Foolishness is an oft-discussed subject in Scripture. In the King James Version of the Bible, 189 verses contain the word “fool” or feature a word with “fool” as its root, such as “foolish.” The book of Proverbs contains the most instances of these verses with seventy-eight. With foolishness being one of its recurring topics, it is easy to see why we associate Proverbs with lessons about foolishness and its counterpart, wisdom. In fact, its second verse tells us that the book exists to teach us “wisdom and instruction.”
A great sermon from the Proverbs that deals with foolishness is “The Fool and His Sport” by Thomas Adams (1583–1652). The discourse describes four types of fools we may encounter, all with varying outlooks on life. By highlighting the faults of this foolish foursome, Adams provides examples of behaviors and attitudes that are to be avoided. Additionally, these portraits provide us with key evangelistic insights for dealing with a wide variety of people.
To begin, we meet the sad fool. He will never be happy to hear of another’s success, as he languishes in his discontentment at hearing news of his neighbor’s profit. He may even get upset with God when he sees others with blessings he lacks. Adams says this person is “A man of the worst diet,” because he consumes himself in his repining. The sad fool is a bit of a paradox since he is most satisfied when lamenting. If he is to be converted, he must learn to be content with Christ.
Second, we have the glad fool. When I think of the word “fool,” this type of person comes to my mind. For him, everything is a joke. Religion is something to be mocked. You will find it quite difficult to have an earnest conversation with him about sin, as he finds the subject rather amusing. The English clergyman writes, “His mirth is to sully every virtue with some slander, and with a jest to laugh it out of fashion. His usual discourse is filled up with boasting parenthesis of his old sins.” He must begin to understand the seriousness of his offenses, lest he laugh himself out of heaven.
The next fool is the haughty fool. This is the kind of person who thinks too highly of himself. His pride is blinding, and it prevents him from properly assessing his abilities and faults. Adams notes that he “is ever climbing high towers, and never forecasting how to come down.” The haughty fool is above reproach, at least in his own mind. He never reflects on his failures. “When he receives disappointments, he flatters himself still with success,” says Adams. If such a prideful individual is to be right with God, he must see himself for who he truly is, a sinner.
The naughty fool is the fourth and final fool that Adams evaluates. As a particularly greedy individual, the naughty fool would do anything to acquire more wealth for himself. He will, “lose his friends, starve his body, damn his soul, and have no pleasure for it,” remarks Adams. This kind of person’s covetousness trumps any kind of fear they may have for God’s retribution. While Adams has noted several different kinds of fools already, he notes that the avarous fool is the “very fool of all,” which is to say that he is the king of all fools. In his heart, the idol of wealth needs to be torn down.
As Adams has shown, people have a wide variety of struggles in life, and this extends to the sins that plague them the most. These classifications help us to understand the problems of unbelievers and allow us to take an informed approach when evangelizing. Considering people on a more personal level, as Adams has, will aid us in sharing the gospel, so that sinners may escape the foolishness that keeps them from God.