We know that when we are lied about and misrepresented, our response is supposed to be that of gladness and joy. Rejoice, Jesus said, when they tell all sorts of slanderous stories about you. Rejoice, He said, and be exceeding glad (Matt. 5:12).
Too often we regard this as simply a tough assignment, that of responding to “bad” attitudes with a “good” attitude. The slander is a sin, and joy in response is the opposite of a sin. This is all quite true, but there is more to the sin/not sin divide than we sometimes assume.
When we rejoice in response to this kind of thing, we are refusing to take the bait. We are refusing to be dragged down into the mud. If we like seeing the situation clearly, we should want to avoid—at all costs—being hauled down into darkness, where nobody can see anything. Descending into that kind of inner darkness is the first step toward the outer darkness.
So Jesus is not just telling us to keep our hearts—He is telling us to keep our heads.
When we do this, we still have enemies. We still have to deal with them, answer them, fight them. But we must not join them. We must not become like them. This is the meaning of that cryptic juxtaposition in the Proverbs.
“Answer not a fool according to his folly, Lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own conceit” (Prov. 26:4–5).
In the first instance, do not answer a fool in kind. Why? Because the danger exists of becoming just like him, which is to descend into that darkness referred to earlier. There are other times when the fool needs to be popped. Why? To keep him from swelling up in the wisdom of his own conceit.
In both cases you are keeping folly from filling up the room. In the first instance, if you were to become a fool also, that helps fill up the room with folly. In the second, if you give a fool free rein to say or do anything, then that will come to dominate. In either case, our responsibility is to fight folly with wisdom.