Smartest in the Class
Sermon 1712 1 Kings 3 September 13, 2020
Welcome to the new age! The age of in-person, distanced integrated platformed education! I think what that means is that for the next school year we are going to be preaching on the Sunday School lessons. You see, we are conducting on-line distanced Sunday School this year because of the COVID-19 virus. We did not want children from all different schools mixing together for an hour in classrooms where social distancing would be difficult at best. You see, that’s where Sunday School is different from, say, our Monday-Friday preschool, Kindergarten and 1st grade. That is their world. They are in their bubble. But for one hour a week, in Sunday School, we’d be mixing children outside their bubbles and, well, if you are of a mathematical, statistical mindset, you can see how the social connections (or epidemiological vectors) can multiply exponentially.
But Sunday School is important! So we’ve got a team of Sunday School teachers who are recording their presentation of the Bible story every week. It is on a private YouTube channel that only their students are invited to. So, sorry, if you are interested. You cannot drop in to see it. The Sunday School materials are individually packaged for the parents to take home and go through the crafts, enrichment and application activities of the lesson. This COVID disaster is getting in the way of so many things in our lives. We are firm that it won’t stunt our children’s spiritual growth. So hats off to the Sunday School teachers! And hats off to our parents who are using this time to share their faith with their children through Sunday School.
It also seemed good to go over the Sunday School lessons for the adults, both parents who are going to be reviewing the story with their children, and you and me, too. These stories are part of the Bible and perhaps it has been a while since we have looked at them.
That’s a long introduction for the next thirty-six sermons. But I had to tell you where we were going. Today we are looking at the story of Solomon’s wisdom.
Everybody wants smart children. Everybody wants a child that is the smartest in the class. Here’s how to achieve that goal.
Smartest in the Class
Wisdom is God’s gift.
Wisdom is rooted in gratitude
Wisdom guides our daily walk
I have to admit, the story of Solomon’s wisdom is something that struck me when I was young. I prayed every night that God would make me wise. So I am pleased to report: what I discovered during my life is in line with what God tells us in the Bible.
If you want to be smartest in the class, know that wisdom is God’s gift.
Nobody is born wise. Just the opposite is the case. “The fool says in his heart there is no God,” the Bible says. By nature, when we came into the world we did not believe in God. By nature we were ignorant of the Lord’s loving plans for us. We may have gotten our blue eyes from mom, our height from dad, but we all inherited that spiritual ignorance from fallen Adam. Wisdom is God’s gift.
Solomon had just started his reign. He had gone to Gibeon, a town about twelve miles north of Jerusalem in the hill country of Benjamin. He offered a huge fellowship and thanksgiving sacrifice there. Solomon is a believer. He “walked according to the statues of his father, David,” the account tells us. That night, “the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you (5).’”
Oh, we could go on and on with the children, asking them what they would ask for if the Lord came to them in a dream and said, “Ask me for anything!” Some of our minds might be working quickly to think of what we would ask for. Money? Fame? Just a chance to eat out at a nice restaurant without fear of getting anything worse than food poisoning? But let’s not waste time. The Lord is telling Solomon to ask. If the Lord had nothing to give Solomon, he wouldn’t have told him to ask.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly light,” James tells us (1.17). So everything that builds us up, everything that helps us and others, everything that leaves the world behind us a better place, that comes from God. Even if sinful human beings misuse it and cause a mess, it still comes from God. Don’t blame him for putting that half-gallon of ice cream in your freezer. You ate it in one sitting and got a belly ache. Of course faith is the first of those good gifts. “The righteous will live by faith,” a prophet tells us. “It is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God,” Paul tells us (Ephesians 2.8). If you are wise, you have faith. The smartest in the class recognizes that. The smartest in the class knows faith is a gift of God.
Now here’s the first “Aha!” moment this fall. A synonym, a word that means the same thing, a synonym for faith in the Bible is wisdom. You cannot be wise without faith. If you have faith you are wise. Faith and wisdom in God’s sight are the same thing. Even if I may not be able to tell the difference between California and Connecticut on a map of the United States, if I believe Jesus is my Savior from sin, I am the smartest in the class. And so are you.
Smartest in the class. Wisdom is rooted in gratitude.
The Lord has appeared to Solomon in a dreams and told him to ask for anything. Look how Solomon responds. “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. You have made your servant king in place of my father David. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number (1 Kings 3.6-8).”
These are not the words of a self-made man. These are not the thoughts of someone who thinks they deserved everything they have in this life because they worked hard to get it. I’ve noticed a lot of people who think that are very hard-hearted and self-centered. Their riches are only for their own enjoyment. Maybe that’s why they don’t recognize the debt of gratitude they owe those who got them where they are today. They don’t want to feel like they owe anything to anyone but to themselves.
Solomon recognized how difficult transitions to power are. Israel has already had two royal family lines. The line of King Saul was wiped out by foreign enemies and domestic traitors. King David’s family took over. But with all the royal sons David had, it was not at all clear who would be king after David. A bloody civil war almost broke out until Solomon’s mother and the prophet Nathan stepped in and moved dying David to act. By God’s grace Solomon was king. He was grateful.
Getting the crown on your head, however, was the easy part. You had to keep it there. Hostile neighbors were only too eager to test a young king to see if his army was on its toes and his government had control of things. Only in India, before the British, when India was a patchwork of kingdoms under the Raj, only in India did they have this worked out. Every new king was expected, expected by his people, to be victorious in wars carried out on the four points of the compass, north, south, east and west. So whenever a new raj took his throne, he went to war against the four neighbors on his border. The agreement was, each one of them would put up an army that would pretend to fight, withdraw a mile or so and the new raj could claim victory. He had conquered ten square miles on the north, six on the east, four on the south and he moved the lines of his territory fourteen inches further west. Then, of course, when there was a new raj next door, they returned the favor and the boundary line was moved back to where it had been. Unfortunately this was not the gentlemen’s agreement in the Middle East. The fought wars to the death. Roadkill was all that was left behind.
But here, too, Solomon was grateful to God and to his father, King David. David had left the country in peace on every side. David had mustered such a tough bunch of fighters that nobody in the vicinity dared to attack.
We are not kings, but we have so many reasons to be grateful. House and home. And have you seen how much it has gone up in value? Those who are forced to move because of job transfers and have sold their homes have a nice head start on the next down payment. Spouse and children. Spending so much time with them is priceless. Back in the last downturn, what, in 2008, we had a member who was laid off. His wife’s job was secure, but nobody was getting a paycheck in the construction industry. And they had a one year old. He looked on the bright side and became a stay-at-home dad for the next two years, creating memories he will cherish till the day he dies. And the wife can blame all her boy’s bad habits on dear old Dad! We all enjoy such safety and good health that it is the common expectation, even in the age of COVID, that we will live to a ripe, old age. And our country. We have had generations of Americans who have bled and sweat to make this land your land, to make this land my land. Most of us recognize the debt we owe them. Leave this country better than you found it. Most of us realize the American Dream is more of the American Struggle. With every generation the battle against greed and discrimination has to be fought. And that battle is best fought within the human heart, against the darker angels within us. If we by a miracle built a social and moral Paradise on earth tomorrow, in forty years a new generation would have to struggle to build it again for themselves. The big lie in America is the Dream would become a reality we never had to work for again.
Give thanks, be grateful. That’s what the smartest in the class know.
The smartest in the class know wisdom guides our daily walk.
1 Kings chapter three ends up with a legal case impossible to unravel. It was a she-said she-said sort of thing. No other witnesses. But Solomon solved it. He determined who the real mother was and all Israel marveled at the wisdom God had given him. But they would have marveled a lot less if Solomon, following his wise ruling, had gone out and bought a lot of foolish and useless items. Solomon’s wisdom continued to guide his daily walk. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3.5-6).” The Lord will go before the smartest in the class and take care of things for you. Many times we find out that the things we worried about, the things we lost sleep over, were taken care of by someone else or they resolved themselves. We didn’t have to worry.
“In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays far from them (Proverbs 22.5).” Wisdom keeps us from getting into dangerous situations. Supper is almost ready, but you are hungry. Mom is busy with the last minute details and won’t notice if you slip a cookie or two into your mouth. But wisdom tells us, “Don’t do it! You will get into trouble!” So you don’t go near the cookie jar before supper and, when it is time for desert, she is so pleased you didn’t spoil your appetite, she gives you three cookies! Wisdom steers us clear of bad company. Even though our high schools are currently distanced learning, it is not hard to find out who is planning something that, well, let’s say it breaks a number of laws including social distancing. Your friend’s house is in your bubble. You could say you were at his place, he could say he was at your place. You could hit the party down by Tropicana and Sandhill. And you could sweat your tail off when the police call your parents to pick you up at 11:30 at night. Oh, they can’t miss you. You are sitting on the curb outside the house with two police officers standing there. Your bubble just shrunk to the four walls of your house.
There isn’t a part of our life where wisdom can’t give us guidance. Anxiety weighs a soul down, but a kind word lightens the heart. If you can’t say anything good, say something nice. Show people, don’t tell them. Maybe they have the same idea you have, but you won’t find out unless you let them get a word in edge-wise. While you never know until you try, there’s a lot of things you know you shouldn’t try. Everybody needs somebody to tell them it is not a good idea once in a while.
You could say this is all common sense, but common sense is not common. The sinful human nature gets tired of virtuous and disciplined living. It just wants to kick up its heels once in a while. But once in a while is all it takes to ruin a life and to waste all the effort you have poured into something. Faith, wisdom, keeps guiding our feet in the path God wants us to walk.
You see, smartest in the class doesn’t depend on a certain IQ score or what percentile your college entrance tests put you in. While smartest in the class may reflect in your grades, there are people on the honor roll who are not smart in God’s eyes. And God’s honor roll is the only one that matters. Smartest in the class depends on faith, given by God, rooted in gratitude and consistently expressing itself in our daily life.
Smartest in the Class
Wisdom is God’s gift.
Wisdom is rooted in gratitude
Wisdom guides our daily walk
Make me wise. Every one of us can make that request of God. He wants us to grow in our faith. He wants us to walk ever closer with him. Solomon discovered that. So have we.