"The Fool On The Hill"

By David Orton

In 1967 the Beatles released a Lennon-McCartney song called ‘The Fool on the Hill’. I’m no doubt showing my vintage here, but it struck me as a genuinely prophetic statement then, and still does.

The lyrics go:

Day after day, alone on the hill,
The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still.
But nobody wants to know him,
They can see that he's just a fool.
And he never gives an answer...

But the fool on the hill,
Sees the sun going down.
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning around.

Well on his way, his head in a cloud,
The man of a thousand voices, talking perfectly loud.
But nobody ever hears him,
Or the sound he appears to make.
And he never seems to notice...

But the fool on the hill,
Sees the sun going down.
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning around.

And nobody seems to like him,
They can tell what he wants to do.
And he never shows his feelings,

But the fool on the hill,
Sees the sun going down.
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning around.

Emerging from the revolutionary atmosphere of the era the song exposes the futility of human activity, and particularly of the status quo.

While the majorities are blindly accepting one is not. He has found a hill from where he ‘sees the sun going down and the eyes in his head see the world spinning round’. This ‘seer’ knows that all the ceaseless activity of the world is ultimately meaningless – it is only spinning around. He also sees the sun going down – there is a terminal point, and time is short.

So, in response, he speaks: ‘the man of a thousand voices talking perfectly loud – But nobody ever hears him or the sound he appears to make’. The world refuses to listen. In fact, they don’t ‘want to know him’, and worse, ‘nobody seems to like him – they can tell what he wants to do’. They are willfully deaf in defense of the status quo. Their comfort zones must not be disturbed. And so, he is dismissed as a ‘fool’.

The Man of the Spirit - "The Fool on the Hill"

This brings me to my message. Just replace ‘the world spinning round’ with ‘church’. Hosea cried out that, "the prophet is considered a fool, the man of the spirit insane" (Hos 9:7). Well, there’s not much new is there? The age-old strategy of shooting the messenger, if you don’t like the message, is still alive and well! And even recognized by secular songwriters. The prophetic person, the man or woman of the Spirit, it seems is regularly dismissed as the ‘fool on the hill’.

But what is happening here? Why is the ‘man of the Spirit’ considered a fool? The people of God in Hosea’s time had become so devoid of the Spirit that when the genuine man of the Spirit appeared they could not recognize him. The ways of God had been so subverted by the ways of men that spiritual discernment had ceased. And to persecute these ‘insane’ people was actually viewed as an act of service to God. Isaiah declared: "Hear the word of the LORD, you who tremble at his word: ‘‘Your brothers who hate you, and exclude you because of my name, have said, ‘Let the LORD be glorified…’" (Isa 66:4-5). And Jesus warned, "…a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God" (Jn 16:2).

Now, we who consider ourselves serious Christians would never do that!

Are you sure? When Jesus confronted the religious system of his day, like us, they honored the memory of the greats of yesteryear. They said, "If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets" (Matt 23:30). They were perhaps even students of revival, knowing the names and the places of previous great moves of God and the men who led them. And yet they are the very ones who in a short time conspired to lead the very Lord of glory to the death of the cross.

So, what happened? And how can we be sure that we will not only not persecute the ‘man of the Spirit’ in our generation, but also actually be one myself?

The Problem of "Flesh" in the Church

To find some answers we need to look to Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian church. Which, by the way, was the ‘revival’ church of the day, excelling in all the gifts and ministries of the Spirit. Paul, in addressing this so-called ‘renewal’ church taught them, surprisingly, about the things of the Spirit!

But surely they were already experts! Yes, like Israel they had seen the acts of God, but unlike Moses did not know his ways (Psa 103:7). They had experienced the supernatural, all manner of utterances, and revelations, they even boasted of so-called ‘super-apostles’, but were, in fact, by Paul’s estimation not yet ‘spiritual’: "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual (pneumatikos) men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ" (1 Cor 3:1). So rather, he described them as ‘fleshly’ (sarx), which, in Paul’s language refers to those controlled by their fallen human nature (see Rom 7:5, 18, 25; 8:3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12, 13).

Now, we immediately think of ‘gross sin’ when we think of the ‘flesh’, of immorality etc. While this can be true it is not the full story. Paul’s description of the ‘works of the flesh’ also includes, "hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy" (Gal 5:20, 21). The Greek word used for ‘selfish ambition’, according to W.E. Vine ‘denotes ambition, self–seeking, rivalry, self–will being an underlying idea in the word; hence it denotes party–making’.

Wow! Does this mean that sectarianism and perhaps even denominationalism are ‘works of the flesh’? It would appear that dividing the body of Christ was viewed by Paul as a product of the ‘flesh’: "for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men?" (1 Cor 3:3, 4; see also 1 Cor 1:11). While diversity is intrinsic to the body of Christ division is not. The dividing of the body out of sectarian agendas, and self-seeking, is categorically a result of the ‘flesh’.

As long as division remains in the body of Christ the source of the problem will always be found in the unbroken strength of our fallen nature – the ‘flesh’. Left unaddressed this will habitually undermine our attempts at unity.

The "Natural" Man

So, while the Corinthian church experienced all manner of ‘charismata’ they were still dominated by the ‘flesh’. How could this be? Paul not only described the Corinthian condition as the ‘flesh’, but also diagnosed the cause. And it was this: "… the natural (psuchikos) man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him..." (1 Cor 2:14, 15).

This was the underlying cause of Paul’s difficulties with the Corinthians including their rejection of his own apostleship for the so-called ‘super-apostles’. If we want to see the restoration of true apostleship in our day this lesson cannot be fudged. Otherwise we, like the Corinthians, will reject the true apostolic for the false.

Because the Corinthians operated out of the natural (psuchikos), despite their experience with the ‘charismata’, they judged Paul, and one another out of a worldly set of values – after the flesh, "comparing themselves with themselves" (2 Cor10:12). Viewing Paul through the Greek idol of beauty (expressed in the human form and in oratory) they concluded that "in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing" (2 Cor 10:7, 10; see also 5:12, 16). This short, bow-legged, bald, beetle-browed, stammering Jew did not measure up. Certainly no career either in our contemporary image-driven, status-conscious church!

More significantly, this same mindset caused them to not only treat the messenger as a ‘fool’, but also the message as ‘foolishness’ (see 1 Cor 1:18-23). The Greek, operating out of the ‘natural’, looked for ‘wisdom’ – something that would make sense, that would add up. But the message of the cross, of dying to self, of surrender, humility, and weakness was insanity to them.

The Issue in the Contemporary Scene

Therefore, the wisdom of God is ‘foolishness’ to men. This, in my estimation at least, is the issue right now in the contemporary scene.

Much of today’s church fits Jude’s graphic description: "These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded (psuchikos), devoid of the Spirit" (v 19). This is not to deny the awesome things that God is doing. However, on the whole, God’s ways have been subverted by man’s ways in the church. And also, I’m sorry to have to say the Pentecostal and renewal expressions of it. Jesus calls us to walk in his ways – to lose our life, to lay down our human way of doing things, our plans, formulas and programs for growth and success.

To truly follow Jesus, who is the Way, means we will be led into sometimes perplexing and unusual circumstances. Several years ago I found myself in that place. I had been pastoring and more significantly coordinating a national movement of pastors with a heart for unity across the larger church. But within a very short period I found myself resigning all my leadership roles – in the church, citywide, and nationally. While some brothers, to some degree, were unwittingly used by the enemy in this whole process I was faced with having to process my own hurt and bewilderment, slowly coming to the realisation that God had meant it all for good. To the natural mind letting everything go was crazy, and yet I couldn’t fight the irresistible sense that God was leading us in a different way and that it would ultimately fulfill his purpose for our lives. Now I wish I could say that this was an easy thing and that I’m a fast learner. The Scripture says that the flesh and the Spirit are in conflict with one another (see Gal 5:17 & Rom 8:5-8). Within myself there was a battle between the flesh – my need to defend and justify myself, to hang on to my reputation and position – and the Spirit, the call of God to forgive, to lay it all down, to humility, and to trust him for our lives, that he would bring to pass all that concerns us.

This warfare between the flesh and the Spirit is the one that rages in the church right now. First, in the hearts of men, and secondly, externally in leadership teams, congregations, across whole denominations, movements, and networks. Whenever we win the battle within our own hearts and bow the knee to the Spirit in a particular matter, we are immediately set against the flesh in the external realm. Just as Ishmael (representing the flesh) mocked the son of promise, Isaac (representing the Spirit), so too will those who follow the ways of men in the church deride (often humorously) those who seek to walk in the ways of God. Like the ‘fool on the hill’ they are minimized and marginalized from the mainstream of human activity.

But in the end it’s not human activity that counts. As ‘the eyes in his head see the church spinning round’ in its ceaseless round, the so-called ‘fool on the hill’ will also see God turning up in the most unexpected and insignificant places. Places like a disused store front in Azuza Street (Los Angeles), like an obscure island called the Isle of Lewis (Scottish Hebrides), or a tiny little Bible School way out in North Battleford (Saskatchewan), or a small unheard of church at the end of the runway at Toronto airport. Jesus suffered ‘outside the camp’ (Heb 13:11-13). Why do we think that the visitation of God in this day will be any different? He still comes to stables and abides in mangers. He still calls to himself insignificant and unlearned fishermen. As Paul reminds us, "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards (ie. by the flesh); not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him" (1 Cor 1:26-29).

Living Out of the Spirit

Now, to take this home we must ask a question: What does it actually mean to live according to the ‘flesh’? As I’ve already mentioned Paul traced the problem to the ‘natural man’.

But, what actually is the ‘natural (psuchikos) man’? He is the Christian that operates out of the ‘soul’ (psuche), in contrast to the ‘spiritual (pneumatikos) man’ who has learned to live out of the ‘spirit’ (pneuma). This doesn’t have a lot to do with ‘moving in the gifts of the Spirit’ (as important as that is), but it does have a lot to do with hearing and heeding the voice of God in the circumstances of life. As we conduct our lives we are faced with the choice of living either out of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or out of the tree of life – out of the mind or out of the spirit. Through our choices we are either sowing to the flesh or to the spirit and becoming over time either predominantly a ‘spirit-man’ or a ‘soul-man’ (see Gal 5:8 & Rom 8:2).

Sure, you might go to church, you might even be a leader or a pastor, and even move in the gifts of the Spirit, but still be, like the Corinthians, a ‘soul-man’. You may be a person who depends on their gifting, or their native intelligence, or survival skills to dominate and control others. You may regard others after the flesh – after a worldly value system – respecting or disdaining them accordingly and only aligning yourself with those whom you feel fit the image. Or, you may regard yourself after the flesh – you may be satisfied by the pride of life – a sense of worldly accomplishment, enjoying a degree of prestige and reputation believing that you, or your church, or your ministry are the measure for others to attain to. If so, let us hear the apostle’s counsel, "Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a ‘‘fool" so that he may become wise" (2 Cor 3:18).

So, in closing, how can I be set free to be a man or woman of the Spirit? Through humbling myself. What man considers foolishness God considers as wisdom. And the only entry to the human heart for wisdom is through the door of humility – "with humility comes wisdom" (Prov 11:2). Only as I submit myself to the ways of God, in humility and brokenness of heart, will the inner light of wisdom and revelation be mine.

His ways are not mine – and at their heart is the way of the cross. My will, my strength, my opinions, even my dearest hopes and dreams, as they are pressed upon by the Spirit must be surrendered. Only as the Lord deals with me along a particular line to follow him – obeying his will, despite human opinion, or values, will I be set free to truly be a person of the Spirit.

Long live the "fool on the hill".