Posted by: Pastor Terry Hagedorn | August 18, 2018

To Answer or Not (Prov. 26:4-5). Dr. Horton

Is Solomon contradicting himself when he tells us, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (Pr. 26:4-5)? In a quick reading it appears that each verse negates the other. Answer, don’t answer. Which is it?

Attention to the second half of each verse points us to a solution to this conundrum. There are times when wisdom requires silence. When engagement with the fool would bring us down to his level, we do best to disengage. There are people and circumstances where no answer would be received, or where the answer would simply provide more fodder for the fools mockery. Social media and talk shows present ample evidence of this. We are not heard when speaking into a wind storm. We also must be careful that we are not tempted to answer foolishness with foolishness. A “cute” or sarcastic response can bring us down to the same level as the fool. Truth does not advance by indiscretion.

There are other occasions when we must answer foolish assertions in the defense of truth. When facts are misrepresented or falsehoods are paraded as truth, we must counter the errors. When we stand on solid ground and the fool is sinking into quicksand, we must seek to bring him and his hearers to the rock of truth. We can strive to turn them from error, whether they will listen or not.

Solomon tells us elsewhere that there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Eccl. 3:7).

Our Lord’s interactions also show examples of both of these verses. Reflect on Him with the Pharisees or before Pilate. Let us learn to be discerning in dealing with others.


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