This devotional series examines a verse or two from a chapter of Proverbs each day of January 2017.
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. ~Proverbs 26:4-5
In these back-to-back proverbs we seem to find contradictory advice. One says to respond to a fool’s folly and the other says to not. Some might be willing to throw a charge of contradiction at the Bible at this point, but that fails to understand a few key items. First, those who ordered the proverbs together were not so foolish themselves to not recognize a basic contradiction. Second, in general, proverbs are meant to be taken in general.
Many proverbs do not command absolute truths but speak wisdom to various situations, though the underlying principles may be true at all times. The truth these two proverbs seek to communicate is this: One must reasonably examine a situation to know how to answer a person who is acting foolish.
The application of this truth is that sometimes responding to a person’s folly will draw you into the folly with them, while other times it will offer a needed rebuke that can help set back on the right track the foolish acting person.
Thus, we have some things to consider about each situation: What is the folly? What is my propensity to be trapped in this folly as well? Will I be able to let the situation go and walk away if necessary? What do I know about the person and how they typically respond to rebuke? Is Jesus more honored by me speaking to or not speaking to this situation? There may be more questions to ask and answer of each situation, but these at least are a basic few.
Weighing and praying over what was said or done and your response goes a long way to help you understand whether or not you should answer a fool according to his folly.