Dear servants of the LORD,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When Solomon asked for wisdom, God was pleased. We value wisdom, too. We make education a high priority for our children and we strive to give them a wide variety of experiences as they mature, in the hope that they will grow up to be wise and discerning, like Solomon. Solomon is praised for his wisdom, a gift given to him from the LORD, and yet Solomon fell from grace, fell from the faith, worshiped false gods, and at his death the kingdom of Israel was split and began its downward spiral, never to fully recover.
We see the same sort of thing happen to many children as they mature, or even to adults in middle age. Even when they have had the best education and have had the chance to experience a world full of wonders, there is no guarantee that they will stay in the saving faith that was given to them at their baptism. In fact, we are often surprised that those who seem to have had the best of these things, turn away from the Lord who gave them. Solomon is a prime example.
The world likes to throw universally acknowledged wise people like Stephen Hawking in the face of the church and declare that truly wise people don’t believe in God. They are smarter than that. And Christians often try to respond by throwing universally acknowledged wise people like C.S. Lewis back at them and declare that truly wise people do believe in God. Who has the rightful claim? Could we say that Solomon remained wise even after he began to worship foreign gods? Could we say that Stephen Hawking was not wise until he gave up his belief in God? Or that C.S. Lewis was wise and then not and then wise again as he gave up faith in God and then returned to it?
It depends on your definition of wisdom. The wisdom that Solomon asked for was “an understanding mind to govern [God’s] people, that [he] may discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9). In response, God said to him, “I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you” (v. 12). God also gave to Solomon things he did not ask for (riches and honour) and would have granted him long life if Solomon would walk in his ways, keeping his statutes and commandments (v. 13-14). But Solomon did not continue to walk in God’s ways. Rather, he turned away from them.
With a wise and discerning mind Solomon reigned over Israel and not only brought justice and peace to his own people, but his fame spread around the known world. And he built a magnificent temple for God, to house the ark of the covenant where the LORD resided in the midst of His people. But although Solomon could discern between good and evil, he was not always able to reject the evil and choose the good. He not only married multiple women and tolerated their foreign worship, he joined in worshiping those false gods and rejecting the one true God who had blessed him and in whom alone he could have found forgiveness. Just because you know what is right and what is wrong does not necessarily mean that you are going to do what is right and reject what is wrong.
The problem, then, is not wisdom itself. Wisdom is truly a blessing from the Lord. The problem does not lie in what God has given, but what man has made of himself. Our sinful nature leads us to reject what is right and to choose what is wrong. It leads us to sin. It leads us to reject God who is the Giver of every good and perfect gift. As great a gift as wisdom is, it is not enough. Wisdom cannot save you. God needed to give another gift that could.
The LORD had made a promise to David that one from his own body would sit on his throne and reign forever (2 Samuel 7:12-13). It wasn’t Solomon. It was Jesus Christ. The angel said to Mary, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).
Jesus was the fulfillment that Solomon could only signify as a disfigured shadow. In Jesus we find the true blessing of wisdom. “the child… was filled with wisdom. And the favour of God was upon Him” (Luke 2:40). The true blessing is not wisdom alone, but must be accompanied with the favour of God. At twelve years of age, Jesus amazed the teachers in the temple. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man” (2:52). There was no downfall as He grew and matured. He remained faithful.
As a true human being, He grew and developed and learned. But contrary to our sinful human nature, He never fell out of favour with God. Not only did He discern between good and evil, but He always chose the good and rejected the evil. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit because they desired to be wise. They gained the knowledge of good and evil, and realized that what they had done was not good at all (Genesis 3:3-6).
Our salvation does not depend on our wisdom, but on the favour of God. This favour is also a gift from God. That is why we call it grace, and He gives it to us through Jesus, His Son. Jesus was not only wise, but holy, and so had favour with God. He was not only true man, but also true God. He matured in wisdom, but was constantly holy from eternity. Not only is He perfectly wise in knowing good and evil, but He is also perfectly holy, always doing the good that is His very nature without even a trace of the sinful thoughts and desires that we have inherited from Adam and Eve, and upon which we act all too often.
Jesus is the only one who could stand in the place of Solomon. He is the only one whose wisdom excels, not just in the knowledge of good and evil but in applying it to every situation and living it Himself, and so having favour with God. He stood in the place of Solomon to be the true heir of David’s eternal throne and He took Solomon’s place, not only on the throne he inherited from his father, but also on the cross he deserved because of his sin. That cross is where God’s temporal and eternal punishment was delivered upon the back of the God-man, Jesus, who not only took Solomon’s place but ours as well.
There are so many things in life where I have to throw up my hands, either because I don’t know what is right or wrong in that situation or because I am unable to carry it out. I lack the wisdom and the holiness. I don’t need wisdom to save me but I do need God’s favour, and Jesus gives me His. He gives it to you, by forgiving all your sins through His own death and resurrection on your behalf. In His wisdom, discerning good and evil, knowing the evil in you and the good in Himself, He gave Himself in your place to suffer the punishment you deserve in order that you could be forgiven, saved, and find favour with God in the holiness of His own dear Son.
That is the gift that was given to you at your Baptism. It is not wisdom but holiness, not a knowledge of good and evil but the perfect good that is Jesus’ own righteousness. He clothed you with His own holiness, knowing that is what you need for salvation. All of His other gifts are gravy but His own holiness is the gift of salvation that gives you favour before God.
True wisdom, not for reigning over a nation but for spiritual wisdom, that which makes you wise unto salvation, is knowing that in Jesus only is your salvation. In Him only are you forgiven and declared righteous before God because He is holy and yet died as a sinner for sinners. And having paid the price for all, He freely gives His holiness to you. He gave it at your baptism and He keeps giving, forgiving your sins in holy absolution, feeding you His own body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, keeping you in God’s favour.
This spiritual wisdom for salvation is what St. Paul wrote about to the Ephesians: “In [Christ Jesus] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will” (Ephesians 1:7-9). True wisdom is knowing that God has carried out His plan to save us through Jesus by giving us His favour in Christ.
The means of grace give you His favour, by forgiving your sins. They give you complete forgiveness for your sins by giving you Jesus who died and rose again for them all. If Baptism didn’t give you Jesus it would be a useless rite. If the Lord’s Supper did not give you Jesus, it would just be a remembrance. But because Jesus gives us Himself in these sacraments that He instituted, He gives us His holiness and we remain in favour with God, even if not with our fellow men.
We want wisdom for our children. We want them to have a good education and varied experiences in life, but that will not save them. We should want even more for them to have God’s favour, and that might change the decisions that parents make for their children and that any Christian will make at any turning point in their lives, whether it be a mid-life crisis or the start of a new year. It will be more important to have daily Bible readings and prayers at the kitchen table than to pick a special school for our children to attend. It will be more important to send them to a place with a good Lutheran Church than to a place with a good University. It will be more important to get to church where God’s favour is given than to have special trips and unique experiences.
In everyone’s quest for what is truly wise unto salvation it will be important to consider what books we read, where we get our information, and how we prioritize it in relation to the gifts that God gives to His Church. May our quest for holiness take us always to Jesus and where He has promised to forgive. For true wisdom unto salvation is found in laying our sins before Him and finding favour with God in the gifts that He gives for our salvation.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.