We all know the feeling. When someone belittles us in front of others, we want to rail against them or make their lives miserable by filtering our rage through our best passive-aggressive behavior. When a friend continuously doles out inflammatory remarks, it’s easy to snap and say (or tweet) something inspired by the white-hot rage sweeping through us.
We’d be better off turning to the book of Proverbs, which can offer wisdom for dealing with these situations. The book seems to deliver hard-and-fast rules for life we can easily apply—do this; don’t do that. Do this and you’ll prosper; do that and you’ll suffer for your foolishness. However, Proverbs 26 delivers statements that confuse those who live by the rules: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly lest you become like him—even you. Answer a fool according to his folly, or else he will be wise in his own eyes” (Prov 26:4–5). Do we answer the fool or leave him alone?
The entire trajectory of Proverbs is the attainment of wisdom. The author of this proverb isn’t offering a simple rule. He’s giving guidance. Although it’s sometimes better to keep silent—when speaking would inspire us to be equally foolish—other times the situation might call for us to reprimand the fool. If the fool is misleading others, we need to gently correct them for their good and everyone else’s. The fool may be teachable, just lacking in instruction and discipline.
We need discernment to know which response the situation requires. Pray for guidance in your interactions with others. Pray for wisdom from the Spirit, who can provide you with the discernment you need to answer in the right way. Just don’t be the fool and set the conversation ablaze with inflammatory words (Jas 3:5).
How do you respond to foolish people? How can you, guided by the Holy Spirit, answer (or choose to remain silent) in ways that build up or challenge the fool?