Your neighbor just did something foolish. What should you say? Proverbs 11:12 tells us, “Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the man of understanding holds his tongue.” It implies that the neighbor has acted in some way that would commonly bring mocking shame and ridicule from the wicked but silence from the godly.
Easier said than done.
Most leaders and counselors have witnessed some pretty foolish actions by others. After all, one of our responsibilities is to keep an eye out for trouble so we can address it before it gets out of hand. And when we’re looking for things going wrong, we’ll always find some. Even when everything seems fine, someone else will bring an alleged perpetrator to us because we’re the one in charge, the fixer (or punisher), the one with the answers, or at least the last resort when others can’t deal with their biblical “fool” anymore.
My sinful gut reaction has varied from wanting to shake my head in visible disgust to loudly chew them out. And this proverb is not saying that there’s never a place for confrontation. The Lord Jesus regularly and boldly confronted foolishness, and there are other proverbs that commend verbal rebukes. But since this proverb doesn’t give any details on the foolish action or the results of the wise silence, it seems to call us to reflect more on a wise person’s heart than their method.
The wise heart knows several truths from God’s Word that might lead him or her to silence. Here’s just a few.
* We tend to judge by external appearances, but only the Lord knows their heart. In 1 Samuel 1, Eli the high priest wrongly accused Hannah of being drunk when, in fact, she was praying in deep grief. The wise person knows that they don’t necessarily know the reason behind others’ actions. Their neighbor’s overdrawn bank account might indicate that the person is deceptive and selfish. On the other hand, it might reveal that they’re simply lacking necessary and basic skills in managing their money or that they share the account with their spouse and are not communicating with each other clearly. The reason for their situation should guide our response. And until we know that reason, silence can be a wise choice.
Think of the potential blessings that can come to our leadership and counseling from the silence of admitting that we don’t necessarily know all the facts.
* There is no one who does good on their own merits, not even me. Psalm 14:3 and 53:3 reminds us of this truth. A wise person noticing another’s demise once said, “Except for the grace of God, there go I.” If we don’t believe that we are constantly susceptible to temptation and foolish decisions, we think too highly of ourselves. Who would have thought that David could have fallen from the heights of being a righteous King to becoming a scheming adulterer and murderer? But He did. Gordon MacDonald, a former president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, is a more modern example from the 1980s. Paraphrasing a question and answer session back then, I remember an interviewer asking him what temptation the devil could use to cripple his personal relationship with Christ and his ministry. MacDonald responded that he didn’t know what the devil might use to accomplish that, but it wouldn’t be in the area of his marriage. Within the next year, MacDonald confessed to adultery. The wise person does not think more highly of themselves than their neighbor.
Think of the potential blessings that can come to our leadership and counseling from the silence of our humility.
* And if they are truly a fool, they will not listen anyway. If they are truly humbled by their foolishness, God will provide an opportunity to talk with them about His grace for forgiveness and real change. In 1 Samuel 25, we see Nabal (the Hebrew word for “fool”) neglecting and mistreating David who was well-known for his service to God and Israel. Abigail (Nabal’s wife) quickly acted to ask David’s forgiveness and to rectify her husband’s foolishness. And the Lord put Nabal to death but blessed Abigail for her humility and repentance on her husband’s behalf. You’ve probably heard, “Give them enough rope (freedom) to hang themselves.” A wise person gives their neighbor time – time to voice their repentance or their wickedness.
Think of the potential blessings that can come to our leadership and counseling from the silence of waiting on God.
May the Lord continue to cover us in His wisdom for our service. And may we remember that Jesus’ response to our foolishness is often gracious silence.