Proverbs 26:5 reads, “Answer a fool according to his folly or he will be wise in his own eyes.” I often heard this quoted by preachers, teachers and students who are apologetically inclined to defend the truth against the skeptics and naysayers of our society. There is some merit to answering a fool to his folly as some people make arguments based on little to no research whatsoever. It can be a daunting task defending the truth especially with the internet being at everyone’s fingertips. People, under the auspices of anonymity, feel like they can say anything and everything they want to hiding behind their cute and clever “screen names” while dishing out their rhetorical banter like Krispe Kreme doughnuts. People can spend hours and hours online at forums defending/attacking (depending on your posture) arguments for/against God, the Church, Jesus and Scripture. There is no longer a need for debates as we remember reading about them (Warren/Flew debate is still an amazing read) rather the debates are right in front of our very eyes with the click of a mouse and a stroke of a key. Sometimes it is appropriate to answer people and respond to their poor assessment of Christianity. Jesus responded on more than one occasion to the Pharisees’ inaccurate assessment of who He was. At one point in the narrative Jesus gives such a compelling argument that Matthew records this statement: “No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions” (22:46). So there is a need in some instances to respond to the critics, to the skeptics and to those wishing to spread false statements about Jesus. Perhaps maybe we need to respond more to our brethren than those on the outside (?)!
But… or rather resoundingly BUT….
Proverbs 26:4 reads, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.” It’s funny that this verse
comes before the previous one because I have rarely heard this quoted (wonder why?) but it makes perfect sense. You can only say so much and spend so much time with someone and at the end of the day it’s better to smile and walk away than to say keep fighting. Jesus is not going to cast you to outer darkness because you did not win an argument (whatever we mean by “win” anyways). Some people are just looking for an argument (even some people in the church) and they can’t seem to operate unless they are dissecting every statement you make and claim you purport. In the context of Jesus speaking to disciples about pseudo-Christs and to not listen to them Jesus offers this proverbial statement: “Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather” (Matt. 24:28). In context Jesus means that the disciples are to avoid people who believe that they are Christ and to avoid those who gather with them but I would suggest that we avoid all types of argumentation that lead us to the vultures. Simple farm wisdom suggests that if one lingers around the hog pen too long eventually he or she will end up smelling like a hog. It is best to, like Jesus suggested, shake the dust off our feet and move on (Matt. 10:14). You did your best to talk/reason with them and God has not chosen you to reach out to them and perhaps someone else will be able to do it. For some of us this is difficult because we are the ones who love arguing yet we call it “discussion” or “dialog.” I think you love being right and want people to know it. You can’t win everybody so move on!
So there are times when we answer people and times when we do not answer people but the point I want to make is that we need to make the best use of our time.