7 Thoughts (Grounded in Scripture) on How to Respond to a Fool

As Christians, we are told that our speech should always “be gracious, seasoned with salt” so we know how to respond to others (Colossians 4:6). But what do we do this when it’s somebody who is determined to be antagonistic towards us, a loved one, or something that we care about? Fortunately, the Bible shares plenty of advice on how we can find balance in how we respond in this situation.

So who is a fool? According to the Sciptures today, the fool is somebody who shares traits with a child. In other words, it’s somebody who habitually displays negative traits or behavior that we would expect to be outgrown.

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7 Thoughts Grounded in Scipture About Responding to a Fool

Read It

There are a lot of great passages in Proverbs about dealing with antagonistic people. My favorite part? Solomon and the other writers of Proverbs don’t hold back when it comes to calling a person a fool.  In fact, Proverbs 26 deals almost exclusively with fools, including how to respond to them. Here are a few of the highlights of the chapter:

3 A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the backs of fools. 4 Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness or you’ll be like him yourself. 5 Answer a fool according to his foolishness or he’ll become wise in his own eyes.

17 A person who is passing by and meddles in a quarrel that’s not his is like one who grabs a dog by the ears.

20 Without wood, fire goes out; without a gossip, conflict dies down.

23 Smooth lips with an evil heart are like glaze on an earthen vessel. 24 A hateful person disguises himself with his speech and harbors deceit within. 25 When he speaks graciously, don’t believe him,

for there are seven abominations in his heart. 26 Though his hatred is concealed by deception, his evil will be revealed in the assembly.

Proverbs 26:3-5, 17, 20, 23-26 (HCSB)

I’ve already given you the context of the above passage. However, you probably noticed a contradiction between verses 4 and 5. The traditional interpretation of these passages is that we don’t need to get swept up in a fool’s pace and respond in like manner; however, if we don’t speak up then there’s the danger that the fool will assume that everybody is in agreement and take action based on that assumption.

I can agree with that. It’s practical. It makes sense. I’ve seen it play out in my own life. But there’s another idea here that’s also in line with other verses about fools: there’s no hope at all for a fool.

So how do we really respond to the fools who confront us in life? We’ll get to that in a moment.

If a wise man goes to court with a fool, there will be ranting and raving but no resolution.

Proverbs 29:9 (HCSB)

It’s a stand-alone proverb, so no context is needed.

Learn It

#1 – Fools Have to be Humbled Before They Listen

A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the backs of fools.

Proverbs 26:3 (HCSB)

This is a very harsh statement. Think about it. Whips and bridles are used to control the mentioned animals, which means this rod is necessary for a fool to be controlled. Of course, I’m pretty sure the Bible doesn’t want us to literally go out and whip people. So let’s stop for a moment.

What other famous Bible verse talks about a rod? How about the ones that talk about using a rod to discipline a child, like Proverbs 13:24, Proverbs 22:15, and Proverbs 23:13? So this fool that we have every reason to assume is a full-fledged adult is being put in the same category as a disobedient child.

It’s clear that the first step of recovery for a fool is humbling his attitude. However, we also know that we cannot be the ones to humble the fool. In most cases, that’s humiliation and is not going to help an individual get his heart right with God.

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Can’t Well-Intentioned Words Bring Humbling?

Yes! It is true that well-timed response that is spoken well can be the instrument of humbling that God uses. The rest of this post will cover when to speak and when to hold our own tongue.

#2 – Be Careful Before Responding in Anger or Bitterness

Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness or you’ll be like him yourself.

Proverbs 26:4 (HCSB)

Have you ever noticed that it only takes one insult for an entire disagreement to become about mud-slinging? It is a very rare individual who can hold their own temper when this happens. While anger does have a place, we need to be very careful with what we do say in anger.

(I have an entire post on a Biblical View of Anger that explains the purpose behind anger if you’re interested.)

We need to keep our speech graceful. Can you imagine a graceful lady sneering at somebody while talking? I can’t. While we need to speak words of truth, which bring Life to others, we need to make sure that we’re not doing it from a misguided sense of justice.

We also need to be very careful that we’re not acting out of a sense of revenge. Inappropriate displays of anger and bitterness are not appropriate for a Christian.

#3 – Respond in Appropriate Situations

Answer a fool according to his foolishness or he’ll become wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26:5 (HCSB)

There are situations when a fool needs to answered, and usually swiftly. The ones that immediately came to mind:

  • When a professing believer is out-of-line with Scripture (that’s accountability!)
  • When somebody else is potentially being harmed by the fools actions and/or words
  • When you’re in danger of getting swept up in sin (like gossip or slander)
  • When you yourself are harmed by the fool, which can lead you into sin (like bitterness)

So when life necessitates a confrontation with a fool, how do you respond? There are so many different verses about gentle answers and speech that I could quote for you here, but I’m willing to bet at least one of them came to mind already. In place of that, what about some practical tips?

When confronting a fool:

  • Use Scripture as your tool when able – After all, the Bible is the sword of truth for a reason!
  • Draw a line – Do you ever wish we could bring back some of the old rules of etiquette? I know I do! So what I’m trying to train myself to do is to excuse myself from the conversation with a (hopefully!) polite, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about this right now.”
  • Ask a question – Alternatively, asking, “Are you sure this is an appropriate response?” should help to discourage any further conversation.
  • Respond with something positive – In a lot of situations, it can be hard to think on your feet. However, the easiest way to diffuse somebody else’s negativity is by thinking of something positive to say in response. “That may be true, but (insert comment).”
  • As much as possible, follow the Biblical rules of confront somebody – First in private, then with another, and then with a group if necessary.

#4 – Meddling Leads to Strife

A person who is passing by and meddles in a quarrel that’s not his is like one who grabs a dog by the ears.

Proverbs 26:17 (HCSB)

This one and the next few points should be taken as warnings for our personal lives. You see, when I read this Proverbs, I think about a woman who involves herself in the fight of one of her friends. We all know this happens. It’s like one of the sacred rules of sisterhood that you must personally take offense alongside your friend.

However, at the same time, the woman who does this is meddling in a quarrel that isn’t her own. According to this proverb, you might as well harass a dog to see how well that turns out for you.

So what does this have to do with responding to fools?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten emotionally involved in a one-sided story that somebody shared with you in private? I know I’m not the only one with my hand raised! However, we need to be very careful that we aren’t playing the part of a fool ourselves by jumping into the conflict (even if it’s only verbal agreement).

We also need to remember that the things we say in private can be made public by the other person at any point. So be careful that whatever you say is in line with Scripture and is spoken in a Christ-like manner.

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This doesn’t mean that we can’t ever listen to somebody. Sometimes people do need sounding boards to help them deal with their emotions. This is just another word of caution of how the things we mean to be good can be twisted into something bad if we do not stay aware.

#5 – Don’t Stoke Your Own Fire

Without wood, fire goes out; without a gossip, conflict dies down.

Proverbs 26:20 (HCSB)

The obvious application of this verse is not to stoke a fool’s fire. However, many of us are guilty of stoking our own fires. We tend to hold into things and stew over things. We take chances to share stories, sometimes even under the guise of, “I’m sharing this hurt with you so you can pray for me in this situation.”

If we aren’t careful, these small repetitions of slights and insults will stoke our own fire. Even when the conflict between ourselves and other people are over by appearances, the conflict will still be raging on in our hearts.

Don’t stoke your anger; let the conflict die down.

Once more, there is a fine line between the good things like seeking godly counsel, prayer, or airing some stuff so you can heal, and the bad things that lead us into bitterness. Only you, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, can know the difference.

#6 – Trust Actions Above Words

23 Smooth lips with an evil heart are like glaze on an earthen vessel. 24 A hateful person disguises himself with his speech and harbors deceit within. 25 When he speaks graciously, don’t believe him,

for there are seven abominations in his heart. 26 Though his hatred is concealed by deception, his evil will be revealed in the assembly.

Proverbs 26:23-26 (HCSB)

Forgive and forget is not in the Bible. This is a great example of an appropriate time not to forget an offense.

You see, the act of seeking forgiveness is almost entirely based on words. The motive of the person seeking it is also obscured. Should you withhold forgiveness just because you’re not sure you can trust the person? That is absolutely, positively NOT what I’m saying.

Offer forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean you have to rewind the clock on the relationship. There are some truly terrible offenses that stem from some equally horrible offenses. Offering trust to a fool who has committed these things in the past will, most likely, lead you right back down the same path.

You can be kind, gracious, and even helpful to a person without blindly trusting them. After all, Jesus told us to treat our enemies in this manner. You do not have to put yourself back in a situation that can backfire on you, though.

So how do you know when to trust that person has had a genuine change of heart? Verse 26 gives us a hint when it talks about evil being revealed in the assembly: by the person’s actions. In other words, the exact same standard that we’re to use to gauge other believers.

Like I said the last time this subject came up, I’m not qualified to debate appropriate boundaries for Christians to put into place vs. inappropriate boundaries. If you are in a situation, please seek counsel from somebody who is qualified. And, as always, pray and ask for guidance in your situation.

#7 – Understand There’s Not Always a Resolution

If a wise man goes to court with a fool, there will be ranting and raving but no resolution.

Proverbs 29:9 (HCSB)

This point brings us fool circle. You see, since a fool has to be humbled before they can truly repent of wrongdoing, most confrontations end poorly. Sometimes you won’t get the closure that you deserve in a situation, which can only acerbate your emotions. So what then?

As my Mom used to tell me repeatedly as a young girl, “You can only control your own actions.”

When other people don’t do right by us, we are still called to do the right things. It’s hard. It can leave a bad taste in your mouth. It’s something that most of us do grudgingly.

However, the point remains that we need to do the right thing no matter the circumstances or the other person. It has nothing to do with restoring or trying to keep a relationship with the individual in question; it has everything to do with being faithful and humble in our relationship with the Lord.

You see, it’s easy to look down on somebody that we know screwed up. It’s easy to demand apologies and restitution. It’s much harder to remember that God could have looked at us in the same manner, but instead spent thousands of years crafting a plan to restore us to Him.

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When we let go of the proper resolution, we’re following our Lord’s example.

Apply It

  • Do: Run situation scripts in your mind (especially ones based on previous experiences) to help train your mind in how to respond to a fool.
  • Ask yourself: “Have I accidentally been contributing to somebody else’s foolishness?”
  • Pray: “Dear God, please help me to be wise with my responses to other people. Help me to keep my speech seasoned with grace. Amen.”
How do we respond to a fool in our life? | Christian Lifestyle | Biblical Womanhood | Devotional | Finding Balance | Chaotic Life | Managing Relationships | Foolishness | Wisdom

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More about Lauren C. Moye

Lauren has had a lifelong passion for both writing and for helping people. Once upon a time, she would have laughed if somebody suggested she write nonfiction to achieve those goals. A couple of years ago, she would have scoffed if somebody suggested she write for her peer groups. Today she's writing to "HELP BUSY CHRISTIAN MOMS MANAGE LIFE."

8 thoughts on “7 Thoughts (Grounded in Scripture) on How to Respond to a Fool

  1. Ashley

    Oh this is a good one! Thanks for addressing it. I have a quick anger that I constantly have to keep in check. These are great ideas for helping with it!

    Reply

    1. Lauren C. Moye

      Ashley, thank you so much for your comment. I’m glad that my words resonated with you.

      Reply

  2. Rebekah

    I think the biggest thing that I need to work on is answering someone in anger. Usually if I am not worked up about something, I can take my time and give a good, thoughtful, calm answer, but if the other person has made some completely crazy statement, then I get really worked up and things come out of my mouth before I even think to shut it. Thanks for giving all of these biblical steps for answering a fool.

    Reply

    1. Lauren C. Moye

      It’s a common struggle. I tend to shut down in my first wave of anger. That usually gives me time to ask, “Why am I truly upset?” The rest of it really just practice, practice, practice (and some apologies!) when it comes to communicating effectively.

      Reply

  3. Lizzy

    You have put so much work into this and it is such a valuable resource and something I’ve been pondering in some daily dealings of a rather foolish individual who has been living with us for the past two years. (Parting ways in 3 weeks, hurray!) You’ve taken what’s in my head and put it in a coherent method. Definitely referring back to it.

    Reply

    1. Lauren C. Moye

      Lizzy, thank you for the comment! Funny story, the prep work for this post was laid over a year ago when I addressed the female portion of a youth group about some foolish behavior directed at them. I never thought I would return to the passage in blog post form. I’m also sorry about the behavior of your guest. If you need more guidance on how to proceed, I know there are some Christian psychologists who have written books exploring boundaries.

      Reply

  4. Lauren

    I love that point number six…we are never told to completely forget sins or foolish/damaging acts! I also love how you break this down for each step. This is an awesome resource…I pinned it too!

    Reply

    1. Lauren C. Moye

      Lauren, thank you for leaving the comment and for sharing on Pinterest! I appreciate both. 🙂

      Reply

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