Why do really smart people do really dumb things? With regularity, we’re shocked to hear of great men and women who have thrown away their lives with foolish actions or words. Sure, younger people can do some pretty stupid things like I did when I was in my teens. But, how is it that some who are older and, supposedly, wiser end up following the wrong people and worshiping the wrong things?
The greatest example of wasted wisdom is King Solomon of Israel. “God gave Solomon wisdom, very great insight, and understanding beyond measure” (1 Kings 4:29). Solomon composed 3,000 proverbs (Proverbs 1:1-7), wrote over a thousand songs (including Psalms and Song of Solomon), dissected biology, mediated personal conflicts, arbitrated injustice, and discerned between good and evil. During his lifetime, people came from everywhere on earth, sent by kings and queens, to listen to Solomon’s wisdom and stand in awe of his wealth (1 Kings 4:34). There was no one like him (2 Chronicles 9:22-23). Everyone wanted to be like him and be with him.
Tragically, “when Solomon was old, his wives seduced him to follow other gods…Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight and he did not completely follow the LORD….the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD God of Israel.” (1 Kings 11:4,6,9). As a result, his family fell apart and the kingdom of Israel was torn apart.
How could the wisest person who ever lived waste his life in the end? If it could happen to Solomon, then couldn’t it certainly happen to me.
How can I make sure that as I get older that I follow the Lord completely and whole heartedly? Here are some thoughts I’ve had after grieving Solomon’s demise and reflecting on his downfall.
Stay in the scriptures and in prayer to develop an ongoing relationship with God (Proverbs 1:1-7, 9:10, 14:26, 15:33, 22:4). Wisdom must be applied to life in dependence upon the Lord (Psalm 127:1, Proverbs 16:3). For all his wisdom, Solomon was seduced to follow other gods rather than stay true to the God who appeared to him — twice. Reading the Bible and talking with God is not just a matter of discipline or spirituality — it’s about a relationship with my Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer who loves me unconditionally, but cannot use me unconditionally. In order to finish well, I must actively and intentionally follow Jesus and obey Him.
Stay close to godly friends who will tell me the truth about myself. Who were the people in King Solomon’s life to remind him of God’s commands — especially about foreign women. Where were they when he needed them to counsel and correct him (Proverbs 11:14)? We all need friends who will speak the truth in love (Proverbs 27:6). We all need friends who will encourage us to keep going in pursuit of Jesus (Proverbs 17:17, Ecclesiastes 4:12). We all need friends who will keep a confidence (Proverbs 17:9). We need friends who will keep us grounded in Christlike humility. In order to have those kind of friends, I must first be that kind of friend. And the most important friendship for me as a married man is my wife (singular).
An accountability question that I try to regularly ask of my friends, co-workers, and other leaders is, “What do I need to know that I don’t know that you think or fear I don’t want to know?” In order to finish well, I must listen to godly friends who point me to Jesus and remind me of my humanity and my need for my Savior.
Stay away from foolish temptations that will lead me away from a life of integrity (Proverbs 2:10-19, 10:19). King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines who turned his heart away from the Lord. Solomon “loved” too many women. 999 too many. His heart was not completely with the LORD his God. It was his downfall. Satan’s time-proven tactic for trapping many really smart men and keeping them from finishing well is sexual immorality (Proverbs 5:3-6; 7:2-22). For men, careless eyes often leads to trouble. For women, is it careless words (Proverbs 14:1)? In order to finish well, you and I must avoid the situations and people who will seduce me to walk away from the Lord Jesus.
The heartbreaking part of Solomon’s story is that he knew what to do. He just didn’t do it. Near the end of his life, he wrote, “When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14)
In life, it’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish. In relationships, it’s not how you much you know, it’s how you use what you know. Biblical wisdom is applied knowledge. The wise put into practice skills for understanding and living a successful life with Jesus (John 15:4-5, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25).
As a husband and father, I’m concerned that I could throw away my relationships and influence. As a pastor and preacher, I’m terrified that I could encourage others in their race only to be disqualified in the end (1 Corinthians 10:12). Failure is not inevitable, but self-confidence could lead to a spiritual fall, as it did for Solomon, did so often in Israel’s history, and continues today. The temptations Solomon faced were not unique to him nor are they unique to us in this modern age. The Lord promises to give us grace to handle any temptation we might face as we keep our minds and hearts focused on Him (1 Corinthians 10:13). Solomon serves as a warning to us (Ecclesiastes 4:13): even really smart people can do really dumb things.
Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.