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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:St. Albert Canadian Reformed Church
 St. Albert, Alberta
Title:The Fallen Follow Folly
Text:Proverbs 9:13-18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 111:1,3,5
Ps 37:1,12,15
Reading -- Psalm 73; Proverbs 9:1-18
Ps 38:1,3,8,10
Sermon -- Proverbs 9:13-18
Ps 73:1,4,5
Ps 73:8,9

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters in our Lord, how wonderful all things were in the beginning! When we read Gen 1, we hear this theme repeated: "And God saw that it was good." Time and again, culminating with this declaration on the sixth day: "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good" (v 31).

It was very good. Man and woman sparkled as the crown of creation. They were given the beautiful task of being fruitful and increasing, of filling and subduing, even of ruling all the earth, as the sun, stars and moon ruled the heavens. In the beginning, man and woman were righteous and holy, they lived to the praise of their Creator, they knew God and loved God.

But then arose, as they say, "troubles in Paradise." There had been proud discontent among the angels in heaven, and Satan had led a great host in rebellion against God. Deprived of their glory, but not of their strength, Satan and his demons got to work spreading the revolution from heaven to earth. And down Satan came, in the form of a snake, to try ensnare the greatest of God's creation, man and woman.

We know well the sorry sequence of events in Gen 3: the deceptive appearance, the beguiling words, the attractive fruit, the hesitation, and then, the deed. Yet we should remember it didn't have to be this way. For in the Garden, man and woman were presented with a choice: To follow God, or to follow Satan. Put before two masters, Adam and Eve had the ability to choose to serve God, but they did not.

Instead, their choice was for the attractiveness of sin -- for that lovely fruit ("good for food and pleasing to the eye"), and for all that it could allegedly offer: It was "desirable for gaining wisdom" (Gen 3:6). Maybe that fruit did taste good for the moment, and maybe it did look really nice. But its offer of wisdom was decidedly false. Sure, mankind would know more about certain things, but it was a knowledge of things like deception, anger, jealousy, guilt, greed and death. Such darkened wisdom they gained with their sin!

And though he had succeeded once, Satan was not finished with God's fallen creatures. That first sin was only the beginning; he wanted Adam and Eve (and all their descendants) to continue to follow him! From that moment of the Fall, God and Satan began their battle in the hearts of mankind. At many times and in various ways this grand battle has been played out: in the tents of Abraham; in the words of the prophets; on the battlefields of Israel. The war rages on in the book of Proverbs; we hear it in the invitation of Wisdom, and the invitation of Folly.

In Proverbs, "wisdom" and "folly" are portrayed as women. They are "personified," like death is sometimes personified today as a skeleton wearing a black hooded robe, and holding a scythe. To personify something makes an abstract idea become more real and vivid in our minds.

Wisdom appears as a woman in a few different places in Proverbs. Wisdom "calls aloud in the street; she raises her voice in the public squares" (1:20); "her mouth speaks what is true" (8:7); Wisdom laughs (1:26) and Wisdom pleads (1:23). Especially in the first part of ch 9 we read a fine description of Wisdom: her house, her banquet, her invitation, her promises. Wisdom stands there, inviting all people to gain a saving knowledge. But Folly stands over here, and she also invites all people -- not so much to gain understanding, but simply to join her, and to enjoy all her "delights." The battle between God and Satan continues in Pr 9,

God's fallen creatures are tempted to follow Folly:

  1. folly's open invitation
  2. folly's false promise
  3. folly's deadly result

 1. folly's open invitation: As we said, Wisdom has been pictured as a woman in a couple places already in this book. But in v 13 we encounter for the first time another woman, "the woman Folly."
When you meet someone for the first time, a few things jump out at you right away, things that form an initial impression. As we look at the woman Folly, we receive these impressions right away: "[She is] loud -- undisciplined and without knowledge" (v 13).

If we're in a charitable mood, we'll say: "Don't judge by appearances." Indeed, but let's understand exactly who this woman is; a great danger is that we take a gentle view of Folly. We could think "folly"
is some tolerable ignorance, some harmless joking around.

But just the way in which these two women are contrasted with each other should tell us Folly is no benign ignorance. Of Wisdom we read in v 10, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (v 10). That is the rich content of the one woman's invitation: Fear God!

Who then is Folly? If you read through Proverbs, you'll quickly see that Folly must be the exact opposite -- the enemy -- of Wisdom! If wisdom is the fear of the LORD, and if a wise life is one carried out in obedience to his laws and will, then folly is rebellion against the LORD, and a foolish life is one carried out in obedience to fleshly desires and urges. Folly is an emissary of Satan himself!

Folly is not harmless, and she is inviting us in. We can picture this woman sitting at the door of her house, as she watches the people passing by. Her house is even at the "highest point of the city" (v 14). Maybe in this way she's pretending to have authority, or maybe she's pretending to be fashionable -- but surely she's also just trying to be close to Wisdom, whose house is at the peak of the city, too. If Wisdom calls out, Folly must also call out, even louder.

From that highest point, Folly's invitation is broadcast far and wide. Far and wide, for she reaches out with content everyone wants to see and hear. Just as you know from your newspaper or television, it is sin that always gets full coverage. Let's see murders, robberies, sex scandals, corruption and war! Our attention is instantly grabbed with an appeal to our desire for the "finer" things of life, grabbed with an eyeful of flesh, with a splash of blood.

Today there are movie-ratings, regulations for public advertising, and (ever-slipping) standards of decency, but sinful folly knows no limits. For notice: she is "undisciplined and without knowledge" (v 13). May we be warned: Temptation isn't ruled by good judgment or standards of fair-play. Everything is fair game, no "taboo" is too shameful -- rather, no law of God is too holy.

Look around, and we see this folly everywhere. This is no coincidence, for this is the strategy of the devil: Flood the world with wickedness! The more we see sin, the more normal sin becomes. The shock wears off. The barriers fall down. The desire grows. Satan's followers increase.

As she spreads the message, "the woman Folly is loud" (v 13). She even shouts her brazen invitation, "You, come in here!" She shouts, but not because we're hard of hearing; in fact, our ears perk up at even the slightest whisper of temptation. But when a person can do little more than shout incessantly, we should know he's hiding something. Folly shouts, because she actually has far less to offer than Wisdom, and what Folly gives is terrible in its results. To conceal her falsehood, she makes her call all the more violent and pressing.

In this fallen world, the volume of sin's invitations has been turned way up. We are being deafened by Folly's constant words, distracted by Satan's pervasive lies, enticed by sin's loud presentation: We do deserve this; why not try it out, just once; that does look like fun.

Folly is calling out, inviting many in. In a way, her invitation is indiscriminate; she casts her nets of temptation far and wide: Anyone who "[passes] by" is a target (v 15). But Folly, that wicked hostess of Satan, especially directs her attention to the children of God. To those "[going] straight on their way" Folly calls out (v 15).

It is the straight path that is pleasing to God. In Ps 27 we pray, "Lead me in a straight path" (v 11). Or in Pr 4 we are instructed, "Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you" (v 25). The straight path is the one that doesn't swerve toward sin, nor meander in places where we can get bogged down. We still say it today, maybe even a bit sarcastically, "He's on the straight and narrow."
But beloved, this is where God wants us to be! "Enter through the narrow gate! For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it" (Mt 7:13)

We strive to be among the few who stay on the straight path, yet these are the ones always targeted. Folly even calls them "simple," lacking in judgment (v 16). She generously welcomes us to attend her school, that we may learn to be cured of the restraints of religion. Indeed, Satan helps us fool ourselves sometimes; he can say, "You're Christian, sure. But it's good for you to experience the world. You need to know what's out there -- try a little, have a taste. How can you judge it as wrong if you've never tried it?"

The invitation is open, and who can turn it down? The woman Folly is loud, she is persuasive, she is welcoming. And she is, in the worst possible way, attractive. The woman Folly is linked with a couple previous women in Proverbs, namely, the adulteress and the wayward wife (2:16, 7:11). If you read Pr 7 later on today, you'll see many similarities between the loose woman and the woman Folly. Both are open. Both are bold. Both are seductive: "Come let's drink deep of love till morning; my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey" (7:18-19).

Some women of folly stand leaning against lamp-posts, broadcasting their invitations without words. Yet most sin is far less public. For surely it isn't only the loose women on billboards and street-corners and the Internet who entice us. These are very obvious examples, but there are many more and captivating temptations, for all of us, men and women, young and old.

What is the same for that loose woman in Proverbs 7 calling out her invitation, and all temptation today, is that both lead to adultery. In the Scriptures, a life of sin is often compared to breaking the seventh commandment, because sin, of whatever form, fools us into believing that we can love it, can live with it, and can enjoy it -- like an occasional friend and companion. The invitation of Folly is so dangerous, because it is so attractive. "Here you will feel good; here you will put troubles away; join me for some harmless fun -- and we won't get caught."

Yes, by nature we accept Folly's invitation to come inside and stay awhile. But it doesn't have to be this way. For hear the call of God's Wisdom! She also calls out from where all can see her (v 3), she also calls to us, the simple (v 4). And how much greater is her house: It is founded on seven pillars; it is firm and lasting!

Beloved, will we live on the streets of "sin city," laying our head down in the gutter of wickedness? Or will we heed the invitation of wisdom, to follow in God's ways and to live in the glory of his eternal mansion? May we strive to increase in wisdom, so that we may know how empty the way of folly truly is!

2. folly's false promise: With her invitation, Folly offers a meal to those passing by, literally, just water and bread. Folly calls out to those who "lack judgment," and makes it sound like she's going to give us an education, but all she can promise is to satisfy our inner cravings.

Sitting on her doorstep she points over her shoulder, inside, "I've got a jug of water and a loaf of bread in there for you, if you want it." Folly knows that if someone is hungry or thirsty, he'll take the first thing that's offered. The promise offered by any temptation is often not very complicated: "Hungry? Here's bread," says Folly. In reality, she is tempting us: "Lonely? Here's a companion -- an unbelieving one, but a companion nonetheless. Feeling down? Here's distraction: in a bottle, in a credit card, in mindless entertainment. Angry? Here's ammunition for your gossip or your pride. You want this? Here, you can have it. Just step inside?"

As we pass by on our way, loaded down with sorrows, burning with lust or pride or anger, maybe confused about where to go, sin appeals to us. Folly might be a foolish woman, but she knows exactly what we want.

If we hesitate even a little, Folly tries to convince us with a simple promise: "Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious" (v 17). Even though it's only water and bread, and can't compare to the wine and meat offered by Wisdom, Folly puts a spin on her presentation: Doesn't something taste better when it's stolen, or when it's eaten in secret?

And perhaps Folly is right. The depth of our depravity means we do take pleasure in things that are forbidden. There is a strange delight in gossiping -- even hearing gossip can be like swallowing a nice morsel of food. There is a unmistakable pleasure in taking a bit of dishonest gain, or in breaking your parents' rules without being caught. A shameful fantasy, hidden from everyone but yourself, can taste very sweet in your mind. Even the fear of being caught can somehow make forbidden pleasure more intense.

We know it well from experience, "Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious." Yes, it feels true, yet here is the false promise of Folly, and the lie of Satan. Remember when man and woman were tempted in the garden; they saw the fruit: it was "pleasing to the eye," it was "good for food," it was "desirable for gaining wisdom." It might have been all these things, but that remained only a fraction of the truth.

For that fruit in the garden, and that sin offering itself to us each day, is not ours to take. It is stealing -- stealing from God -- and it must be punished. Folly's false promise is that we can be truly happy when we sin, and nicely satisfied when our desire is filled. But though sin is pleasing to the eye, and might agree with every bone in our bodies, it remains sin, and hateful to God. Folly is not harmless, and sin is never without consequence.

For even the pleasures offered by sin are only "stolen" from God. They are stolen from his good creation, and corrupted. The good gift of wine is abused with our irresponsibility. The good gift of sexuality is perverted with our lust. The good gift of material things is twisted with our greed. The promise of sin is always a parasite, sucking and stealing from the good things of God.

As we read, Wisdom too, offers a meal to those who pass by. To a hungry person, the instant satisfaction given by water and bread might seem better than meat and wine; it takes time to enjoy a cut of steak or a glass of wine. So also for sin: If an urge is swelling up, we prefer instant satisfaction. As a famous sinner once said, "The easiest way to get rid of a temptation is to give in to it." That's exactly what sin offers: Instant gratification!

Despite appearances, what folly offers can't compare to what wisdom can give. Her meal is more than just stuff to satisfy our cravings. Wisdom will help us to walk in understanding (v 6), to fear the LORD, and to know the Holy One (v 10). These are things that last forever!

Beloved, we're invited to two banquets, that of Folly or that of Wisdom. No RSVP is needed, all we have to do is walk in the one door, or the other! But if we know our Bible, if we know the character of sin, if we believe God's word for us, there will be no mystery when it comes to these dinners. The one is a banquet in the grave, and the other is a banquet of great rejoicing. Consider the promise of Wisdom: "For through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life" (v 11). The sure promise of Wisdom is life, and the guaranteed result of folly is death!

3. folly's deadly result: To those who pause at Folly's door, Solomon gives this warning: "Little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave" (v 18). It is no restaurant that Folly opens for the hungry; it is no school she runs for the ignorant. Though she'll always deny it, the house of Folly is the house of the dead! She sits at the doorstep of a morgue, and invites the living to join the expired!

Behind Folly's white-washed walls are piles of corpses. Men and women and young people who were hungry, who wanted a desire filled, and who inhaled cheap bread and lukewarm water. They accepted the open invitation, they believed the false promise, and now they might check out, but they can never leave.

Is one sip of stolen water enough to kill you? Does one slice of secretive bread seal your doom? No. But one sip, one slice, one sin is never enough. The deadly cycle of sin is described in Jas 1; it begins with our hearts: "Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (vv 14-15).

There is a certain descent into sin, a slow being taken captive by Satan. It begins with someone being unprepared: naive, reckless, searching. Then, a first sin. A brief stay with Folly turns into friendship, and becomes infatuation. Soon we love sin and adore folly, and finally we worship our wickedness -- which is what Satan wanted all along.

Sin, followed to its logical conclusion, always leads to death. And the deadly effects of unconfessed sin begin already today. Think of Ps 38:3-6, "Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; my bones have no soundness because of my sin. My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly." God did not create us to sin! Sin's deadly effects will be felt, in our minds and even in our bodies: gnawing guilt, empty bitterness, pointless searching, hopeless insecurity.

True, sometimes it seems the wicked thrive. "I envied the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles, their bodies are healthy and strong" (Ps 73:3-4). And perhaps they can fool themselves sometimes; the wicked can even fool us into believing it must be better not to deny ourselves.

Yet as we do battle with our sinful desires, as we struggle to keep on the straight and narrow, tempted from every side, let us remember the total futility of the life of sin. Struggling for purity in a world that seems to thrive in their sin, we might think with the Psalmist, "Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure" (Ps 73:12). Yet he goes on, "When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me, till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny" (Ps 73:12-17).

Where are we going? Where will my life lead? What is my destiny? "Consider the blameless, observe the upright; there is a future for the man of peace. But all sinners will be destroyed; the future of the wicked will be cut off" (Ps 37:37-38).

Scripture never threatens us, waving the horror of death over our sinful heads. But Scripture is constant in warning us: The dead live with Folly, "her guests are in the depth of the grave" (v 18). Take warning, and also take comfort, for there is a better way, a better feast, a better destiny for us all. In Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:30), the deadly results of our sin are carried. Though it seem foolish to deny yourself, though it seem foolish to believe in a crucified Jew, Christ is our Wisdom -- He is the wisdom that helps us see Folly for who she is, He is the wisdom that gives life!

Let us flee from every sin -- for none are harmless! Let us all seek forgiveness in Christ -- for none are sinless! In his grace, God has opened a door of salvation for fallen man. May God help us enter, and stay, in the house of Wisdom! Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2005, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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