While Jesus warns us in the Sermon on the Mount not to call people a “fool” (Matthew 5:22), the book of Proverbs has over 40 verses warning us about being foolish and handling “fools.” While dealing with a fool can be frustrating and time-consuming, not dealing with a fool can greatly hurt your team, your church, and your testimony. A couple of guidelines from Proverbs about how to deal with a “fool”:
1. Expect them
As stated above, Proverbs has over 40 verses describing the characteristics of a fool. Three Hebrew words are used to describe the fool in Proverbs, all translated to the English word “fool.”
The term kesil refers to hardheaded people who are very unteachable, who are always convinced they are right. This term appears 49 times in Proverbs and is the most common. We can all act like that at times, but a lifestyle of that is acting like a fool.
Another word is ewil and describes a person who’s been acting like an idiot for a long time. This person keeps choosing the wrong path over and over and over and over again.
The third term is rabal which refers to someone who lacks spiritual perception. (Proverbs 14:1) This person rejects God but spends his life looking for what only God can provide.
So, if God spent so much time talking about dealing with fools, don’t be shocked (or hurt, wounded, etc.) when you have to do so.
2. Evaluate what they say
When I was younger, I used to ignore criticism if it came from a person I didn’t respect. That was foolish. If God can speak through a donkey or a pagan nation, He can speak through a fool. (As they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.) In dealing with a fool, you don’t want to become one yourself.
We need to always stay humble and teachable. (Proverbs 12:1, 13:18, 15:31-32) The fool and his words might be in the form of an insecure blogger, a caustic church member, a co-worker, or an anonymous letter – but we can usually learn something from them (patience, if nothing else :)),
3. Don’t spend too much time trying to correct
Most of the counsel of Proverbs deals with telling us not to waste time on trying to correct a fool. (Proverbs 14:7, 9:7-8, 1:7, 17:10, 26:1) Proverbs 26:4 says Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Fools are fools because they are unteachable and unchangeable. This verse is somewhat like the old yarn, “Don’t wrestle with a pig in the mud. You will both get muddy but only one will enjoy it.” Too often I have stooped to the level of foolish arguments with prideful arrogance that I could convince a fool.
However, one verse later, God says Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:5) This seems to dovetail with other verses about correcting people properly. (2 Timothy 2:23-26; Titus 3:10-11). Much unnecessary damage is done when leaders won’t biblically deal with “fools”. So “man up” and deal with it.
Putting the principles of Proverbs 26:4-5 together: tell them once with firmness, patience and clarity. After that, you are wasting your time and might get foolish yourself.