August 13, 2012

Is Folly Sin? Mad Libs for Devil’s Advocates

by Clint Archer

A really insightful question was posed to me recently by multiple people on different occasions in various ways. I could summarize the enquiry, “Is it wrong to do something that is not sinful, even though you know it’s not wise?”Fool

This question has many applications, for example, entertainment choices, debt, disciplining one’s children, selecting a school, choosing friends, spending money, exercising Christian liberties, and pretty much anything covered in the Book of Proverbs.

So what do we do when our flesh wants to do something the Bible says is foolish, but not necessarily sinful?

Some Behavior is Just Plain Dumb.

We need remember that some activities we like are not particularly dastardly, they’re just unwise and poise us for consequences like a golf ball on a tee. E.g. watching certain lowbrow sitcoms, visiting your girlfriend’s house when no one else is home, shopping on December 24th, buying your kids vampire pulp fiction, smoking in a library, smoking at a gas station, smoking at all, etc.

The Solomonic street smarts of Proverbs and other wisdom snippets of Scripture catalogue for us a litany of behaviors that are simply stupid for Christians who are serious about loving the Lord with all their hearts, minds, and strength to engage in. You expect them of the spiritual neophytes and socially jejune, but not of believers who are serious about sanctification.

This is not meant to be a post about debt, so feel free to insert any Mad Lib combination of…

  • gambling
  • dating an unbeliever
  • frequenting a night club
  • smoking
  • drinking

or any other conviction you have that the Bible says is the behavior characteristic mainly of people who end up…

  • broke
  • fornicating
  • ruining their witness
  • dying of lung cancer while smelling like an ashtray
  • in AA meetings

But I will stick with debt, because I have as a “smoking gun exhibit A” the current economic climate and all its secular pundits as expert witnesses backing up what God has said all along.


Though going into debt isn’t an explicit prohibition (in fact He allowed Israel to lend money in Deut 15:6, which implies borrowing must be permissible) God certainly doesn’t hide from us His view of our clothing accounts…

  • He lumps debtors with distressed and depressed people (1 Sam 22:2).
  • He employs examples of fools in debt as an object lesson (Matt 18:34).
  • He used being debt-free as a sign that He had blessed Israel (Deut 15:6).
  • He warns quite unequivocally that “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Prov 22:7).

God is our Creator; when He gives instructions it is because He knows best. Proverbs is not just another anthology of advice out there to be shelved with fortune cookie strips and Oprah’s book club recommendations. God, who invented economics, in His wisdom urges us against going into debt. He also invented hormones, human perception, lungs, and other helpful aspects of life. He knows how they work, and He knows what instructions to give for their optimal use, for example, flee temptation, avoid the appearance of evil, be a good steward of your body, and many more.

When God suggests a course of action, what special kind of fool would deliberately choose the opposite? Enter a special kind of fool: the biblically literate devil’s advocate.

But stupidity is not (always) sinful.

devilsadvocateAfter a Bible study on debt/gambling/etc., the teacher is frequently accosted with objectors who have on their spiritual business card the self-designated moniker, “Devil’s Advocate.” Their diabolical opening arguments usually begin with the phrase, “But technically…” An unprepared teacher may flounder a bit when it is pointed out that technically the practice in question is not forbidden in Scripture. You might parry with “All things are lawful but not all are profitable” (1 Cor 6:12), to which they counter with this riposte: “Do not go beyond what stands written” (1 Cor 4:6). And as soon as you concede that it isn’t sin per se, you are open to accusations of legalism, fundamentalism, or any -ism that lets people do what they really want to anyway.

So what do you do?

You forget about winning the argument, and go for the heart. This is what Jesus did when the Pharisees asked why His disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-4). Ask the devil’s advocate what his/her highest aim in life is. Is it to love God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself? Well, yes, I suppose. Good. So then what is the course of action you should take, a) the one that the God you love says is stupid, dangerous, and characteristic of people who don’t love Him… or b) the wisest course of action that will build up your love for God, your testimony to unbelievers, your example to believers, and your general godliness? Mmm, tough choice.

So, is choosing folly sin?

Here’s Solomon’s Mad Lib exercise:

The really ______ young man ventured to try ______, which God said was foolish, and expected ______, but of course suffered ______  and now realizes that God was ______ and he was really, really ______.

(For hints, read Proverbs 5).

Case closed.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Steve

    Clint – This article is extremely timely and helpful for many issues I’ve worked through in my own life and am currently working through in the lives of those I have the privilege of shepherding (young, singles). Thank you so much brother. May we, and the flock, fall more and more in love with Christ and what He’s done for us and thus, live our lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel that is above reproach and brings much glory to God in the here and now.

    • It’s my pleasure. Thanks for your interest and comments.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    “And as soon as you concede that it isn’t sin per se, you are open to accusations of legalism, fundamentalism, or any -ism that lets people do what they really want to anyway.”
    Have you ever been accused of being a legalist or a fundamentalist or a Pharisee, pastor Clint?

    • Do you mean this week?

      • Truth Unites… and Divides

        Heh. Okay, I take it that you have been accused of being a legalist or a fundamentalist or a Pharisee before in your life.
        What has been your response to this accusation? Is it best to show the accuser that he or she is making a false accusation? Have you ever tried to show someone that they’ve made a false accusation against you?

        • I usually (depending especially on the source of the criticism) ask questions about what in my behavior or attitude is leading to the conclusion. If I am a Pharisee my first reaction would also be “No I’m not!” So I try keep an open mind. There’s a little legalist in all of us.

      • Truth Unites… and Divides

        If Jesus was accused of being a legalist or a fundamentalist or a Pharisee, how would Jesus respond?
        Would Jesus say nothing?
        Or would Jesus say something? If he said something, what do you think He would say?

        • I did a search of all the red letters in Logos and couldn’t find an answer to your question. 🙂

  • Flyaway

    No where in the Bible does it say–Thou shalt not smoke; but when my younger brother was two years old he knew it was not a good thing. He told a visitor who lit up that he would get “tars.” Also doing too many good works can be foolish. God chose the good works we should do in advance. I think that means we are not supposed to do all good works but just the ones God has chosen for us.

    • Thanks for sharing.

  • Kip’ Chelashaw

    Pastor Archer,

    What exactly constitutes foolishness/folly? I think many a time Scripture associates foolishness/folly with sinfulness and I suspect that Biblically if someone who is immature/lacking in knowledge does something foolish then they are not as culpable but if one indulges in act that one knows is foolish then at root that contradicts 1 Corinthians 10:31 and is therefore sinful.


    • You are right that biblically folly is often willful ignorance, not genuine uninformed ignorance.

  • Laurie

    This is very thought provoking… other thoughts come to mind–don’t climb trees if you don’t want to be injured; don’t eat food unless you want to become obese. We have to sift though the pros and cons of each choice. I cannot personally see a lot of pros for going to a night club though I can see pros for have a glass of wine at dinner. On the “stupid” category many would differ. I think my mom would have told you that Christians should not be Nascar drivers. 🙂 As you state so well we should seek “the wisest course of action that will build up your love for God, your testimony to unbelievers, your example to believers, and your general godliness…” Thank you!

  • MomOfThree

    If “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child and the rod of correction will drive it far from him”. then shouldn’t we adults seek the “rod” (in appropriate forms) and keep far from foolishness?