or contentment he could have as well as creating guilt in thousands of loyal followers in the meantime.  His situation and many since then (and long before) give me the reason to live openly while being cautious with what I reveal.  I am a sinner.  Accept it.  Get over it.  Know I intend to grow.  Also realize that I’m not gonna’ just get rid of all my sin at once and neither are you; that’s why there’s grace, my friends.

We don’t sin because of grace, we have grace because we sin.  I’m not talking about lust, greed, gluttony, lying, etc, but rejecting God as Master and Lord of our lives.  The Pastor at Bridge City here in Milwaukie, OR, said something quite profound that I will have to paraphrase,  “If you believe in any part of you that you can please God or do something to make yourself better by your own efforts, you have essentially dethroned Him as God and placed Him as lower than your own ability.”  There was a lot more along that line, suffice it to say I don’t believe anyone is sinless this side of the re-creation of all things.  Sin is putting us, someone or something else in God’s place as the commander and chief of our choices and actions.  Any time we mess with God’s place, we destroy our ability to depend on Him.

What we can do for ourselves is submit to Him.  That’s the hard work, quite frankly.  Sin itself isn’t the wrong we do, that’s the malignant growth on an organ or body part which is the evidence of it.  No, sin is rejection of God as God.  The reason a wise man becomes a fool is he or she decides to become commander and chief of their own lives.

In this light we have no right or place to condemn (a type of judgment) anyone else for their fallen state.  It doesn’t mean we excuse or support their bad habits or choices, but neither should we place ourselves on any sort of pedestal to shake our moral finger at them.  Without Jesus we are all lost.  Without His saving grace, none of us would know mercy.  Those who understand grace know mercy and practice it.


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One Response to “Two Wise Men Got into an Argument…”

  1. tlc4women Says:

    Excellent point especially the part on judging someone’s sin. I’m often saddened that we don’t understand this. We are called to judge right and wrong behavior, we are never called to judge the motive as to why someone acted the way they did. Only God knows the heart, everything else is purely speculation.

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