When arguing with fools, don’t answer their foolish arguments, or you will become as foolish as they are. When arguing with fools, be sure to answer their foolish arguments, or they will become wise in their own estimation. – Proverbs 26:4-5

Have you ever had to deal with a fool? You know – bull headed, ignorant, unteachable, absolutely convinced of the rightness of their cause contrary to all evidence and good sense, easily angered, thin skinned, and self-righteous – a fool. Of course you have – we all have. The Bible has sound advice for dealing with fools.

It is a mitzvah, a divine commandment and blessing, to instruct someone who will listen to you; but if you know that he will not listen, it is equally a mitzvah to refrain from instructing him, for you will only cause unnecessary argument and strife.

These two verses in Proverbs seem, at first glance, to contradict each other. But Solomon is making a play upon the little word “ki”, sometimes rendered “according to”. The Teacher’s advice on fools goes like this:

First, don’t descend to his or her level. In verse 4 “ki” means “in harmony with”. To enter into discussion with a fool within the terms of his folly is to lower oneself to his level and to accept his outlook upon life as one worthy of consideration. As you are answering, don’t answer in the same manner the fool would. Don’t argue about foolish things. (Titus 3:9-11)

However, don’t avoid dealing with the fool. In verse 5 “according to” means “as it deserves”. Answer a fool in such a manner that his or her foolishness is revealed to those who listen and hopefully to the fool himself. Thus he may come to realize that he is far from wise and may seek to become so. Paul said, "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God..." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NIV).

While answering, don’t lose your cool.“Don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you.”Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a mighty foothold to the Devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27).

Don’t gossip and slander the poor fool. It is foolish to belittle a neighbor; a person with good sense remains silent. Scoundrels hunt for scandal; their words are a destructive blaze. (Proverbs 11:12; 16:27) You may derive some momentary satisfaction in knocking the fool down in gossip but keep in mind “A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.” (Proverbs 16:28) Don’t become a troublemaking gossip. In dealing with the fool don’t become one yourself.

All of us end up dealing with fools. And from time to time any of us can be foolish. Wouldn’t it be nice if folks dealt with us keeping this mitzvah in mind?