Proverbs 26:4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.
Verse 4 – Proverbs uses three Hebrew words to describe different kinds of fools. The verses speaking of fools in Proverbs chapter 26 all use the word kesel, describing fools that are godless and self-confident. We should be careful not to answer people according to the same foolish manner they use. A person’s manner often goads us more than his words and tempts us to respond with a similar attitude. For example, if one speaks arrogantly to us, we may be tempted to respond with contempt. Sometimes those who do not believe in God will challenge us with a demeaning attitude, hoping to make us respond in like manner. If someone speaks abusively, we must learn not to respond in the same way. Even when other Christians behave foolishly, we must not respond as they do, but instead we should display Christ’s character. If one speaks to us with hatred, we should respond in love. “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil” (1 Peter 3:8-12). If one boasts of his accomplishments, we are not to boast of ours. When we learn not to answer a fool in like manner, we will not be foolish ourselves.
Verse 5 – So how do we answer a fool? According to verse 5, while we should not answer a fool according to his attitude, we should answer a fool according to the folly of his words or actions. If someone says or does something foolish, he needs correction. To ignore an error is to give it silent approval. This causes a person to think himself to be wise and to advise others to do as he does. If others are present, it encourages them in their own foolishness. We are to speak the truth in love, and not to ignore the error. The proper way to answer a fool is to address his folly without stooping to his ungodly attitude. Our motive should be to help the person see their own folly or wrong actions so that they may be spared its consequences.
“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15).