or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.
I love this pair of verses, found in the collection of wisdom sayings in the book of Proverbs. For me it underscores how the writers begin the book, making a case for the life-long need to seek out wisdom. If wisdom were simply a list of instructions and rules, it would just be a matter of memorization and discipline. And in fact, they did have a list of laws, but that never proved enough to instruct people exactly how to live out God’s ideals. It turns out that every situation, every relationship, every generation came with its own unique context in which to interpret and apply the guidelines of living they had been given.
It strikes me too that, while Proverbs covers a wide range of issues – everything from finances to work ethics to sexual purity – this pair of opposite admonitions is about relationship. How we engage with someone else, particularly in a challenging interaction, is not a black-and-white issue. It requires nuance and discernment.
You've probably experienced this too, that so much of life is not so much a matter of right and wrong, good or bad - but rather, this...or that.
This makes me think of Corinthians, the letters that Paul wrote to a fellowship of Christ-followers who struggled to understand how to apply what they received in Christ to loving fellowship with each other. In chapter 8 of 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks to a matter that had previously been quite clear to the Jews because of the laws they’d lived by for centuries, matters of dietary dos and don’ts. The rules had been appropriate when they were given, but times were different. Some things had changed. A re-examination was in order.
What we read in the following paragraphs is Paul’s processing of how, in light of some considerations, it’d be good to choose one way, but on the other hand, because of other factors, they might be wise to do something else. Then he concludes, at the end of chapter 10, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone I everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” What Paul is saying, then, is that to do something “for the glory of God” is to do that thing out of love and deference to another, to do whatever it is with consideration for how it will affect your neighbor.
In a world where it feels so much easier to find the black and white, right and wrong answer, it turns out that following Jesus is much fuzzier than that. In fact, what’s best might be different at different times. And the wisest course of action could seem utterly foolish to the watching world. The ultimate example of this being from God himself, displaying love to the fullest in the giving of Christ on the cross, an act that looked ridiculously weak and foolish to the watching world, yet being our new standard for strength and wisdom.
As I engage with my brothers and sisters in Christ – and even more so with others in the world, including my Muslim friends – how can I “eat and drink...to the glory of God”? What would it look like to be concerned not so much with “right” answers but with loving deference to their needs and where their journey toward God might be in that moment? How can I engage with others in a fitting way, one that moves them closer toward the Lord who loves and extends a warm embrace?