The Lord has told us in His Word how to and how not to talk to each other. One thing he mentioned not to do was responding with the same foolish logic as someone else who has just spoken foolishly (Proverbs 26:4).
There will always be people who disagree with you. And some of them will be very foolish in the way they react to their disagreement. One such foolish way is with words–words meant to degrade you, hurt you, insult you, embarrass you, or just tear you apart—all because the two of you think differently.
Unless you are able to live where you don’t see or have any communication with such people, it will happen at some point in your life if it hasn’t already. For most of us, it will even happen behind our backs.
When people use words of degradation against us or in argument for a held position, it can be very tempting to answer with an equally foolish counter. As adults, we somehow know how ridiculous we all sound, but for some reason we are drawn into it.
The Lord warns us not to get into these squabbles. But sometimes it takes thinking through the consequences to really help us get past old (childish) habits.
Let us start by citing 2 Timothy 2:23, and state simply that answering a foolish statement with an equally foolish statement does not make any points—most of the time, it simply feeds an argument. Avoid the argument by not stooping to the same level of foolishness. After all, verse 24 goes on to tell us that the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome.
A deeper look into the consequences reveals further damage of our foolish words.
It Makes Us Look Foolish
Repeat after me, “I know you are, but what am I?” Now, how smart did you feel? If you’re like me, you may even have chuckled at yourself for how silly you sounded.
Each time we answer a dumb statement with another dumb statement, we just look dumb.
Foolish answers hurt our character.
It Makes God Look Foolish
A nonbeliever generally knows who the Christians around them are. Foolish actions and statements have an unusual affect in this situation.
When a Christian looks at another Christian and chooses to look unfavorably on him or her, he or she usually picks apart that person’s character. She might think she’s too loud, isn’t trying hard enough, tries too hard, etc. What Christians pick apart about each other is something that’s wrong with the other person.
Nonbelievers do this with each other too. You can use the same examples.
But it changes when nonbelievers choose to look unfavorably on a Christian. When a nonbeliever sees a problem with a Christian marriage, kids acting out, or any other situation in that person’s life, they generally look down on God.
This isn’t always the case, I want to be clear, but often it is.
Last summer, I overheard a conversation between a very vocal and very kind neighbor with a Christian sister I knew. I won’t relay every detail about the conversation, but state that the neighbor suggested something she thought all people should do to make the world a better place. Being a Christian, this sister understood that this was an anti-biblical suggestion and would never make the world a better place.
To you and I, it sounds absolutely absurd—foolish, but I honestly believe this neighbor truly thought she had the answer to world peace—to her it was probably the answer all mankind was looking for.
Instead of just listening, the Christian sister realized she didn’t do what it was this neighbor was suggesting, and very kindly started giving suggestions as to why people wouldn’t do this. Up until this point, it was a very nice conversation. But, this neighbor felt attacked and began making accusations.
Now the sister was in defense mode, and although she started by apologizing, it became heated, and the conversation literally ended with the neighbor shouting at her, “I thought you were a Christian! Is that what your God would want?!” and leaving.
The final climax of this conversation of answering folly with folly, was that this woman looked down on a Christian God. I have no doubt she had a more negative attitude about a loving and holy God than she did before the conversation started.
The Person Who Started The Foolishness Is Left In Chains
Yeah, you may both look foolish after this conversation, but the person who started it—is possibly the biggest looser of all—and bound even tighter by his or her chains.
The Bible specifically warns us about answering folly with folly when it comes to non-believers:
Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:23-26
In the case that a non-believer presents a foolish argument to you, if not for your own sake, then don’t answer with foolishness for their sake.
When a foolish argument is presented to you, be kind. Paul also states be able to teach. This is not saying pull out your bible and start teaching at every foolish word—because many will not be receptive and it would be a waste of your time. But when it comes to either responding foolishly or teaching, be ready and able to teach.
If and when you do speak in response, use gentle instructions. Read verses 25-26 carefully:
Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:23-26
No one’s heart is won over by being told (even if not directly by saying so) that their logic is stupid and that they are just wrong. Hearts will not be won for Jesus by shaming, slandering, and humiliating people.
Win their heart with gentle instruction—because they are a slave—and we are told to help slaves. Do not speak in a manner that drives them back to their slave master into a deeper bond.
You may not free this person from the pits of hell, but with repeated exposure to God’s loving word, they may start seeking His truth.
Answering folly with folly makes us look foolish. In the eyes of an unbeliever, it can make God look foolish. And in the end, when we look at the things in life that really matter—eternal salvation, and our souls—it is costly to other people when we engage in such behavior.
What are some suggestions you have for other brothers and sisters in Christ for how they could respond to a foolish argument?