Here is the transcript to a sermon I recently preached, and an audio link. I ran out of space with (free) soundcloud, and my husband discovered you can use google drive for free. Click HERE for the audio.
The theme today is wisdom – it was mentioned in all of the lectionary passages (1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20).
I think we are all familiar with the story of Solomon asking God for wisdom. In Psalm 111 you hopefully noted the famous saying that is the motto of the Wisdom Writings of the OT: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Maybe you were surprised to hear it in this Psalm, as we usually associate it with Proverbs, where it is found twice. It is also in Job.
It’s repetition “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” – is why it is referred to as the motto of the Wisdom books. But besides that, if something is repeated that usually means it is important. We should pay attention.
Fearing God doesn’t mean that we are frightened of him, but that we have a proper reverence or awe of God. We know our place, and we know God’s place. I saw a t-shirt years ago that said:
There are 2 things sure in life: 1. There is a God. 2. You are not him.
We might think: well of course, I know I am not God. But while we may say that – our actions in life, may not really reflect it. We are all guilty in one way or another. We can be self-centered rather than God-centered. We can become self-reliant rather than God-reliant. We can push God off the throne of our life and enthrone our self – not quite realizing that we have done it. But our actions and choices in daily life point to the fact that we have drifted from our fear of God.
Note that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. The Message words it this way: “Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God.” It is no wonder that we make unwise choices in life when we have drifted from our fear of God. Ephesians 5 verses 15-17 had a tone of warning or urgency to it. I will read them again:
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
Fearing God is not merely a method. It is not just step 1 towards wisdom. But about a right relationship with God — living in worshipful submission to God. The wise person must be open to God’s foundational role in their life.
And now let’s consider the 1 Kings 3 passage where Solomon asks for wisdom at the beginning of his kingship. From this point, Solomon would become world renowned for his wisdom, and his reign over Israel was a glorious one.
But he ended his life badly. He wandered from the Lord as his kingship progressed. It was a gradual slide. There is a caution here for us. Remember the warning or urgency in Ephesians: be very careful how you live, be wise with your time.
God appeared to Solomon and told him to ask for whatever he wanted, and God would give it to him. In verses 6-9, note how Solomon viewed himself. He admitted that he had no business being the king. There was no sense of entitlement. He was not the firstborn son of David, and remember that his mother was Bathsheba. There was also a messy fight, political infighting, over his succession to the throne.
Solomon acknowledges God’s grace or kindness. Solomon was king by divine appointment. It was an act of God’s grace and not because of Solomon’s merits.
Solomon recognized his inadequacy or deficiency. He says “I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.” – Solomon was an adult, but he was acknowledging that he was an inexperienced person.
Do we recognize our own inadequacies? That doesn’t mean we don’t have adequacies too, areas of strength. But we are all inadequate in some ways, and when we recognize this, we are in a position where God can help us. Recognizing God’s grace in our lives should humble us, and make us reach out for divine wisdom. When we think too highly of ourselves, we are in danger of walking in our own wisdom and strength, rather than in God’s wisdom and strength.
Another observation about Solomon’s request…is that Solomon did not pray for a result. He did not ask to be a great ruler of Israel. Rather he prayed for wisdom, and that wisdom led to him being a great ruler.
A child or an adult student may pray for a good grade on a test. That’s praying for a result. But if we consider Solomon’s example, the prayer would be something like: “help me to study hard, to have a clear mind, and understand the subject.”
How do we tend to pray? I think we often pray for result. I’m not saying that we should never pray for a result. Don’t misunderstand me. But are we, perhaps, trusting too much in our own wisdom sometimes? Are we sure we actually know the right result? Maybe we are a little over-confident. We might have it wrong. Have we confused our will for God’s will?
Even Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, not my will, but your will be done.
Ephesians 5:17 said “do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
Instead of praying for a specific result in a situation, it may be better to pray for…spiritual wisdom, sensitivity to God’s guidance, strength to endure, for Godly motivations, and that God will reveal to us any sinful or selfish motivations that lurk beneath our desires.
But what happened with Solomon? His relationship with God was founded in initial trust and humility as we see in the 1 Kings 3 passage. He feared God, and that began his life of wisdom.
But note that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We must keep going. We can never retreat from our dependence on God. A New Testament warning helps us understand Solomon. First Corinthians 10:12 says “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.”
Strengths are also vulnerability. We can let our guard down. We can start to trust in our own strength, whatever it may be, rather than in God. Oswald Chambers, known for the classic devotional My Utmost for His Highest (If you have never used this devotional, I highly recommend it) – He is known for saying: “an unguarded strength is a double weakness.” (repeat) Solomon’s wisdom was also his weakness.
It seemed wise to make alliances with surrounding nations through marriages. That is one reason Solomon married so many women, to form political alliances.
It seemed wise to build a huge military defense. Solomon acquired many horses and chariots, which were used for defense and warfare back then.
But Solomon failed to see the dangers. Foreign women could lead his heart away from God. Becoming a military superpower could lead him to trust in Israel’s strength rather than rely on God.
And these courses of action were actually warned against in Deuteronomy 17 – in the OT law. It said the king should not acquire a great number of horses and wives. And there is a specific warning in Deut. 17:17 that too many wives would lead the king’s heart astray.
It is not that these wives were out to cause trouble. But when Solomon married a foreign wife, she had a different religion and would come to the marriage bringing her own pagan servants and pagan religious practices. And Solomon was influenced by these other religions, and compromised his faith.
It is not that Solomon out rightly rejected his faith in Yahweh, but he began to worship other gods along with the Lord. 1 Kings 11:4 says: “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.”
I think that is a risk for all of us. It is not that we reject our faith, but we compromise it and dilute it in various ways. We mix it with things it should not be mixed with, and we end up with a useless faith, a powerless faith.
Solomon was politically wise, but not spiritually wise. In the passage today, Solomon asked for wisdom but of what kind? – He asked for wisdom to govern the people. But mere human wisdom is inadequate to meet the issues of life.
God gave us brains and wants us to use them. But human wisdom that is not anchored in a right relationship with God, a fear of God, has limitations. Our wisdom becomes distorted, and we end up knowing less. Professing to be wise, we become fools.
That’s what happened to Solomon. And if it happened to Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, it can happen to us too.
I just referred to Solomon as the wisest man who had ever lived, but that was only true until a certain point in time. Someone arrived who was far greater than Solomon. In Matthew 12, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees and teachers of the law and he says: “The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.”
That something greater was Jesus. The Gospels demonstrate that Jesus was wise; he is recognized as a wise teacher even by non-Christians or followers of other religions. But Jesus was more than just a wise teacher. It is not sufficient to stop there.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 1 there is a section about foolishness and wisdom. It is worth contemplating on your own. Spend some time in the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians this week – just a suggestion.
But Christ is there proclaimed to be the power of God and the wisdom of God. It says Jesus “became for us wisdom from God – that is our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.”
The wise person looks to Jesus. Because Jesus is not simply wise, he is the Incarnation of God’s wisdom – God’s eternal plan to bring us salvation. Jesus was the unique God-man, fully God and fully human. And because of that Jesus was able to bring us salvation from sin and reconcile us to God through his death on the cross.
But this sounds foolish to some people. God became a man and suffered and died. How can that be? Why would the almighty God of the universe so humble himself?
First Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” – and it goes on to say that “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.”
Jesus came the first time as a suffering servant and some people failed to see Jesus for who he was – because he was not what they were expecting him to be. The same thing happens today. But if God is exactly what we expect, perhaps we’ve put God in a box. And God cannot be put in a box!
When Jesus comes the second time it will be in power as a conquering King. He will be a righteous judge who will rule in perfect wisdom. Isaiah 9:6 refers to Jesus prophetically as the Wonderful Counselor.
I think this type of arrival is more what some people expect from God – a powerful king. But I fear these same people will not be ready to meet Jesus when he comes in glory because they rejected his first coming in humility. They have rejected the cross. It is foolishness to them.
But the only way of salvation is through the cross of Christ. If you reject this wisdom of God, you’ve rejected the only way of salvation. The apostle Paul resolved to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified. May it be the same for us.