Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be like him.
I. How we ANSWER THE FOOL. (Vers. 4, 5.)
1. Not according to his folly; i.e. so chiming in with his nonsense that yon become as he is. Do not descend into the arena with a fool. Preserve self-respect, and observe the conduct of the Saviour when to folly he "answered not again."
2. According to his folly; that is, with the sharp and cutting reply his folly invites and deserves. We have also examples of this in the conduct of our Lord; e.g. in reference to the inquiry of the Jews concerning the purging of the temple, which he answered by a reference to John's baptism (Matthew 21:25, etc.). The twofold treatment of the fool reminds that the spirit and motive must determine the act, and that opposite methods may be equally good at different times.
II. THE FOOL IS NOT TO BE TRUSTED. (Vers. 6, 7.)
1. With messages and commissions. (Ver. 6.) He who does so is like one who amputates his own limbs, deprives himself of the means of gaining his object, or who voluntarily drinks of an evil brewage.
2. His words are not to be trusted. (Ver. 7.) Sayings in the mouth of the fool are purposeless and pointless, when they even do no harm. Fools will not be prudent, says Luther, and yet would ever play the part of wise men. "A wise saying doth as ill become a fool as dancing does a cripple." The wise and weighty saying becomes in his mouth a jest. He who would instruct others in Divine wisdom must first have embraced it himself. Solemnity may be a cover for a sot; and the greatest folly is to impose on one's self.
III. THE FOOL IS NOT TO BE HONOURED. (Ver. 8.) To lift him out of his place by compliments or honours is as inapt as to lay a jewel upon a common heap of stones. The sling makes the stone bound in it an implement of death; and to flatter the undeserving brings disgrace upon one's self. It is like putting sword or pistol into a madman's hand. But the other interpretation is better. Ver. 9 shows how mischievous are even good things in the lips and hands of those who only abuse them. Luther quaintly says, "If a drunkard sports with a briar, he scratches more with it than he allows to smell the roses on it; so does a fool often work more mischief with the Scripture than good." (The meaning of ver. 10 is so obscure, it must be left to exegetes; it appears to coincide with the foregoing - the fool is not to be trusted.)
IV. THE FOOL IS INCORRIGIBLE. (Vers. 11, 12; see 2 Peter 2:22.) He returns to his exploded nonsense, his often-repeated fallacies; and to his exposed errors of conduct (Matthew 12:45; John 5:14; Hebrews 6:4-8). Relapses into sin, as into sickness, are dangerous and deadly. "A raw sin is like a blow to a broken leg, a burden to a crushed arm." The cause of these relapses and this incorrigibility is pointed out - deep-rooted self-conceit. This is the fruitful mother of follies. Let none deem himself perfect, but let every one cultivate humility as his dearest possession. God giveth grace to the lowly, but resisteth the proud and them that are wise in their own conceits. - J.
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto himi.e.,, not in a manner agreeing with his folly, lest thou become as foolish and perverse as he. "Answer him according to," i.e.,, according to the nature and desert of his folly; so as best to meet and refute it.
(E. Pond, D. D.)
(George Lawson, D. D.)
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
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