“Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Or you will also be like him.
Answer a fool as his folly deserves,
That he not be wise in his own eyes.”
Walking in wisdom
In these two Proverbs, the writer proposes two approaches to consider when dealing with a fool. In the first verse, the reader of the text is instructed, not to answer a fool according to his folly, otherwise, he, in turn, will be like him. In the following, the reader is directed to answer a fool according to his folly so that the fool does not appear to be wise in his own eyes.
This proverb reminds us of the importance of walking in wisdom. There is not a one size fits all philosophy when it comes to dealing with fools. There are times when you have to walk away from the fool, ignoring the absurdity that comes out of his mouth. There are also times when you have to go toe to toe with the fool so that he sees the depth of his foolishness. Either way, in each case we need wisdom from the Lord.
When to not answer a fool
Is this person making you upset to the degree that their words and actions are causing you to sin? If so, you should probably consider walking away from the fool. Taking a step back and reevaluating if a confrontational conversation is worth having or not is walking in wisdom. If you recognize that a conversation is going nowhere and your arguments are not being considered objectively, you may need to walk away (Proverbs 14:6). Sometimes walking away from a fool or a foolish conversation exposes the problem and other times it doesn’t but in either case, you are better off keeping your sanity than to grieve your spirit by the fools tactics.
When should you answer a fool?
There are times when answering a fool is necessary and helpful, but again wisdom from God is needed to discern each scenario. Showing a fool the end of his way does not always end in him repenting or apologizing for his error, but in His sovereignty, God uses all types of means to open the eyes of some fools and turn them from their former ways.
Sometimes the fool needs to bluntly hear that he is flat out wrong and his arguments, beliefs and, reasoning is stupid and will cost him his soul if he refuses to repent. This kind of confrontation could be used by the Lord to show the fool his own pride and awaken him from his sleep (Ephesians 5:14).
Honoring the Lord
If you could correct a fool without sinning against the Lord, and without grieving your own conscience, then do it; but in the end, our greatest motivation for answering or not answering a fool needs to be honoring to the Lord.
Some fools are hopeless and will never change. Other fools are will be changed by the power of God as He chooses to use a faithful servant of his to show the fool the error of his ways. May God make it clear to us which path we ought to walk when the time comes.