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[A] = summary lessons
[B] = exegetical analysis
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A Mini-Series is a small subset of lessons from a major series which covers a particular subject or book. The class numbers will be in reference to the major series rather than the mini-series.
Sunday, August 18, 2013

28 - Answering the Fool [B]

Proverbs 18:20-21 & Proverbs 12:14 by Robert Dean
"My Foolish Heart" "Fools in Love" So many pop song lyrics through the ages have been about fools. Listen to this lesson to learn that the Bible has a lot to say about fools, too. Find out which questions fools ask that need to be answered and which ones are just distractions and should be exposed with humility and respect. Discover how an reductio ad absurdum argument reduces what fools say to the absurd and how we can offer the fountain of life to those who so desperately need it.

Also includes 1 Peter 3:15-17

Series:Proverbs (2013)
Duration:54 mins 6 secs

Answering the Fool. Selected Proverbs: Proverbs 12:14; Proverbs 18:20-21


In the book of Proverbs the contrast is between the wise and the fool, between the righteous and the wicked, between the person who pursues spiritual truth and knowledge, and the person who is naïve or open to all of the ideas and values of the world system. The person who is the fool, the person who is wicked, the person who lives according to the standards of the world is following a path in life that the Scripture says appears to be right but the end is death (Proverbs 14:12). It is the eternal compulsion to follow the trends, the lust patterns of our sin nature. We think it sounds good, it makes sense, it may be coherent, it is a rational philosophy; it fits with how we feel, so we follow that. 


Proverbs emphasizes again and again that we have choices, volition—the human ability to decide to make responsible decisions. But the key element so often emphasized by people who talk about volition is free will. We have free will and we are so concerned about free will. But the real issue in volition isn't our freedom; it is our responsibility. Responsible decision making before God is the emphasis, and when we follow God's Word responsibly the end result is we internalize His and we learn to apply it consistently and well, and that is what the Proverbs describes as a person who is wise.


One of the characteristics of a wise person is how they use their mouth. There is the positive use of our mouth—how we can encourage one another, how we can speak wisdom to one another. There is a lot the Scripture says on the positive use of our mouth. 


Proverbs 18:20, 21 NASB "With the fruit of a man's mouth his stomach will be satisfied; He will be satisfied {with} the product of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit." Not only do our words impact other people but they have a reciprocal impact upon ourselves. So these verses not only warn us about the impact that we have but that it can go in one of two directions.


Now we look at the use of the tongue which leads more towards life. This is the picture we see in the book of Proverbs. The emphasis is on our production. This is often the meaning that we find in the imagery of fruit in the Scripture. It is that which is produced as over time in our spiritual life. So the tongue (what we say) is really a barometer of what goes on inside of our soul. That is not a barometer for other people to use to evaluate us. That falls under the category that Jesus prohibited: "Judge not that you be not judged." In that context it has the idea of a sort of condemnatory, judgmental, self-righteous attitude toward other people. It is not the idea that can be present in the same word of making a good, critical evaluation. There are other passages that talk about evaluating situations. For example, the character qualities required in a pastor, a deacon. That requires judgments to be made in a positive sense. We are not to judge one another, but these are given that we might self-evaluate under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit through God's Word.


Good speech, righteous speech, produces joy in not only our soul but in the soul of others. Proverbs 15:20-23 is a section that talks about joy. The word "glad" in verse 20 and "joy" in verses 21 and 23 is the same word in the Hebrew, simchah, which has the idea of happiness or joy that we have in our soul. 

Proverbs 15:20 NASB "A wise son makes a father glad, But a foolish man despises his mother."


Proverbs 15:21 NASB "Folly is joy to him who lacks sense [Destitute of discernment], But a man of understanding walks straight [Uprightly]." This is talking about having an ephemeral joy on the part of the person who has his focus wrong, but it is just a temporal thing in contrast to the true joy and happiness that comes to the person who is applying the Word. 


Proverbs 15:23 NASB "A man has joy in an apt answer …" That is talking about the fact that when we give a right answer to something it brings personal joy. Because we have passed the test, we have said it right, we have done it right, that means we have a background of knowledge and understanding of a situation or circumstance so that we can say the right thing at the right time. This is what the verse is emphasizing, and the result is that it brings joy to our own soul because we have handled the situation correctly. The word translated "answer" is a basic Hebrew word anah which has the idea of simply answering a question. But in many contexts it adds something to it, it adds a meaning that emphasizes giving a true, biblically wise answer to the question. In many contexts in Scripture it is talking about being able to give wise biblical advice or counsel, or response to a situation based upon the knowledge of God's Word, the knowledge of doctrine in your soul. So it isn't as simple as the English word which simply involves giving a response. "And how delightful is a timely word!" 


In Proverbs this noun occurs six times and in each case it has to do with giving the wise response to a situation—biblical truth in terms of an answer. It is used that way also in the book of Job. As Job's three friends talked to him and gave him wrong answers to his dilemma the text in Job 32:3, 5 states that they did not find an answer. They don't know the solution to his question, why am I suffering? They don't find because they are operating on human viewpoint; they don't find a biblically correct answer.


The emphasis is on knowing what to say. That assumes that there has been time spent studying the Word, internalizing the Word, developing wisdom in the soul so that when the time comes you are prepared to give the right and appropriate advice and to articulate that. 


There is another way that the word "answer" is used in the book of Proverbs and one that brings out some contemporary application. It seems as we go to these two verses that the Word is used in something of a contradictory manner—Proverbs 26:4, 5. This one of those little sections people may read and say it doesn't make sense and is one of those places where the Bible seems to contradict itself. This is part of the reason why Proverbs is written in the way it is. The proverbs are not designed to be just read through very quickly but for us to stop and think about what is being said and to reflect upon what the writer is trying to communicate.


Remember that in the process of writing a proverb what the writer is doing is taking a universal principle and then linguistically reducing it to a very short memorable phrase or poetry so that he can get the point across. There is a lot involved in writing a proverb correctly and it implies that the person is going to read it, but also to think about what is being said, how it is being said, and what the emphasis is. 


Proverbs 26:4 NASB "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him." Then versed 5 seems to contradict that and says, "Answer a fool as his folly {deserves,} That he not be wise in his own eyes." This is a well-known rhetorical device and it is designed by the contrast between two things to bring out certain points.


The first verse is stating (except with the negative) the same verbiage as verse 5. But here it is emphasizing the fact that there are a lot of foolish question assume silliness that can be asked and they are simply designed to distract the teacher, the wise person—to get him off track and go in a completely wrong direction. We are told here that there are questions that the fool will ask that are not valid questions and are not worthy of being answered.


That is an important thing to learn in life. If you are in a witnessing situation there may be somebody there who is a little antagonistic or hostile and they may ask questions that don't need to be answered. You don't want to validate the question—like being asked if you are still beating your wife. However you answer that you may get yourself in trouble. Questions set agendas, and there are some questions you don't want to answer because you don't want to validate the agenda behind it. Not every question that people ask is worthy of being answered. There is a rabbinical proverb related to this, that a fool can ask more than ten wise men can answer.


Don't answer the questions; they are just going to get you distracted. "Do not answer a fool according to his folly," according to his foolish presuppositions. It won't take the conversation anywhere and you will have walked into his trap and you are going to end up being just like him.


In contrast the next verse says, "Answer a fool as his folly {deserves,}[according to his folly] …" What could that mean? This means that there are some things that the fool is going to say and what we need to do is answer them in a way that exposes the foolishness of his position. So we have to have wisdom as to when we do that but we are also enjoined to do that. This is not unlike the use of the term "answer"—at least in English—with the concept in 1 Peter 3:15-17.

This has to do with the concept known in theology as apologetics—a verbal defense of a position, a proposition or a belief.


1 Peter 3:15-17 NASB "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always {being} ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong."


We need to be able to express our convictions in a lot of different ways and a lot of different environments today. Part of this is in terms of witnessing. So if anyone asks "for the hope that is ion you" we are to respond "with gentleness and reverence," not in arrogance, not in anger, not in reaction. Having a good conscience means that we don't violate our own norms and standards, our own values, our own absolutes as we express the truth of the gospel. 

We are the ones who are slandered. We live in a world that calls right wrong and wrong right to day, and so we are identified as the source of evil. We are the ones who hate everybody. When we say that certain immoral activities are wrong then we are guilty of "hate speech." This is going to increase in the coming decade and so we need to ensure that our behavior is as correct as possible so that when they defame us as evil doers and those who revile our good conduct may be ashamed. Then Peter says that it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing what is wrong.


There are different ways that we can express an answer to the fool according to his folly. There are many different approaches this kind of an answer but that we find in Scripture as well is a reductio ad absurdum argument. This is a Latin term to describe a certain form of logic that means to reduce something to the absurd. Example: If somebody makes a statement and you say, "Okay, well let's assume that is true. And if we assume that that is true let's see what all of the implications are from the truth of that statement. Then you start carrying all of these things out to their logical conclusion and often you can point out that the result of that would be that if their belief was applied consistently this would end up in a completely ridiculous, unlivable situation. That is often a good tool when we are having a conversation (not an argument) with an unbeliever.


Jesus used a reductio ad absurdum argument several times, and one we can look at is in Matthew 12:25-27 NASB "And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, 'Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast {them} out? For this reason they will be your judges.'"


This is really the climax of His confrontation with the hostility of the Sadducees and the Pharisees. They have reached a point where the religious leaders of the Jews are saying, well Jesus has this reputation of being a healer, casting out demons, the people are following Him, we have to answer His claim. So they think they have an answer and they say He is doing it in the power of Satan. They have accused Jesus of really being an emissary of Satan and that it is by the power of Satan that He is performing His miracles.


Jesus gives a principle and then He applies it to what they are saying. If Satan casts out Satan he is divided against himself. Satan would be fighting himself and the result of that would be that his kingdom would collapse. That is an absurdity, so this is a fallacious argument. We could put it this way: if Satan was divided against himself then his kingdom would be ruined.   


Also there is a more subtle way that He uses a reductio ad absurdum argument in that the Pharisees were also practicing exorcism. Jesus did not practice exorcism. Exorcism is from the Greek verb exorkizo and it is never used of anything Jesus or the apostles did. They are said to have cast out demons—ekballo. Only religious practitioners, magicians and sorcerers were said to have practiced exorkizo. The Pharisees had a form of exorcism which they practiced and if they were successful then it is possible that they, too, might be driving out demons by Satan. So they themselves must also reject that accusation as absurd. What Jesus is pointing out is not only the absurdity of their logic but that their logic could be applied to what they are doing, and that would also indicate that they could be performing exorcisms in the power of Satan, showing that they weren't following God either. Jesus' arguments are so simple and yet they are so sophisticated that He usually is able to undercut His opponent in several different ways.


An example of this that we see today that we can learn something from is in relation to what has recently occurred in California. The governor signed AB1266 into law, which will allow for transgender students to choose whether they want to play boys or girls sports, whether they want to choose to use the boys or girls locker room or the boys or girls rest room. The foundation for this is the idea that sexual identity is not physically based in an objective realm, it is determined by a person's own view of themselves. So there are some problems with this.


An article was originally posted on and American Vision web site. It was from a blog written by an English author by the name of Rob Slane. It is a great example of how we can use a reductio ad adsurdum argument. 


An open letter to the governor of California on gender


Dear Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms Brown,




…. My aim in writing to you is not really to question the law you have signed, as such, but rather the thinking which has driven it: transgenderism. I suppose that if one were to accept this as an unquestionable fact, then the decision you have taken would be a logical consequence, although of course you could have tackled "the problem" equally well by building transgender restrooms everywhere instead of imposing transgenderism on everyone else. However, I guess you will have ruled this out on the grounds that if the size of California's debt grows any larger, you might have to ask Microsoft to design software capable of handling sums that big. It is the issue behind the law – the supposed fact of transgenderism – that I really want to question you on.


Let me start by asking you a simple question. Are you a man or are you a woman? No this isn't a trick question. Nor is it designed to be a particularly difficult one either. I am guessing, from all that I have read of you, that you would describe yourself as what we call "a man." Good so far, but this leads me on to a second question: How can you be sure you are "a man"?


Now I guess that you are fairly sure that you are indeed "a man," but I'm intrigued to know how you arrived at this conclusion. Is being a man an objective status which can be established through the existence of a "Y" chromosome and also through certain physical characteristics? Or is it a subjective thing that depends on the feelings of a person and can change with time?


What of the claims that it is an objective status. I have five children, three boys and two girls, with a sixth child due next year. With our first child, the moment he was born the midwife said, "It's a boy." Now without going into too many details, it appeared to us that she had a very good reason for coming to this conclusion, and when my wife and I saw the thing which she based her deduction on, I have to say it didn't occur to us to dispute the issue.


The midwife at the birth of our second child came to the opposite conclusion. "It's a girl," she said, and her deduction also seemed to be based on just one observation – something that again my wife and I decided not to query. And so it has been with every child since. Each time the midwife at the birth has declared authoritatively on the sex of the child, as if there were some kind of measurable and physical sign that put the issue beyond all reasonable doubt, and each time my wife and I have unquestioningly accepted what they have said, having viewed the evidence for ourselves.


Let me ask you: do you think those midwives were wrong to make their authoritative declarations? Do you think they were propagating a falsehood by using an objective observation to declare the sex of the children? Do you think my wife and I should quibble with the midwife at the birth of our next child, asking indignantly, "but how can you be sure?"


Now let's examine the other possibility – that one's sex is subjective and down to the feelings of each individual. Quite apart from the fact that we seem to be the first people in the entire span of human history to have discovered this possibility – which will either lead you to believe that our ancestors were all ignorant and stupid, or you might come to a somewhat different conclusion – there are a number of other issues which I would be glad if you could come back to me with answers.


Firstly, if gender is subjective rather than objective, how do I know that I can trust my feelings to tell me which sex I really am? Have you ever had an opinion that you have held strongly only later to find out that you were wrong? Wrong objectively, that is! Have you ever been misled by your feelings? Undoubtedly you have, which ought to tell you that subjective measurements of issues such as this are not likely to be as reliable as you might think.


Secondly, if gender is not an objective status, how on earth do you personally know what gender you are? You think you're a man? How do you arrive at this conclusion? If it is by some kind of objective, measurable test, then you must rule out the possibility of trandgenderism, because sex is fixed. On the other hand, if it is by some kind of subjective feelings a person has, then you must rule out ever truly knowing what sex you really are. You might be a woman trapped in a man's body, but supressing the truth about yourself….


…. Jerry, this is a bit of a mess, isn't it? This is what the Bible calls "confusion" and I'd say that you have just stirred up the pot of confusion just a little bit more. You are old enough to remember days when life really was much simpler. Men were men. Women were women. And girls could go to the restroom without having to fear that there might be predatory males masquerading as females in their midst….


He makes his point very well and it is a great use of the reductio ad absurdum argument. He is answering a fool according to his folly. He is not letting him get away with assumptions that he has made, and he is showing that these assumptions lead to completely distorted and absurd situations.


The last thing we look at in terms of the positive view of the mouth is the sweetness of our lips, as expressed in Proverbs 16:22.


Proverbs 16:21 states the opening part: "The wise in heart will be called understanding …" The idea of someone who has understanding. He is able to perceive and regard, and get to the heart of the matter and make wise decisions. "… And sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness [learning]." That is a positive thing. It is not being critical, derogatory or sarcastic; it is talking in terms of that which enhances appetite. It is like using honey in order to create a desire for something sweet. This is a focus in much of Proverbs. Winsome teaching is then related to the idea of a well of life in verse 22.


Proverbs 16:22 NASB "Understanding is a fountain of life [wellspring of life] to one who has it …" This concept of a fountain of life is often used in Proverbs. Proverbs 10:11 says, "The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, But the mouth of the wicked conceals violence." In Proverbs 13:14 we read, "The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, To turn aside from the snares of death." Notice the contrast between life and death. Then finally in Proverbs 14:27, "The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, That one may avoid the snares of death."


As Christians we have a fountain of life. That begins with the gospel. This is what Jesus is speaking of in John 4:14 with the woman at the well. He said, "but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him …" He is speaking of the gospel and whoever accepts Christ as savior. "… shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. It is the sweetest message that we can ever give somebody. It is good news because there is nothing we have to do to gain it, it is simply by grace through faith, believing Christ died for us.