“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” (Proverbs 26:4-5)

The verses above seem to give contradictory advice. This is no mistake. The Scriptures purposefully placed these two proverbs in juxtaposition to underscore a point.

The answer to the apparent contradiction lies in the second halves of both verses. Verse 4 ends with the words, “lest thou also be like unto him”. Hence, this verse warns the Christian not to answer in the same foolish manner as a fool. He is not to lower himself to the fool’s methods and attitude. A fool may utter angry and unthoughtful words to a believer, but the believer is not to retaliate with similar words and arguments, and be drawn into a tit-for-tat exchange. Once a believer falls for the bait, he has sinned against the Lord. He will also end up looking just as foolish as the fool!

On the other hand, verse 5 ends with the words “lest he be wise in his own conceit” (literally “lest he be wise in his own eyes”). Hence, this verse exhorts the believer to answer the fool as his folly deserves. He is to help the fool realise the error of his ways so that he may repent and turn back to the Lord. The believer is commanded not to keep silent, but to answer wisely, otherwise the fool will degenerate in his folly until he will “be wise in his own eyes”. When a person reaches this stage, Proverbs 26:15 concludes that “there is more hope of a fool than of him”!

These verses are especially applicable when we go for evangelism. When we evangelise, we pray that men may repent from their sin and turn to Christ. However, as we evangelise, we may meet with certain individuals who are out to pick a quarrel. If we are not careful, we can easily use heated words in order to win an argument. When this occurs, our Christian testimony would be ruined. In such cases, it is better to just thank the person for his time and move on.

Similarly, there may be professing Christians who are sinning and back-slidden. When ministering to such persons, we must be careful with our words. Proverbs 15:8 describes the heart of the righteous as one which “studieth to answer”. Ponder carefully before speaking and do not speak impulsively, or one may end up giving wrong advice that is contrary to the Scripture. When answering, we must not only make sure that our words are true to the Scripture, but our attitude, tone and motive of rebuke and correction must also be Christ-like.

However, some individuals may brazenly shut their ears to all advice and may not be teachable. They may even turn around and attempt to malign you. In such cases, it is better to keep silent and leave him alone. Proverbs 23:9 applies. “Speak not in the ears of a fool: for he will despise the wisdom of thy words.” Jesus advises in Matthew 7:6 – “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” Keep silent, lest you end up like a fool!

Lovingly In Christ,
Preacher Clement Chew