Proverbs 26:4-5 -- A real paradox.
The first clause: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.”
The second clause: “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit”
These two proverbial statements, which appear to be at odds, are found side-by-side. Do they contradict one another? No, they do not. Their placement denotes design, not disorder. These verses call for caution in responding to the “fool.” The term "fool" here denotes one who is spiritually senseless--an individual who is willfully spiritually blinded.
"Answer"—which means that the fool has made a statement that was intended to elicit some response. Note that not all circumstances are equal in nature. Therefore, there are times to answer an opponent, and there are times when he ought to be ignored. And the wise preacher must know when to do one or the other.
Recall the question --“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Rather than answering their questions directly—because they were not honest inquiries—the Lord asked: “Was John’s baptism from heaven or from men?” To which they replied: “We don’t know,” for they carefully calculated the problem of the question--if they denied the validity of John’s baptism, they would be in trouble with the people—who believed in John’s ministry. And if they admitted the truth of John’s baptism, they would be asked: “Why did you not believe him?” So Jesus told them He would NOT answer according to their folly.
Also notice that when Herod interrogated Jesus with “many words.” Jesus “answered him nothing."
God's preachers will time and again have to make decisions about with whom, and how much time, is to be expended in responding to those who oppose the truth. Separating the “dogs” and “hogs” from the others is no easy chore sometimes. A prayer for wisdom in making the appropriate response, or non-response, to those with whom the preacher must deal with daily is greatly needed.