Sermon on 1 Kings 3 - Solomon asks for a wise and understanding heart
Wisdom is a weird word. It’s a word that conjures up two images in my mind. One is the college professor. Long robes. The funny hat. Hood. Big massive bookcase. A pipe and a cat sleeping on the window sill. The other is an old man. A monk-like figure. Long grey beard. Monastic robes. Living in a hovel on the side of the road. Two different pictures tied to two ideas we have of wisdom, which is unfortunate. One being the educated. The enlightened. Wisdom usually tinged with pride and prejudice. One who must be listened to because they know things. The other being age. Old age as a qualifier, a prerequisite to wisdom. Neither case can be proven but I use these two examples to paint a picture for you of the problem with wisdom. It’s a hard word because we leave it out there and it can mean so much. You can have a farmer who has an 8th grade education and is wiser than someone who graduated from Harvard for instance. Many of us know someone, a child, parent, grandparent, maybe not that old, or that educated, and yet they are wise. People with “old souls” as the romantics call them.
The dictionary attaches experience to wisdom as a factor, but often experience can just as much help us become wise as it can deaden us to any wisdom. Because just like we know those people who break the mold of wisdom being an outgrowth of education. We also know many folks in our lives who are of greater age than we are and still, for lack of a better phrase, don’t act their age, right?
Think of Solomon as sort of the Biblical example for both experience as a help and a hindrance. He is king. Here he has a dream and begs for wisdom. He looks at his work ahead of him and sees a long road. He desires to be a good king and to decide justly in cases. To bring justice, and to understand good and evil. God grants him his request. Seeing wisdom as something that comes from necessity. I have a hard job, Lord. Hard decisions. I need wisdom for this.
The amazing thing is his reason why – the people. He asks for wisdom not because he wants to go on the self-help circuit or make millions, he wants to make sure he rules properly. Just like his father. Wisdom being by necessity for Solomon because he looks as his task and knows he is not up to it without this gift he asks for.
Yet, this same man has this dream, knows that God will provide, and yet his wisdom does not extend in the way it should. We see him fall into a trap in which he is addicted to getting married shall we say. Solomon likes the ladies. Experience driving him in a certain direction. Almost like addiction. I enjoy this so I want it again kind of experience. Which leads to what becomes a turning from the ways that his father David walked with the Lord, to allowing every god under the sun, including the sun, to have its place in Jerusalem. Wisdom in judicial matters, but not in life.
Solomon, in his wisdom, almost a sort of do as I say not as I do type of teaching, shares this strange contradiction with us in his writings of the Old Testament. The one who ends up growing idolatry in Jerusalem is also the one who gives us Proverbs 9:10 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Where wisdom begins with this fear, this feeling of being small or humbled before the awesomeness of God. All of education or experience for the Christian could be summed up in that one line from Solomon. Where our seeking out the life of the Christ-follower begins and ends with our relationship with God. Where our wisdom in discernment and life is founded upon what we know of God in Jesus, and what God has made known to us. How fear, a word we often take issue with, is not a cowering as it is a realization that we have become like Solomon. Who understands the immensity of life and the smallness of myself. One who regularly needs turning back to God and begging God for his gifts, knowing that we cannot do life without God’s handiwork in and among us.
I have a confession to make. I am a huge fan of Star Trek. I was in denial for a long time, but basically, my nerddom has been reinvigorated over the last year, and I am not ashamed. In 1996, the movie First Contact came out, and the captain of the Enterprise is having a conversation with a young woman in the past. The Enterprise had to travel back in time to save the world. It’s Star Trek, what can I say. But Captain Picard is having a conversation with a scientist and explaining how economics had changed over the last 300 years and that money doesn’t exist anymore. The woman is amazed, like all of us, and Picard says this: The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity. Wisdom becoming a virtue. Life being consumed not with the flourishing of one’s own gratification in what I can get, but there is this sort of metaphysical piece to it. Life becoming concerned with explaining the nature of being and the world that encompasses it. That is the Christian world for me, for you. Life in Christ becoming that centered and girded by the desire to know God and be known by him. To love Christ and be loved by him. Not allowing ourselves to be dragged into the world where time is money, or life is concerned with prosperity, but time being a gift from God for the work of the Spirit to do this thing in you. This work of daily salvation. Daily renewal. Daily redemption and forgiveness of sin and rescue from the world and our own egos.
Christ in the New Testament is often tied to wisdom. The mind of Christ being that gift given to us that we might see the world through the eyes of God as merciful. Where our desire for wisdom is not one of ruling a great number of people like Solomon, but maybe it is waking up tomorrow and asking God to give you the wisdom to parent and raise your children in the Lord. To recommit in a marriage that is hit hard by the effects of heartache or pain. To help nurture another relationship, older to younger. Mature Christian to new Christian. Becoming a friend to the friendless. Realizing that the wisdom of Christ is this working out of the good news, the Gospel, in our everyday lives. Pursuing higher callings, not because money means nothing, but because people mean more. You mean more. Christ made sure of that, sealing you with his blood. Dying to break you free from the curse of sin that leads us down the road towards foolishness, towards being unwise, but instead that we might live in Christ and grow in his grace. Thanks be to God. Amen.