Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. Proverbs 26:4-5
In follow up to the barking and biting dog posts I want to share some final thoughts for consideration in the light of these two scripture verses. These two verses back to back are not a contradiction of one another but a paradox expressing two aspects of a complex truth. With paradoxes there are no automatic formulas. Each situation requires Spirit given wisdom and discernment to know which truth applies in a given situation. As Ecclesiastes 3:7 says there is “a time to be quiet and a time to speak up.”
So in dealing with opposition how do you determine if you be quiet or speak up?
I believe that in everything, since God is the source of all wisdom, we must begin by seeking Him for guidance. And in the seeking process we must also search the scriptures. The best interpreter of scripture is other scripture.
Here are my rules of thumb which can provide a starting place in determining when to answer a fool and when not to answer a fool.
You should always answer a fool, lest he be wise in his own eyes, when the welfare of others is concerned. All three of these points are emblazoned in my heart as a result of personal experiences that I have had as a pastor over the past 35 years. Unfortunately I have learned these truths the hard way – by not always following their wisdom. I could tell many a tale here, but do not have the time or space to do so. Be assured, you can take these truths to the bank!
1. In matters of injustice and protecting the weak and vulnerable speaking up is a non negotiable. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those who are perishing. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice. Proverbs 31:8-9
2. In matters relating to the unity of the body of Christ and protection of the flock from wolves a fool must be dealt with. Numerous times in Paul’s writings he admonished the church leaders to take action whenever there was such a threat of deception or division among fellow believers. (Acts 20:28-31)
3. Giving personal warnings to fools when prompted by the Holy Spirit for the sake of their soul is required of us. There are times when God calls us to be like a watchman who will be held responsible if such a warning is not given. (Ezekiel 3:17-18)
You should refrain from answering a fool, lest you be like him in matters related to your witness for Christ. Jesus made it very clear that we will be persecuted for our faith in Him and we are to faithfully represent Him in relating to our enemies. As much as we would like to be macho and give the fool a piece of our mind, there are times when silence is golden and the dove nature must prevail.
1. We must be prepared to suffer for righteousness sake. (Matthew 5:10-12) In that setting we do not need to defend ourselves. Our character and love are our best defense.
2. We are called to love our enemies, to be kind to them, to turn the other cheek, to pray for them and bless them. (Matthew 5:43-48)
3. We are to be wise as serpents yet harmless as doves. (Matthew 10:16-20)
In each of these situations we do not need to come up with an answer for those who are troubling us. Instead they are opportunities to endure by God’s grace and to be a witness and testimony for His glory.
I hope this is helpful. Paradoxes drive us to greater dependence upon God and that is a good thing. If you have any further perpsective on this topic, please leave a comment.