God’s Word for You
Proverbs 27:22 Foolishness and Faith
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, June 15, 2020
22 Even if you crush a fool in a mortar
and grind him like grain with a pestle,
the folly will not be removed from him.
If we take this little proverb in its simplest sense, in a secular sense, then it means that a fool can’t have his foolishness purged from him. Crush him, grind him, frighten him, punish him any way you can, and he will remain a fool. I was away on vacation last week, and I stood in line to pay for gas in quite a few different cities. Wherever we went, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Iowa, it was always the same. Someone in line ahead of me was buying lottery tickets. Sometimes they were in it for a little entertainment and bought only one or two. But I often saw people buying ten or twenty at a time, scratching off this or that, and always swearing and becoming angry afterward. In gambling, the rule is simple: once in a great while, someone wins just enough to keep the rest of the marks (fools who play) interested, but the odds are heavily in favor of the house to win. In gambling, in the end, the house always wins. When the state sponsors a lottery, it bets that people are going to fall from entertainment into sinful waste, and betting that people will sin is not a hard bet to win.
We could take this proverb in the same way regarding all sorts of other vices and foolishness, but as we saw in the first chapters of this book, when Solomon says “fool” he generally doesn’t mean someone who is foolish in the secular sense, but in the spiritual. He means an unbeliever. Unbelief is not removed from a man by destroying his flesh or by crushing his bones. Unbelief is not removed from a man even by his death; it follows him to his judgment and into his punishment, for we see evidence of unbelief (or a continued misunderstanding of the gospel) even in the damned, such as the rich man in hell asking for God to work faith in his family apart from the means of grace (Luke 16:27-28). It is only the gospel that can change unbelief into anything else, and the only state apart from unbelief is faith in Christ. Faith is concerned only with the gospel: “The law is not based on faith” (Galatians 3:12).
If we allow this proverb to have both a spiritual and a secular meaning, then we will also see that it is a testimony against the medieval doctrine of purgatory. Sinful folly cannot be purged out of a person. Crush him, grind him, frighten him, punish him any way you can, and he will remain a fool; he will remain a sinner. Only Christ can and has removed sin from mankind. The doctrine of purgatory only focuses man’s attention away from Christ and back on himself as if in a mirror, as if we save ourselves through either our own good works or through our own private torment and suffering. All mankind is saved through the cross of Jesus Christ, and fully saved, so that our faith today is saving faith because it trusts in Jesus who made peace between us and the Father through his blood, shed on the cross (Colossians 1:20).
On the other side of this cruel mortar and pestle is the believer who is not orthodox in his or her faith, who does not know some or perhaps most of the doctrines of the Bible, but who trusts in Christ. Such a person has saving faith, as Paul teaches: “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters” (Romans 14:1). Why is this? Because the grace of God means we are forgiven for Christ’s sake, and Christ is the one who procured for us the grace of God promised in the gospel. Theologian David Hollaz said: “The object of faith is in reality always the same, whether we describe it as Christ the Mediator, or as the grace of God, or as the gracious promise made for the sake of Christ, the Mediator. The difference is merely one of conception and expression” (Examen, ‘De fide,’ qu. 7). So consider this: Just as folly and unbelief cannot be ground out of a man or destroyed by killing him, so also saving faith in Christ cannot be ground out of us or destroyed by killing us. It endures forever, and it will still be ours in the resurrection, just as everything, every last thing promised to us by Jesus, will be ours forever because we have faith in him. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:18). So treasure your faith, and trust every single promise of the gospel.
Pastor Timothy Smith