Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.
Here are two proverbs side by side contradicting each other. Which is correct? Both, depending upon the situation. When the proverb says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself,” it means do not lose your own wit because a fool got under your skin and caused you to act irrationally. The second proverb is speaking of keeping your wit and thinking through how to answer the fool. Sometimes it may be to the advantage to use the terms and rationale of the fool (for in his mind he is being rational) to lead him to reason.
The Apostle Paul keeps his wit and uses two different tactics in speaking to the Corinthians. Here were Christians foolishly puffed up by their spiritual gifts. They thought the manifestation of gifts meant they had arrived spiritually, literally. They were wise above all others, including Paul.
How does Paul address their delusion? He first denounces their folly by reminding them where they came from, declaring that the gospel of the cross is folly to the world that true believers must accept, and that such a folly of the cross is what he declares to be true wisdom (1 Corinthian 1:17ff). In his second letter, in response to the Corinthians continuing to pit “super-apostles” against him, he compares himself favorably against them (2 Corinthians 11:11ff). He is embarrassed even as he does so, but he believes it is necessary to use their terms to show their foolishness.
Paul uses discernment to advance his arguments, sometimes directly denouncing folly, sometimes even using folly to denounce folly! The mark of the real fool is that he has no discernment and thus blunders with his speech. The wise person turns even the speech of a fool into a tool for teaching.
Blessed are all who fear the Lord,
who walk in obedience to him.
2 You will eat the fruit of your labor;
blessings and prosperity will be yours.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
4 Yes, this will be the blessing
for the man who fears the Lord.
5 May the Lord bless you from Zion;
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.
6 May you live to see your children’s children—
peace be on Israel.