There is always a problem of lost children - and plans to make sure it doesn't happen! I have seen a whole group of children faithfully holding onto a white cord and following the adult who has the other end.
Each child is responsible to hold on. The adult has to make sure they do - and lead the whole group to the right destination. That is not always an easy task. The group has to stay together. Each child must hold the cord. The adult must be sure it will be so, even while concentrating on avoiding pedestrian bottle-necks and focusing on the way ahead. There must be agreement about the destination and acceptance of the leader's authority.
Last week we heard Paul point us to some of the consequences that must flow from our relationship with Christ. " through Christ God has forgiven us. So all bitterness, passion, anger, shouting, insults or any other hateful feelings are to be replaced by kindness, tender-heartedness and forgiveness."
In Ephesians 5 Paul goes on to say that we have become the Lord's people - we "belong to the light". "So," he says, "you must live like people who belong to the light" (v. 8).
Today we have read about the beginning of King Solomon's reign.
Leadership is important in the Body of Christ. We thought about that two weeks ago - "he appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers. He did this to prepare all God's people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ" (Eph. 4.11b-12).
We are ourselves directly responsible for how we live. Each of us has a direct relationship to God in Christ. This is the relationship that leads to interrelatedness within the Body of Christ. Yet there is leadership in the Church to equip and coordinate the life of the Body. It is a serious matter indeed if this leadership were to attempt to move the Body in a way that is out of harmony with the mind of the Head.
David had died and the rule over Israel had passed into the hand of his son Solomon. Solomon began with real promise. "Solomon loved the Lord and followed the instructions of his father David, but he also slaughtered animals and offered them as sacrifices on various altars" (1 Kings 3.3). There is, of course, the qualification "but he also slaughtered animals and offered them as sacrifices on various altars". During the period of the Judges the Israelites adopted the Canaanite custom of offering sacrifices at high places. These were on hilltops and other elevations. The pagan Canaanites felt that the closer they got to heaven the more likely was the possibility that their prayers and offerings would reach their gods. Offering sacrifices at places other than the tabernacle was prohibited in the Law (Lev. 17.3-4). Yet this practice continued in Israel at this time, even by Solomon. In general, Solomon was careful to follow in David's godly footsteps thus demonstrating his love for the Lord.
In particular, Solomon had offered hundreds of burnt offerings at Gibeon "where the most famous altar was." Gibeon was about 8 km north-west of Jerusalem. It was the site of an ancient Gibeonite shrine which had become a shrine to the Lord perhaps as early as the conquest period (cf. Josh. 9.23, 29) and certainly by the time of the judges (cf. 1 Sam. 7.5; 10.17). After the destruction of Shiloh and before the Temple was built, the meeting tent seems to have been kept there. Solomon offered sacrifices there, even before offering them in front of the Ark in Jerusalem.
On one such occasion, the Lord appeared to him in a dream. "What would you like me to give you?" This is not some Alladin rubbing his lamp to bring out an obedient genie. Here is a young king knowing very much his need of God's presence, guidance and blessing. And here is the Lord himself, God of heaven and earth, with a generous offer, "What would you like me to give you?"
George Washington, the first President of the United States of America, said, "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible".
What would you have asked for? Of course, the Lord hasn't said to Solomon, "I am your obedient servant. Ask whatever you will and I will give it to you." In a sense the question probes the character and integrity of Solomon.
Solomon recognises that God's great love for David has come because of David's faithful response to God - "he was good, loyal and honest in his relations with you". Solomon knows the Lord has given David a son to rule in his place. However, he sees all too well that "I am very young and don't know how to rule" (literally, "I am a young or insignificant boy"), and that the chosen people are so numerous (vv. 6-8).
"So give me the wisdom I need to rule your people with justice and to know the difference between good and evil" (v. 9a). Literally he asks for a "hearing heart" - tuned to the voice of God so he could lead Israel as God would want the nation to be led. And he acknowledges his dependence on God by referring to himself as God's servant - literally he says, "So give your servant a hearing heart to judge your people in order to discern between good and evil."
Solomon places the good of God's people above his personal peace or prosperity and above any desire to become a powerful and popular king. From God's perspective his priorities are in the right place. Therefore God promises to give him what he has requested. He will have wisdom (a hearing heart) more than any one else and he will be able to discern and rule justly.
Since Solomon has sought what is most important, God also promises to give him what is of secondary importance - riches and honour - to further enable him to govern God's people effectively. Solomon is to be the richest and most honoured king of his day. If Solomon remains faithful to pursue the will of God, obeying his laws and commands, God promises he will also live a long life (vv.11-14).
What more could anyone want? And yet Solomon, great and celebrated as his reign came to be, did want more. Foreign marriages brought foreign religions, and the king compromised the convictions which he had expressed in his dedicatory prayer for the Temple (8.23,27) - he mixed worship of the Lord with the worship of foreign gods to placate his wives. This violent breach of Israel's covenant could not go unpunished. Though judgment was stayed during Solomon's lifetime for David's sake, the seeds of dissatisfaction sown among the people by Solomon's harsh policies of taxation and forced labour were to bear bitter fruit during the reign of his son and successor, Rehoboam (11.1-13).
What is wisdom? As Solomon wrote in Proverbs, "To be wise you must first have reverence for the Lord. If you know the Holy One, you have understanding." (Prov. 9.10). That was the secret of Solomon's positive beginning. When he began to be too independent and complacent about his wisdom and cleverness, the seeds of trouble were sown.
A prominent American who was visiting Argentina was asked by the president of the republic, "Why has South America gotten on so poorly and North America so well? What do you think is the reason?" The visitor replied, "I think the reason is found in the fact that the Spaniards came to South America seeking gold, while the Pilgrim Fathers came to North America seeking God." The hazard for North America is that for so many people gold has now become far more important than God!
Through Christ God has forgiven you. That central relationship must now flow into every part of our life. We now belong to the light and must live like people who belong to the light.
Our leaders, in church and community, need the wisdom that comes from a vital relationship to God in Christ - a "hearing heart", attuned to the presence, grace and will of God.
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