It shouldn’t snow in summer or rain at harvest. Neither should a foolish person ever be honored. Curses will not harm someone who is innocent; they are like sparrows or swallows that fly around and never land. Whips are for horses, and harnesses are for donkeys, so paddles are good for fools. Don’t answer fools when they speak foolishly, or you will be just like them. Answer fools when they speak foolishly, or they will think they are really wise. Proverbs 26:1-5
Foolishness: the world seems full of it. I can understand why there isn’t consistent godly wisdom being lived out, because not everyone embraces the truth and guidance of God. To be honest, not even those who do, including me, live his wisdom out loud on a daily basis. Foolishness is the absence of wisdom. Some people make foolish decisions intentionally; in fact, in most situations that immediately come to mind, they truly believe the decisions they’re making are wise. And then there are the decisions made based on a lack of common sense.
Look around you. What makes you exclaim, “Really?!”
Hal Urban writes about wisdom shared by people of many beliefs in 10 Commandments of Common Sense.
- Don’t be seduced by popular culture. It prevents you from thinking for yourself.
- Don’t fall in love with money and possessions. It will make you greedy and shallow.
- Don’t use destructive language. It will destroy yourself and others.
- Don’t judge others. It’s better to work on your own faults.
- Don’t let anger out of control. It will wreck relationships and ruin lives.
- Keep a positive outlook on life. It’s the first step toward joy.
- Bring out the best in other people. It’s better to build up than tear down.
- Have impeccable integrity. It brings peace of mind and a reputation of honor.
- Help those in need. It really is better to give than to receive.
- Do everything in love. It’s the only way to find true peace and fulfillment.
However, these aren’t common sense. I can already hear excuses people will make:
- Don’t judge others? But what if what they’re doing impacts me?
- Keep a positive outlook on life? That’s easy for you to say. You’re not living my life!
- Help those in need? Once I have enough to share, I might consider it.
- Do everything in love? That’s fine, as long as I get to define what love should be.
Of course, taken in the context of Scripture and realizing all of the principles work together (such as, we shouldn’t judge others unfairly, but of course, if someone is doing something destructive, out of love, you help them), we might be able to expect these to be reflected by some people in some circumstances, but can we actually expect everyone to live by and respond in the standards?
We need to have realistic expectations. Even the wisest of people can be foolish when it comes to their expectations of others. Just because we’ve come to specific conclusions about faith and we’ve experienced everyday confirmation of the truthfulness of principles, it is foolish to assume everyone else will accept such truths, let alone live them out as common sense. While the same standards – God’s standards – exist for everyone, we can’t expect everyone to respond the same way to them. People are in different places in their faith journeys, and to try to convince someone about a biblical principle by quoting Scripture when the person doesn’t believe the Bible to be true might not be as effective as we’d like it to be. (I’m not saying we should never attempt that approach. God is powerful, and his Word is powerful.) While we shouldn’t expect failure, we also shouldn’t assume everyone will respond according to our expectations.
Foolishness is expecting snow in the summer. Compared to others, you might feel as if your faith is in a spiritual summer. You’re flourishing, and you come across someone who seems to have a dead, or at least dormant, faith. Yet when you talk to them, you expect the two seasons to perfectly combine and snow to fall in summer. It’s not going to happen, and expecting such is foolishness. That’s not to say the person’s life won’t be impacted by your sharing. You should live your faith out loud in both actions and words. But you should also see things through God’s perspective, accepting his timing is not your timing. The season you’re in is not the season everyone is in. The season you’re in is not the season you’ve always been in or will always be in.
What other instruction does Proverbs 26 give you?
Do you find it just a bit confusing to receive instruction to “answer fools” and “don’t answer fools” back to back? Take a look at a couple more translations.
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. (NASB)
Answer not a [self-confident] fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.
Answer a [self-confident] fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes and conceit. (Amplified)
If someone is going to pull us into a situation in which our faith will suffer, perhaps by resorting to foolish methods of argument of the fool instead of arguing by God’s standards, we need to refrain from the argument. Just because someone is foolish in beliefs doesn’t mean they are not smart in argumentation, and you might get unexpectedly backed into a corner not because what you’re saying is faulty but because the priority for the other person might be to win an argument, not to seek and reach truth.
On the other hand, being silent can give an impression that the person is right in his beliefs. Uncontested comments might grow and have a more extensive impact on not only the person spouting them but also those he comes in contact with in the future. While you cannot monitor everyone at all times, it might be wise to refute someone on his false principles. In the process, you might be a small part of the destruction of faulty conclusions or the destruction of self-righteousness.
One of the biggest lessons we can learn from these passages is that we have to trust God for guidance. He never contradicts himself, but he requires slightly different responses from us in different situations. We must set aside our own expectations and expect only what God promises: his presence and provision in all situations.
How will you set aside your personal expectations today?