Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1382
January 27, 2019 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“A Listening Heart”
What Shall I Give You?
Imagine for a moment that you are given three wishes! That’s the old tale of the genie from the lamp. I remember seeing Aladdin stories when I was a kid, old black and white movies that told of three wishes and of course the imagination begins to kick in and all kinds of wishes come to mind. With our children it was the colorful animated Disney version of Aladdin and Robin Williams voicing the genie.
Solomon had the opportunity of a lifetime. It came in a dream. The Bible has some amazing dream stories. Solomon, Joseph, and others have amazing encounters with God or angels in dreams. In today’s age of skepticism we would probably dismiss such dreaming. But the Bible takes them seriously. I’m not sure how to take dreams since I usually forget them shortly after I wake up. Solomon has this dream where he is asked an amazing question. What shall I give you? What do you want? Make a wish! Well, it is more than a wish. This is not a fantasy genie story; this is the Lord of all creation. This is the God who creates from nothing. This is the God who calls all things into existence (Rom 4.17). What shall I give you?
Imagine what you might ask God to do. We know what Solomon asked for – understanding, discernment, obedience – various translations bring various thoughts. Would we take a lesson from Solomon? Is this just wishful thinking, like a genie in a bottle? Before we dismiss Solomon’s dream as a one off opportunity, consider other texts where we are challenged to believe big with what God might give us.
Matthew 7.7-11 7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Jesus is calling us to ask of God. Is this not the same opportunity given to Solomon. Ask what you will of God? What shall I give you? Ask, and it will be given. Seek, you will find. Knock, the door opens. How much more will God give good things to those who ask him! Of course, we know this is not free reign on what to ask. There are reasonable faithful considerations with God. God has not yet given me a million dollars or even a Ferrari. But then again, I would probably need a million to begin to afford a car like that. But I know better than to ask in the first place. This is why God was pleased with Solomon’s desire. Solomon does not ask anything out of God’s will, out of God’s own wisdom.
10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, 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. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. 14 And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”
Let me suggest one other text as well from James:
James 1.5-8 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Lacking wisdom – there is a Bible approved request! Solomon asked for wisdom. We too can ask for wisdom and God will give generously. God, give us a listening heart.
What the Lord Has Already Done
Solomon was already very discerning even before he asked God for understanding. Notice what Solomon does first after asked what he would want from God.
6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. 7 And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude.
The first thing he does is recognize what God has already done. First, God has shown great and steadfast love. It is a deep love, one that too many people dismiss from the Old Testament. This is the love of John 3.16, the love that is of God from the beginning to the end. God has shown David, Solomon’s father His steadfast love and God kept this love going throughout David’s life and even into Solomon’s life. Second, God has chosen a people. Verse 8 notes that Solomon is in the midst of God’s great chosen people. It is God who chooses and God who loves.
What might God do for us? Perhaps before we consider what we might ask of God, we might look back and see what God has already done. All that God has done culminates in the gift of Jesus Christ who came to save us. God’s love, just as it was revealed to David and Solomon, has been made manifest to us through the gift of God’s Son. God so loved the world…
Secondly, God has chosen His people. God has expanded beyond His chosen Israel and chosen peoples from all the nations. Gentiles and Jews are chosen as God’s own, Jesus’ own. We acknowledge that God has loved with a steadfast love and God has chosen with a steadfast grace.
A Listening Heart
Solomon asks for an understanding mind as it is rendered in the ESV. Other translations use a variety of terms. The literal translation is closest to “listening heart”. The word for listening is Shema, which is the same word used in the great Hebrew Shema, “Hear, O Israel…” from Deuteronomy 6.4. Remember that Shema in Hebrew means to hear and obey. Solomon is asking God for the capacity to govern by listening with the heart. The Hebrew is Shema Labe. Shema - to listen, labe - the heart. The Hebrew word is about the heart or the inner man, the mind, or the will. This is the kind of listening that carries the weight of obedience. It is a listening that brings with it understanding to direct the will. Solomon seeks to rule with God’s heart, with God’s wisdom, with obedience, with rightful hearing, with a particular discernment. What he asks carries with it many of those attributes that make for a great king and a great servant. Solomon seeks to be a king who governs with the capacity to hear his people, to know them, to seriously feel their pain and celebrate their joy. He wants to discern God’s will, to listen for God’s voice, to obey God’s will, and have an understanding in order to do his best at his position.
Just imagine if our public officials sought to govern as Solomon did! What a great nation we would indeed be if all our representatives sought a listening heart. But this request is not just for kings and officials and leaders. It is for every believer. This is the similar consideration in Romans 12.1-2, to present ourselves to God and renew the mind in order that we might discern God’s perfect will.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
This is a call to practice wisdom, to practice a listening heart in the act of sacrifice, spiritual worship, transformation of the mind, and discernment. The purpose is to discern the will of God. This too was Solomon’s desire, to govern by God’s will.
1 Kings 3.8 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”
Let me suggest a few things we can consider in relationship to 1 Kings.
First, Solomon’s request can also become our prayer request. It need not remain only the petition of a king. A listening heart is a much needed and much welcomed gift for all of God’s people. We have much to discern in our time. Issues of the day in the world are disturbing and sometimes complex. There is one place and one God to whom we must turn first, the God of the Bible. We first pray to God for discernment, for the heart and mind that listens to God’s word and in that Word which we trust as the final authority on all things. Whether the Bible speaks directly to an issue or gives us a general understanding of right and wrong about issues not directly covered in the Bible, we know that this Word is the authority for our life and faith and discernment.
Second, we can foster the kind of lifestyle that makes us more receptive to a listening heart. The listening heart is a disposition about life that knows the importance of silence, of hearing, of paying close attention, something like renewing the mind. It is the heart that loves God wholly and completely. It is a listening that is obedient and attuned to God’s Word. Jesus said it this way,
Listening is not about hearing an audible voice, but it is about paying attention to the Words of Christ, the Words of God throughout the Bible. It is not just hearing it but doing it. Hear and obey. This means giving ourselves over to God’s Word in complete submission. This is the statement of the first line of the EPC Essentials of Faith: “All Scripture is self-attesting and being Truth, requires our unreserved submission in all areas of life. First, pray. Second, submission.
Third, take up the sword of truth. We might narrow this to the one word – discern. Of course we look to Ephesians 6.17, “take...the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Discernment has become so vital to the decisions we are called to make in our modern world. It’s always been that way as the world and Satan have always sought to influence believers in the way apart from God and His Word. Take up the Word of God first and foremost. This is how God answers our prayer for a listening heart. HE HAS GIVEN HIS WORD! He has revealed Himself to us, revealed His Son, revealed His Spirit. Part of knowing that God has already given us a listening heart is in understanding the Bible. Does the gospel make sense to you? Does most of the Bible make sense to you? Yes, for the most part, certainly the saving gospel makes sense to us or we would not be here right now. It makes sense to you. You know it is truth. And you know it is truth because the Spirit has opened your listening heart to believe.
1 Corinthians 2.12-16
12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
This, my friends, is the listening heart given to Solomon and now given to us. With such a heart, we can overcome the noise of our life. We can silence the voices of this culture that would draw us away from God’s ways. Or if not silence them, at least learn to discern the One Voice to whom wee are called to listen and obey, the voice of God.
PRAY – OBEY – DISCERN. This is the evidence and the obedience of a listening heart. Make this your prayer today, that God would give you a listening heart that you may be able to discern between good and evil, to discern the will of God, to know what is good and acceptable and perfect. Amen.