If you look at Proverbs 26, verses 4 and 5, you will notice that they seem to say exactly the opposite thing! These two verses are favorites of those who are eager to disbelieve the Bible. The problem with the argument, of course, is that the reader is failing to understand the purpose of Proverbs.
In the book of Proverbs, readers are presented with two contrasting statements—the way of wisdom and the way of folly. The primary purpose of Proverbs is to make its readers wise. We learn that wisdom is more than just knowing the right thing to do. It is doing the right thing at the right time. Today’s proverb is a good example.
In some contexts, such as on social media or with that one uncle at Thanksgiving, you should “not answer a fool according to his folly” because getting in a verbal argument will do no good. The fool will remain entrenched in folly no matter what you say or do. Answering that person is a waste of your emotional energy. However, there are also times when you should “answer a fool according to his folly” because the person needs to learn from you. In this case, the time and energy spent correcting this fool will be well spent.
The author of Proverbs doesn’t give us a checklist to know when we should or shouldn’t answer the fool. Instead, Proverbs gives us principles to live by, and it’s up to us to decide— through the guidance of the Holy Spirit—when to speak and when to be silent. That is precisely why we must study the Scriptures diligently and depend fully on Christ.
>> How do you decide when to speak and when to listen? If you have a difficult conversation coming up, pray about it beforehand and ask the Holy Spirit to give you the courage to speak truth when necessary and the grace to be silent when needed.
Father, again we ask You for courage to speak when it is right to speak up, and the grace to be silent when silence is needed. Moreover, give us sensitivity to know which course of action is prudent.