"Seeking Wisdom”

Pentecost 12

August 16, 2015


Text: Ephesians 5:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14


          I am not sure the society in which we live values wisdom all that much. For instance, it seems to me most of us don’t look for wisdom when we choose the leaders who will govern us. At least that is the impression I get when I consider the campaign methods of most politicians. Instead of giving us a compelling vision for the future that shows evidence of thought and discernment, we are given sound bites, empty promises, blame of those holding opposing points of view, personal attacks, and pandering to people’s fears. The people who actually get elected then try to govern using these same tactics. And then people wonder why this country, and this world, is in such a mess.

          Not long after becoming king of Israel, Solomon was offering sacrifices at the great shrine at Gibeon. The Lord spoke to Solomon and told him to ask for whatever he wanted. It is noteworthy that Solomon did not ask for long life, great wealth, or victory over his enemies. He asked for wisdom to govern his people well. This is even more noteworthy because Solomon’s reign began with violence and political maneuvering. Although Solomon was his father King David’s choice to succeed him, another son, Adonijah, had unsuccessfully attempted to claim the throne before David died. The section of 1 Kings between the two portions we read today tells of how Solomon consolidated his power after David died. He had Adonijah and his key supporters killed, except for Abiathar the priest, who was expelled from the priesthood and ordered to return to his hometown to farm. Then Solomon formed an alliance with the king of Egypt by marrying his daughter. All this behavior to get control of the throne looks to me more like the world’s wisdom than God’s wisdom.

          God was pleased with Solomon’s request for wisdom, so God granted him wisdom in abundance, along with long life and wealth. “There will never be another like you,” God said. “You will live a long life if you walk in my ways and obey my commands.” Now the Bible tells stories of how Solomon exercised his wisdom for good. But there are also stories of how, especially later in his life, he let his power and majesty go to his head. One can read in the Old Testament of his extensive building projects, using forced labor. One reads of his 1000-woman harem—700 wives and 300 sex slaves. Many of those wives came about the same way as the first one—he married them to forge alliances with other nations. These women were worshippers of the gods of their native lands, and some of them led Solomon into idol worship. Although God had granted Solomon great wisdom, it is evident that Solomon did not always use his wisdom well.

          Our psalm today tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Now most people hear that word “fear” and think that is saying we’re supposed to be afraid of God, and think that sounds weird. Things get a bit complicated here. The Hebrew word used in the psalm that is translated “fear” means not only “terror”, but also “reverence”. Remember that when people had a close encounter with God in the Bible, they often were terrified. This serves as a reminder that God cannot be domesticated and is not subject to human control. But if God is thought of only in this way, the logical conclusion would be that God is to be avoided, and that is not what God wants, either. God wants us to revere him, to honor him. And how do we do that? Not only by worshipping him and praying to him, but also by living in his ways. Our psalm tells us God is merciful and compassionate, honest and just. God provides for those who are in need. God is trustworthy and keeps his promises. If we honor God with our lives, we also will be merciful and compassionate, honest and just. We also will do what we can to provide for those in need. We will be trustworthy and keep our promises. This is what it means to live wisely before God.

          In Ephesians, Paul tells us to live wisely, not foolishly. He tells us to make the most of the time, because the days are evil. This can certainly be said of our time as well. You and I live in a world which is badly divided by ideology and intolerance, where for many people the first impulse on how to deal with disagreements is resorting to violence rather than listen to what the other has to say. It is a world where many people will resort to dishonesty and backstabbing to get ahead. We need to understand that this is not what God wants. It seems to me that using the time in which we live wisely calls on us to demonstrate and encourage God’s way of living to our world—showing mercy and compassion rather than being harsh and uncaring, being honest and just rather than trying to get ahead by cheating others, being trustworthy and keeping our promises rather than telling people what we think they want to hear and not following through, caring for those in need rather than blaming them for being in need.

          As we do this, we need to be filled with and guided by God’s Holy Spirit. To some it may sound strange to hear what Paul says that means we should do:

  • speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
  • sing and make music to the Lord in our hearts
  • always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ

All of these things have to do with living our lives in an attitude of worshipping God. But, we may ask, what does living in an attitude of worship have to do with being merciful, compassionate, honest, and trustworthy?

Everything, it seems to me. Living with a worshipful attitude is about far more than Sunday morning. Living with a worshipful attitude is a 24/7 practice that helps keep us rooted and grounded in God. And that is necessary to help us live according to God’s wisdom. Otherwise, even in spite of our best intentions, our human tendency is to put ourselves first. That generally turns out badly for someone, whether that be ourselves or someone else.

Let us seek to live according to God’s wisdom as we live our daily lives. Let us seek to be deeply rooted in God through a worshipful attitude. In so doing, let us demonstrate and encourage God’s ways of mercy, compassion, honesty, justice, and trustworthiness in our dealings with all people.


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