Proverbs 26:4-5 - Verbal Quicksand
One of my favorite movie franchises of all time is the Indiana Jones movies. And being a movie franchise fan is kind of like being a sports fan—sometimes you have to stick with your team even through the rough patches, right? And for fans of Indiana Jones the fourth movie in the franchise, Kingdom Of the Crystal Skull, is by far the roughest! But a true fan can find entertainment even in the thinnest of cinematic gruel, and Crystal Skull is no different. There is an entertaining moment in the film when Indy and Marion Ravenwood (his love interest from the first film) get stuck in quicksand and have to be rescued by Marion’s son Mutt—who turns out to be Indy’s son (which she reveals to him while they are sinking in the quicksand!) The situation provides some comedic moments—including Mutt trying to pull his father out by tossing him a giant rat-snake, and being miffed that Indy doesn’t want to grab onto it until they agree to call it a “rope”!
A serious film critic might take that whole scene as a metaphor for the independent, capable Indiana Jones being “sucked in” to an unwanted role as a father, and having to overcome his fears in order to be freed from the constraints of his self-imposed isolated lifestyle—but really, it’s just fun watching Harrison Ford bicker with Karen Allen while Shia LeBeouf throws a rubber snake at them! (Why make it more than it is?)
Now, the climate and geology of our region makes it pretty unlikely that any of us will ever find ourselves in a pit of quicksand (although there are some mud bogs out there in the woods that come pretty close!) But we definitely live in a spiritual and intellectual climate where we are in constant danger of being mired in what we might call verbal quicksand, aren’t we? As Christians, we want to take this Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world around us (in fact, Jesus commands us to do so!), but all too often we feel like Indiana Jones walking out into the jungle—we constantly feel like we have to “watch our step”, for fear that we will get “in over our heads” in a conversation about spiritual things with people who reject any notion of God or His authority in this world.
And the threat of “verbal quicksand” is hard enough to handle with a casual acquaintance or a co-worker, but it’s even more difficult to deal with when you are talking with a family member or loved one who does not believe in God or submit to Him. Many of you have people that you love dearly, and you want to see them come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, but every time you try to talk to them you just wind up sucked into a pit of arguments, harsh words and misunderstandings. What we need is a “field manual” for dealing with verbal quicksand; a way to deal with these situations that come up.
Our text this morning, Proverbs 26:4-5, may sound confusing (or even contradictory) at first:
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
But what I want to show you this morning is that God’s Word here in these verses gives us a perfect instruction manual for what to do when we encounter the perils of talking about spiritual things with someone who rejects God and His authority in this world (That’s the Bible’s definition of a fool, isn’t it? Psalm 14:1: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God!’) What these verses in Proverbs tell us is that
Wisdom is knowing when to engage someone and when to let it go.
And what we find as we think through these verses is that talking about spiritual things with someone who rejects God and His Word (in other words, “a fool”), is a lot like dealing with quicksand. There are three rules to follow when you are set to engage a “fool” in a conversation about spiritual things. The first rule (as verse 4 tells us) is:
I. Don’t jump in with them (Prov. 26:4)
I. Don’t jump in with them (Prov. 26:4)
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
If you want to save someone from quicksand, the last thing you want to do is jump in with them and try to pull them out that way! Don’t join a fool in their folly, right? So what does it mean to “become like them”? Solomon says here is that you don’t answer a fool by acting like a fool—their problem is that they don’t acknowledge God or His authority over them. So when you answer them, don't do it in such a way that you disregard God and His authority over you!
Jesus warns you plainly, Christian, that you will give an account someday for every careless word you speak (Matt. 12:36)—so act like it when you answer an unbeliever.
Don’t use foolish tactics
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:2
But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
Your foolish opponent may get to twist the truth or shade the issue, she may get to take personal shots at you or mutilate Bible verses to make her point, but you do not get to do the same! You are a Christian, and you are accountable to God for every word you say (she is too, though she rejects that truth). You don’t answer a fool “according to his folly”—don’t jump into the verbal quicksand with them by adopting the same kind of sneaky, underhanded, below-the-belt attacks, or you’ll find yourself sucked into a pointless argument that only sinks them deeper into their refusal to acknowledge God and His authority over them and makes you look like an unbeliever yourself!
The first rule of dealing with verbal quicksand is “Don’t jump in with them”—don’t use foolish tactics, and even more importantly,
Don’t accept foolish premises
One of the classic rules of argumentation is that “He who frames the terms of the debate wins the debate”. What is a fool’s premise? That there is no God. And if you accept that premise, then you have effectively cut yourself off at the knees in your ability to answer them.
One of the most common ways that we do this sort of thing is to say something like, “Well, they don’t accept the authority of the Bible, so I won’t use the Bible at all in my discussion with them!” What have you done when you do that? You have tacitly agreed with them that God has not spoken! You have confirmed what they are already saying—that God has no authority in this world, and so they don’t have to deal with what He says! You are presuming that they can come to a knowledge of the truth about God while disregarding the Truth that He has actually spoken!
We have far too many Christians who do this today—in an effort to “gain a hearing” from people who don’t acknowledge God or His authority that they actually abandon the only authority they have for speaking! I recently received an email newsletter from a friend of mine who is a well-respected and talented campus ministry leader. He has been working with college students for upwards of twenty years, and a couple weeks back he sent out a long and detailed email that laid out all of the reasons why Christians should embrace the theory of evolution and that Christians who insisted on holding to the teaching that God created the world in six literal, consecutive, twenty-four hour days were not only misguided but ruining their opportunity to share the Gospel with students because students won’t share that worldview.
But what happens when you accept their premise that evolution is true, that all life we see around us came about by time and chance acting on matter? You have adopted an essentially atheistic world view—a foolish world view because it says in its heart that “there is no God”. And once you give them the authority to define your worldview for you, you lose.
For instance, the Bible says in Romans 5:12
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—
God’s Word says that death is a consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin. But when you accept the premise that life evolved over millions and millions of years, you have to accept that the Bible is wrong here—because evolution is premised on millions and millions of years of creatures dying as they evolved! And once you start crossing out Genesis 1-3 because they don’t line up with evolution, once you’ve jumped into the quicksand of saying “there is no God”, then nothing the Bible says can be trusted, because it claims to be the Word of God, and if God doesn’t exist, then the Bible is just what atheists say it is—a collection of myths, fairy tales and legends that have nothing to do with the world we live in!
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
Don’t jump into the verbal quicksand with them—don’t use foolish tactics, don’t accept foolish premises. And the second rule to follow here in these verses is
II. Stay on solid ground (Prov. 26:5)
II. Stay on solid ground (Prov. 26:5)
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Don’t jump in with foolish tactics and foolish premises—stay on the solid ground of what God has revealed in His Word. Far too often we are tempted to emphasize “common ground” with someone— “Oh, we really do agree more than we disagree on this!” But to say that is actually dishonest, isn’t it? Because the truth is that, if we are talking with someone who refuses to acknowledge God’s existence and authority, we really are coming from very different starting points! We need to
Address the unstable foundations
of our different worldviews. When you begin with the assumption that everything that exists is nothing more than time and chance acting on matter leads to utterly different conclusions than a worldview that says everything that exists was created by a personal God Who has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. For one example, take an issue like the transgender phenomenon that we are seeing in our culture. Our instinct is to say, (rightly), that there are only two genders—male and female—and so we want to locate our argument over the fact that hormone blockers, surgeries and new pronouns do not actually turn a boy into a girl, and that if you want to treat the broken self-image of gender dysphoria you don’t do it by disfiguring their body to match their disordered psyche!
But we need to remember that those are only the symptoms of a deeper problem with an atheistic worldview. If all the world really is nothing more than time and chance acting on matter, and a single-celled organism can turn into a fish, and a fish into a lizard, and a lizard into a monkey, and a monkey into a man—then it is completely consistent with that worldview that a boy can turn into a girl! The problem of biological boys competing in girls high school athletic events is not the main issue we need to address—that is the latest floor of the skyscraper of foolishness—we need to go down to the basement and address the crumbling foundation of the worldview that refuses to acknowledge God’s existence and authority!
What we need to do (along with calling out the top-floor foolishness) is to come back to that foundation and address the “there-is-no-God” foolishness that it is all built on. Answering them according to their folly means saying, “Look, if you are right, and the universe is nothing but time and chance acting on matter, then there really is no reason why a boy can’t evolve into a girl if he wants to. But Genesis 1:1 says that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And if God created everything, then can’t you see that He has the authority to define gender, and He has the authority to define marriage? And in fact He has done so, as Jesus says in Matthew 19:
He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
When you are dealing with the verbal quicksand of talking about spiritual things with people who do not acknowledge God or His authority, stay on solid ground. Don’t just try to address the top-floor foolishness of their folly, address the foundation of their foolish worldview that says “there is no God”.
And as you do this—not using the foolish tactics of deceit, harshness or personal attacks, not accepting their premises and pointing out the fundamental folly of their foundations, you will have the opportunity to
Answer the honest questions
that come out of your discussion of your different worldview from theirs. Now, what do we mean by “honest” questions? Does that mean there is such a thing as a “dishonest question?” Actually, there is. And here’s how you can tell the difference. An honest question comes from someone who is genuinely seeking to understand—there is something about a Biblical worldview that they can’t figure out, and they need your help. But a dishonest question is just a smokescreen—they just want to throw up a barrier against what you’re saying because they don’t want to have their foolishness challenged. They don’t want to have to admit that they are wrong to reject God and his authority, and so they throw out a question that they saw on a freethinker message board somewhere to try to get you off track.
So “answering a fool according to his folly” means that you take the time to discern what kind of question someone is asking. For instance, if you’re talking with someone about the Bible and they say, “Well, where did Cain get his wife?” And you answer, “It would have been one of his sisters” and they say, “Huh. OK...” That’s an honest question. Answer those as best you can. If you don’t know the answer, say so—but say that you’ll do some research and get back to them. Don’t fudge, don’t make stuff up, don’t get defensive. But always do your best to answer honest questions. There are a lot of atheists out there today who walked away from the faith because when they were children and asked an honest question they were slapped down by an adult who said, “Don’t ask stupid questions” (because the adult didn’t know the answer and didn’t want to show it!) So always do your best to answer honest questions.
But if you give an answer and they immediately have another one in the chamber: “OK, then, why does the Bible condone slavery?” Followed up immediately by “If God is loving, then why did He tell Joshua to commit genocide?” And “Why does the Apostle Paul hate women?” and on and on and on… At that point it should become clear to you that they aren’t asking because they really want to know—they are just trying to muddy the waters enough that they can get away without being challenged in their foolish worldview that there is no God.
So in that case, “answering a fool according to his folly” means taking Jesus’ advice in Matthew 7:6:
“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
If someone is clearly just throwing up a smokescreen of “gotcha” questions, you can simply say, “That’s actually a really interesting question, and we can definitely talk about it sometime—but right now I want to keep talking about what the Bible says about what God’s authority requires of us, okay?” And if they won’t cooperate, if they just fall back to angry, malicious attacks, just put the rest of your pearls back in your pocket and say, “Hey, I hope you’ll think over what we’ve talked about, but I gotta run. You have yourself a great day!” Don’t get sucked into the verbal quicksand—stay on the solid ground of answering honest questions and don’t get sucked into pointless arguments that go nowhere.
Wisdom teaches us the difference between knowing when to engage someone with spiritual things, and when to let it go. Avoiding verbal quicksand means not answering a fool according to his folly—don’t jump in the quicksand with them. It also means answering a fool according to their folly—address the flawed foundations of their worldview and answer honest questions. And the third rule for escaping quicksand (literal or metaphorical) is
III. Don’t Struggle
III. Don’t Struggle
In real life, quicksand isn’t as deadly as it’s portrayed in the movies; you actually can’t sink much further than chest-deep before your body’s buoyancy matches the density of the quicksand, so you won’t get pulled the whole way under—unless you struggle, which can liquefy the quicksand further and cause you to keep sinking. In the same way, we have to understand that there is a real struggle involved in speaking into the foolishness of someone who refuses to acknowledge God or His authority in this world, isn’t there? And this is because, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, they can’t accept these things. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
So understand this when you are talking to someone who holds to the foolish worldview that there is no God—they think you are the foolish one because they are incapable of understanding any of this apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in them.
Don’t wrestle with their foolishness
Don’t argue, don’t harangue, don’t constantly pepper them with Bible verses, don’t turn every single conversation into a trap. If you do, then just like real-life quicksand, you will only make them sink deeper into the mire of their foolishness.
If you want to struggle, if you want to wrestle and fight for them, you don’t do it by grappling with them at every opportunity--
Wrestle with God for their salvation
Be like Paul’s friend Epraphas, who prayed for the church in Colosse, “always struggling on their behalf in his prayers, that they might stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12). Be like Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow, that He told to show them how they “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Be like Jacob in Genesis 32:26, when he wrestled all night with God—say to Him, “I will not let you go until you bless my friend with salvation!” You want to struggle against the folly in your loved one’s heart that says “There is no God”? Don’t struggle with them—love them, be kind to them, pray for opportunities to talk with them about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins—and struggle with God in prayer for them!
Because only God can reach into that foolishness and bring their struggle against Him to an end. He can do for them what He did for the Apostle Paul, who was so deeply sunk in the quicksand of his foolishness and rebellion that he was actively working to destroy God’s people. He tells his story in Acts 26:
And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities. “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
When Jesus Christ revealed Himself to Paul, his struggles came to an end. And beloved, He will do the same for your loved one! When He reveals Himself to them, they won’t be able to kick against Him anymore, they will lay down their foolish weapons of pride and rebellion, all of their arguments will fall to the ground, all their strongholds of arrogance, all their arguments and objections will crumble away and they will see their hopelessly sinful state and their desperate need to call out to Jesus for His salvation.
So don’t struggle against them, struggle in prayer before God for them. Don’t answer according to their foolishness—don’t jump in with them with foolish tactics and foolish premises. Answer them according to their foolishness—stay on the solid ground of God’s word and don’t get sucked into pointless arguments. Don’t struggle—rest in God’s power working through you to “open blind eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ!”
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
Read Psalm 14:1 again. How would you define a “fool” according to this verse? What kinds of things do you see in the world around us that exhibit this kind of foolishness?
What does it mean to “not answer a fool according to his folly”? What are some ways you might be tempted to answer in a foolish way when confronted with someone who refuses to acknowledge God or His authority in the world?
What are the ways that we are to “answer a fool according to his folly?” How does your worldview as a Christian bring you to very different conclusions about the world compared to someone who believes that the universe is merely “time and chance acting on matter”?
How can you tell the difference between an “honest” question and a “dishonest” question? How should you handle honest questions? What is Jesus’ advice in Matthew 7:6 for dealing with someone who just wants to put up arguments but doesn’t want to listen?
Think of someone you know that does not acknowledge God or His authority in this world. Commit to pray for them every single day for a month, that God will use you to open their eyes to see their need for Him. Use the Simply Sharing Jesus booklet on the back table to give you a simple method for sharing the Gospel, and pray that God will give you the opportunity!