Sermon: 1 Kings 3:5-12
Pentecost 10 - August 13, 2017 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
Have you ever made any bad decisions or bad choices in your life? If we’re all honest we’d have to admit that we have. Sometimes we make bad choices because of sin. We just choose to do what God has told us not to do. Sometimes we make bad choices out of selfishness or the feeling that we have to have things our way or that we think we know better than someone else. And sometimes we make bad choices just because we weren’t aware of something or we just didn’t have the right information.
I’ve often wished that I had been born with the knowledge and wisdom that I’ll have at the very end of my life. I like to imagine that I would have made all kinds of different decisions, done different things, and avoided many pitfalls and difficulties.
But God has not seen fit to have us born with adult wisdom and a life of experience to help us along the way. But that doesn’t mean that God has left us helpless and without wisdom and guidance. He encourages us to pray for wisdom. He gives us wisdom from his word, and there’s no question that the experiences of life, often the most difficult ones, teach us a lot of wisdom.
In our text today the LORD God gave a very special gift of wisdom and discernment to King Solomon of Israel, or as Solomon asked, a discerning heart. It’s also our desire that God would give each of us
A HEART THAT MAKES GOOD CHOICES
It was just a little after 1000 B.C. King David had united and ruled Israel for about forty years. When he died his son Solomon became the new king of Israel.
When David was king there was one thing he especially wanted to accomplish before he died. He wanted to build a permanent temple in Jerusalem where he and the people of Israel could bring their sacrifices and worship the LORD. From the days of Moses until the beginning of Solomon’s reign God had provided a tabernacle for Israel’s worship. It was a tent like worship facility that could be set up and taken down and moved to different locations. Now that the people of Israel were well settled for many years in Israel with its capital Jerusalem, it was King David’s desire to build a permanent and lasting temple to glorify God.
But it was not the Lord’s will that David should build a temple for him. That responsibility would fall on his son Solomon. And a temple was needed, a permanent place to offer sacrifices and worship the LORD. Over the years the tabernacle had been located in different areas and as a result the people, including Solomon himself, often worshiped and offered sacrifices at the various locations of the tabernacle, sometimes referred to as “the high places.” As a matter of fact in our text today King Solomon had gone to a town called Gibeon to offer sacrifices.
But now it was time for King Solomon to centralize that worship at a permanent temple in Jerusalem. But before Solomon would build a temple, as he began his reign as king, the LORD came to him to offer him a very special blessing.
The LORD appeared in a dream to Solomon and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Just think about that offer from God. “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” What would you ask God for? To make all your problems go away? To give you more money or a better job? To give you good health? A problem-free life? A new home? A new car? Happiness? Contentment?
Before we begin to imagine that this offer from God was just some kind of fantasy or that Solomon was just the luckiest guy in the history of the world, it’s important to note that Jesus has offered us something pretty similar. While speaking to his disciples he said, “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”
So when we hear those words of Jesus why don’t we feel like Solomon? Maybe we do. Maybe we should. Or maybe we don’t take Jesus’ offer as seriously because God is not appearing to us and speaking to us directly as he did to Solomon. Or maybe we just don’t take Jesus’ offer to give us whatever we ask seriously. We might say, “It sounds great, but we all know that God doesn’t give us just whatever we ask.” I would imagine that every one of us can give an example of some request we’ve made of God and have not received. And so we say, “See, Jesus’ offer isn’t like the LORD’s unlimited offer to Solomon.”
Jesus’ promise that God will give us whatever we ask in prayer is true, but we also know that God gives us only what will be a blessing to us, and he gives us that blessing in his own time and way. I dare say that God would not have given Solomon something that would have been harmful to him or detrimental to the people of Israel. God’s promise to give us whatever we ask in prayer is an amazing blessing we need to make use of more often, but it’s important for us to remember that God is not a magic genie who just grants our every wish.
Solomon asked God for a personal blessing, but a blessing that would help him serve God better. He was well aware of the huge responsibility suddenly placed on his shoulders to rule the people of Israel. Israel had a large population, and they weren’t just any people. They were God’s people. They were the nation from which the Savior would be born. Solomon’s responsibility to rule this nation of God was more than just any person could handle. So he asked, “Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
Many people know this story about Solomon. They know that he asked God for wisdom. But Solomon asked for something more specific than wisdom. He wasn’t asking God to just make him smart, to give him a lot of knowledge. He specifically asked God for a discerning heart, a heart that hears with understanding, a heart that makes good choices.
Some of the smartest people in the world make some very bad choices. We’re all pretty smart people, and yet I can imagine that our lives are littered with a lot of sins and bad choices. Solomon wanted wisdom, but especially he wanted a wise heart and mind that could make good choices in dealing with the people of Israel.
So let’s go back to Jesus’ promise to his disciples and to us: “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” What should we ask for? Solomon’s a good example for us. Solomon didn’t ask for personal intelligence. He didn’t ask for money. He didn’t ask for a big house. He didn’t ask for fame. He asked for discernment that would help him rule God’s people. His request wasn’t self-serving or self-centered. His request honored God and served his kingdom.
And God was pleased with Solomon’s request. God said to Solomon, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked.” And the LORD gave Solomon a wise and discerning heart. But he gave him much more than that. He gave him great intellectual wisdom. He gave him great wealth. The LORD made Solomon one of the most famous kings to ever reign over any nation. People came from long distances to hear the wisdom of Solomon.
So what would Solomon’s example tell us to ask for? We first of all want to ask God for something that will be pleasing to him. That’s what it means to pray according to God’s will. If you ask God for a million dollars he’s probably not going to give you a million dollars because it’s not his will that you have a million dollars. A million dollars could ruin your life and turn you away from God. If you ask God for a beautiful new home he may not give it to you because it’s better for you to live where you are now. If he does give you a new home, then you have a responsibility to praise him for it and live in that house to give glory to God and love your neighbors.
So find out what pleases God. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul writes, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light . . . and find out what pleases the Lord.” Do you know what pleases God? We live in a world that tells us and each new generation exactly what does not please God. More than ever our children need to learn God’s Ten Commandments and his will. We need to review that will and continually learn from the Bible what pleases God. Only then are we going to know what to ask God for when he says ask me for whatever you want.
And the more we know what pleases God the more God is going to give us a discerning heart, a heart that makes good choices. The psalmist says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” And he’s right. When we have reverence and respect for God and his will our decisions and choices are made in light of his word, according to his will, and that’s always good.
When I was a child I used to get perturbed with God when he didn’t give me what I wanted. God’s “failure” was my proof that he really didn’t answer prayers the he says in the Bible. It’s taken many years to learn better what it means to ask for what pleases God. Even though I know this story of Solomon very well, it’s taken me, it takes all of us, a long time, sometimes a lifetime, to learn what it means to ask for a heart that makes good choices. It’s never too late to ask God for that kind of heart. It’s never too late to learn.
And that pleases God. And then like he blessed Solomon with even more, he blesses us with even more too. He blesses us with King David’s Son, with Solomon’s greatest descendant. He blesses us with Jesus and his mercy and forgiveness.
How thankful we can be that God gave Solomon a wise and discerning heart. He led Israel and extended the borders farther than any other time in its history. They were the glory days of Israel. 950 years later there was still a remnant of Israel left - Judea. And from Judea came David’s Son, Solomon’s great descendant, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.