According To His Folly
I came across a proverb in Proverbs 26 that caused a double take. The proverb is this: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” Did you have to read it twice yourself? It almost seems like it’s a direct contradiction doesn’t it?
While it may seem like a contradiction it’s really not. Like all proverbs it contains general, practical, truths that teach wisdom. It reminds me of a version of this proverb that dad used to remind me of. It went something to the effect of “Argue not with a fool lest he beat you at his own game and bring you down to his level.” Isn’t that really what the first part of that proverb is saying? Don’t get into an argument with a fool lest you be like him.
Now I’d caution us on going out and classifying and calling people fools, for various reasons, but the application is still there. There are always those that like to argue simply for the sake of arguing. If we’re honest with ourselves I think most of us would have to admit that we’ve been guilty of this ourselves at one point or another. The point is there are people out there that are skilled in debating, particularly spiritual things. You’ll hear people say that they are well versed in their doctrine but not scripture. These people are skilled in generating a response and typically that response is one that frustrates and rattles the other. Their logic and rationale isn’t wise but foolish and you find yourself getting frustrated and irritated to the point that you too start employing foolish arguments and foolish ways of communicating them. What’s happened? You’ve become like them.
When you realize that they’ve gotten the best of you and that they managed to get under your skin what is the typical response? I think for most is a complete separation and refusal to discuss those matters any further. After all in this instance they are behaving like fools so why waste your time right? But that’s where the second part of this proverb comes in. It almost seems like it directly goes against what the first part teaches but it really doesn’t.
When I read these two together I realize that “answering a fool according to his folly” speaks to my approach and the wisdom I must choose to employ. While the natural reaction to such people with spiritual things is to clam up and avoid discussion on those things I still need to seek to correct and teach “lest he be wise in his own eyes.” Often that is really their only goal whether they want to admit it or not. They want to beat you in a debate and thus in their eyes they’ve won and are wiser and smarter than you are. If that is how I approach it as well then I’ll become like him. But if I focus on showing the wisdom of God in its simple and powerful state through scripture I can give answer without yielding to foolish tactics.
I can give answer and discuss spiritual matters with those that wish to do so, even those who may just be trying to spark a debate. Isn’t that what Peter says in 1 Peter 3 when he says “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” We shouldn’t argue and yell and get all worked up but rather teach and give answer with gentleness and respect.
Now some of you are probably thinking “well that’s true but there comes a point when people just don’t want to talk about the truth and we shouldn’t waste our time.” I’m not going to disagree with that thought because there is truth to it. The principles of Matthew 7 and Matthew 10 where Jesus says not to throw your pearls before the pigs and if they reject you shake off the dust from your feet definitely come to mind. With that said I’d encourage us to consider how long Jesus labored among the many disciples and even His own, continuing to teach though they did not grasp or accept.
I’m thankful my Lord has never given up on me and many people in my life haven’t either. It’s that thanksgiving that should motivate us to be patient with others and continue to teach when we have opportunity.