As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left. Even as he walks along the road, the fool lacks sense and shows everyone how stupid he is. If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great errors to rest. Ecclesiastes 10:1-4.
In a choir one consistently bad voice can ruin the presentation of the music. Have you ever known a person who believed they can sing but can’t, and they won’t accept instruction or believe anyone who tells them differently? I have. Then, just to be fair, I’ve met plenty of people who thought they couldn’t sing but just needed coaching and encouragement.
The first thing that popped into my mind when I saw the first phrase this morning was: Is it the flies that give the perfume a bad smell or the fermentation process that attracts the flies? Solomon couldn’t have known of course about how the chemical processes work in his day, so his “logical” conclusion blamed the flies. I’m sure they exacerbated the problem but the fermentation process started internally first within the perfume itself.
The metaphor goes further than I at first thought. Folly begins within a person who refuses to listen to other perspectives and holds to what he or she want and desire in the moment over what is best in the long run. As the person becomes more “fermented” in their own focus he or she attracts “flies” of a sort—other people who love the “smell” of folly or who are “gifted” in furthering the entropy of a life.
An old farmer’s saying “One bad apple can spoil the whole barrel” has been used to describe the bad influence of certain people who choose folly over wisdom. And “folly” in this context means a person who is silly or one who lacks sense, so we are not talking about someone smart about life. Now in my grasp of silliness, at least in this context, Solomon isn’t referring to the childlike quality where little boys or girls are giggling or laughing by doing goofy stuff. Rather he’s pointing at those who should be fully aware of life’s boundaries and ignore the natural precautions which anyone with a care for their future and present would take.
I have stumbled into a few places where I should have known better—may be even did know better. But for whatever reason I ignored the warning signs of brewing trouble and blundered into pain, ridiculous drama or simply a situation where backtracking was impossible. Usually the cleanup in the aftermath took longer than the disaster did to make. I’ve also lived in the extreme opposite place where I tread too cautiously and ended up with much the same problem from delaying the process too long. An over-anxious attitude of eagerness or caution, while not always producing the same results, equal the same lack of accomplishment in the long run from my experience.
Refusing to act from fear of failure grows out of the same kind of silly thinking as one who lacks fear entirely.
This lack of wisdom affects all tiers of society, all levels of education and trips up all human beings no matter their experience. If education were the answer, then those in congress, professors, scientists, psychologists, doctors of all stripes and theologians should be immune to the disease of silly thinking. From all the arguments in favor of education’s benefits it should prevent bad decisions and create harmony. But it doesn’t. Wisdom is not about knowledge alone. Information doesn’t guarantee wisdom, though it will help to guide it in the decision making process.
Have you ever participated in a charity event where someone without any understanding of what you were doing or who you were trying to help started giving advice? Or have you had friends who acted without any understanding of what they were doing? I’ve had those friends and I’ve been that person. None of us are immune to silly thinking. Any time we act without the guidance of wisdom we are susceptible to wrong application.
The people who frustrate me the most though are those who succeed despite their foolishness. You know them, these people were in the right place at the right time with the pet rock they were selling and made a hit. From then on they preach their particular brand of foolishness as gospel so as to influence others to their silliness. Their success is a fluke, an act of random chance demonstrating that the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, etc. But they believe in their foolish reasoning they are guides to the blind.
I believe these are the types of people Jesus warned us about, “If a blind man leads another blind man, they will both fall into a pit.” Strange as it may seem much of the woes of the world are caused by people who refuse perspective or insight outside of their particular brand of philosophy, ethnic or cultural experience, or societal norms developed to address long dead needs. Anyone who is not pursuing the light is walking in darkness. If what a person calls light is really darkness, how great is their darkness?
Something else flies carry with them is the stench of death, for they can be found on the dead of all species. They also inhabit refuse of all types as well, be it dung or garbage. Pasteur proved flies were part of the culprits in meat going bad—while his experiment intended to show spontaneous generation as a myth. These little creatures are essential to the breakdown of complex organisms into their basic parts, so they tend to carry bacteria from one place to another. It’s kind of like what bees do with pollen but for the purpose of entropy.
People who hang out in the rat ways and sewers of human interaction bring with them that destructive social and moral germ. The eye is the lamp of the body; if the eye is full of darkness, the whole body will be dark. What’s confusing about their condition is often their confident belief they are full of light and looking right at it.
That’s where the Spirit of God comes in through us.
Each of us is a candle for the kingdom of God powered by the Holy Spirit. Light from a candle, no matter how small, defuses the darkness away from itself. If those who confidently believe they know and understand light have a glimpse of it through us simply shining—not glaring, they will see the contrast without a lot of burned fingers, seared eyeballs and general pain. I’m pretty sure for this very reason God let’s us be the light—small, not very bright but distinctly shining—so that those walking in darkness won’t be overwhelmed by His glory. The purpose of shining is not to glare in everybody’s eyes but give them a reference whereby they can see what reality looks like.
Here’s where it gets dicey, though: almost without fail many who receive the light of heaven through the Holy Spirit begin to think either they are of the elite and deserve it or that this revelation comes from something they themselves have done. Neither is true. We receive the light because of Jesus’ resurrection, not just His death because without the resurrection no salvation is possible. We also walked in darkness before we let Him in as Lord and Savior. Those two words describe our condition so perfectly it’s a wonder we get conceited at all about our new state of being through Christ.
Let me quote James again: But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. James 3:17, 18.
Look at the words submissive, mercy, considerate, impartial and ask yourself if any of these words have even the slightest hint of arrogance in them. I don’t see any. My conclusion on wisdom’s primary characteristic is that it brings humility first. Everything else it gifts us with is a byproduct of an open heart and mind growing out of our realization we don’t have anything to be conceited or arrogant about.
Paul claims we are the stench of death to those who are perishing. Some might interpret that to mean we are flies in the ointment but more likely we reveal through the sweet smell of Christ in us the stench of death in them. A person who rarely uses deodorant will only see the contrast between themselves and those who do when they smell someone who bathes regularly and uses it. Our job is not to push bathing on people but to be clean ourselves. Through the example and health of our lifestyles we become a “witness” in the court of society, testifying to the benefits of clean living.
I’d rather be the testimony of life than of death.