Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Fool and His Folly

It seems that some people spend a great deal of time trying to find contradictions in the Scriptures. It is interesting that those who know nothing about the Bible and its message of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ are the first ones to dig around looking for some kind of contradiction so they can then say, “See, the Bible is full of contradictions, it is unreliable, and therefore Christianity is false and there is no God.”
Wow! That’s quite a stretch in logic, especially considering that the alleged contradictions in Scripture come from minds that are full of ignorance about the true content and meaning of the Bible. Some of the “contradictions” are quite far-fetched, but there is one place in Scripture where it seems to immediately say the very opposite of what it just said. Proverbs tells us the following:
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 (Proverbs 26:4-5, NKJV).
The skeptic will very smugly ask, “OK, which is it? Do we answer a fool according to his folly, or not? That looks like a contradiction to me.” While it may at first glance appear to be a contradiction, it is important to remember that the Bible does not contradict itself. It complements itself. Many examples of this can be seen for anyone who is willing to approach the Scriptures objectively and with a mind willing to deal with spiritual truth. (Note:  It has always been interesting to me that unbelievers can find passages like this that, in their closed minds, seem to fuel their argument, yet they are woefully ignorant of the passages that tell them they are sinners in need of a Savior, and that Jesus Christ is their only hope of salvation.)
It is quite clear that there is a time to answer a fool according to his folly, and there is a time not to do so. Discerning when to do each one is a matter of Biblical wisdom and, to some degree, a bit of common sense comes into play. There are likely several possible ways to look at this, but I will consider just one.
In verse four, we are told not to “answer a fool according to his folly.” When would it be wise to respond in this way? A simple answer would be to ignore the folly of a fool when that folly is directed at any one of us. Believers are not perfect. Every one of us commits sin, does foolish things, and makes mistakes. Often, we let our ego stand in the way, and we get upset when someone says things about us that are simply not true. The fact is that fools will always say foolish things. Some of these things are nothing more or less than flat-out lies, and other things are simply spoken in ignorance by those who are gullible enough to listen to nonsense.
My many years in Christian school administration taught me that people will say all sorts of things that are without merit and without any facts to support them. Some of the things I and other school personnel were accused of over the years by certain students and parents would have been funny if they had not been so pathetic. These things included purposely causing a student not to learn to read, discriminating against a student because of the church he attended, being unfair by enforcing the dress and haircut code, coercing the boys' basketball coach to let a player start because he had two older sisters who had been starters on the girls' team, manipulating who did and who did not represent the school in the speech meet, spelling bee, or art festival, etc., etc., ad nauseam. None of these were even remotely true, and they were not things I would have even considered doing. Funny? Not at all. But laughable? Absolutely!
As anyone in Christian ministry knows, it is necessary to develop a thick skin against foolish criticism. I adopted the following statement early in my career in Christian school education as a reminder to myself to pay no attention to the ignorance of foolish people.
Keep about your work that God has given you. Do not flinch because the lion roars; do not fool away your time chasing the devil's rabbits. Do your work. Let liars lie, let corporations resolve, let the devil do his worst; but see to it that nothing hinders you from fulfilling the work that God has given you.
He has not commanded you to get rich. He has never bidden you defend your character. He has not set you at work to contradict falsehood about yourself which Satan and his servants may start to peddle. If you do those things, you will do nothing else; you will be at work for yourself and not for the Lord.
Keep at your work. Let your aim be as steady as a star. You may be assaulted, wronged, insulted, slandered, wounded, and rejected; you may be abused by foes, forsaken by friends, and despised and rejected of men. But see to it with steadfast determination, with unfaltering zeal, that you pursue the great purpose of your life and object of your being until at last you can say, "I have finished the work which You gave me to do (Author unknown).
As a former basketball coach, I always admired “The Coach,” John Wooden of UCLA. He said the following:  Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.
I also adopted the following Scripture to remind me of the necessity of pleasing God, not men:  For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10, NKJV).
The Scripture makes it very clear that we are to use the good works that we do instead of verbal arguments in order to silence the insults and lies that may come our way.
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men (1 Peter 2:15, NKJV). 
having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed (1 Peter 3:16, NKJV).
The result of answering a fool according to his folly when that folly is directed at me will be that I will become like him. Nothing is accomplished by getting into a name-calling contest with someone who has no wisdom. There are very smart people who, because of their bias and ignorance, will do and say very foolish things. There is no point in getting into character assassination, no matter what they may do or say. If we do so, we will, in fact, be just like those who are hurling insults at us. I addressed this concept to some degree in my post entitled Can Smart People Believe Stupid Things?
Did I ever make a mistake when I was a Christian school administrator, teacher, or coach? Absolutely! The last time I checked, I am a human being with a sin nature and with many weaknesses. Was I ever unfair to anyone? Not intentionally, but more than once, I found myself apologizing to and asking forgiveness from a student, teacher, or parent when I had too hastily jumped to the wrong conclusion. The truth of the matter is that, while I am far from perfect, I “have a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:16), knowing that I operated the best I knew how with the Scriptures as my guide and with a desire to please the Lord.
When we come to Proverbs 26:5, it seems to say the exact opposite of what we saw in verse 4. Instead of telling us not to answer a fool, it says, Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. Now we are suddenly to change course and answer a fool, but notice the reason is different. We are not to answer a fool, “lest we be like him.” Here, we are to answer a fool, “lest he be wise in his own eyes.” Those two reasons are obviously quite different.
The Scriptures make it very clear that there is a time to stand up and stand against ignorant statements made by others. The purpose is to defend the faith, sound doctrine, and the character of God Himself. I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3, NKJV).
There are many passages that encourage us to be strong and to stand firm in the faith. Following is just one. Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong (1 Corinthians 16:13, NKJV).
If our own character is maligned, so be it. If the very character of God is maligned, it needs to be addressed. If the character of God is anything less than perfect, then His Word cannot be trusted. If His Word cannot be trusted, then there is no salvation, and we are all, the entire human race, without hope.
We see the Old Testament Prophets, the Apostles, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself taking it patiently when their character was brought into question, but we also see them standing up in defense of the Word of God and the character of God when it was necessary to do so.
The Apostles most certainly set an example for us when they refused to bow to the demands of those who would silence the Gospel. Note the account of Peter and John after they were arrested for their faith.
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.” So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:12-20, NKJV). These men boldly stood up to the foolish demands of foolish men. They did not defend themselves. Rather, they defended the Gospel message.

Later, even though they had been commanded by foolish men not to preach the Gospel, they continued to do so because it was the right thing to do and it was obedient to the Lord. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us! But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:27-29, NKJV).
In both of these cases, the apostles most certainly answered fools according to their folly, and to have not done so would have been to allow them to be wise in their own eyes.
Other thoughts on Proverbs 26:4-5 are found here, here, here, and here.