Trade Between Phoenicia and Israel

(The following article was first published in The Exhorter on January 16, 2022 at the Cedar Park Church of Christ. RTS, age 16)

It’s no secret that I love history and politics. One of the most fascinating aspects of the Bible, and in particular Old Testament history, is the geopolitical interactions between God’s people and other nations. One that I find interesting is in 1 Kings 5. In that chapter, Solomon communicates with Hiram, the king of Phoenicia on a trade agreement to construct the temple:

Then Solomon sent to Hiram, saying: ‘You know how my father David could not build a house for the name of the LORD his God because of the wars which were fought against him on every side, until the LORD put his foes under the soles of his feet. But now the LORD my God has given me rest on every side; there is neither adversary nor evil occurrence.  And behold, I propose to build a house for the name of the LORD my God, as the LORD spoke to my father David, saying, “Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, he shall build the house for My name.” Now therefore, command that they cut down cedars for me from Lebanon; and my servants will be with your servants, and I will pay you wages for your servants according to whatever you say. For you know there is none among us who has skill to cut timber like the Sidonians.’

So it was, when Hiram heard the words of Solomon, that he rejoiced greatly and said, ‘Blessed be the LORD this day, for He has given David a wise son over this great people!’ Then Hiram sent to Solomon, saying: ‘I have considered the message, which you sent me, and I will do all you desire concerning the cedar and cypress logs. My servants shall bring them down from Lebanon to the sea; I will float them in rafts by sea to the place you indicate to me, and will have them broken apart there; then you can take them away. And you shall fulfill my desire by giving food for my household.’”

Even the more overlooked passages in the Bible are often applicable not only to the overall storyline of the Bible, but to the modern day. For instance, this brief exchange highlights the state of diplomatic relations between the Israelites and Phoenicians. It is evident based on verse 3 of this passage that Phoenicia had very good relations with the Israelites. This would continue to affect the peace in the area for generations to come, as seen with Elijah’s travels to the region. (1 Kings 17:8-9) The actual trade agreement with the Phoenicians was also a notable steppingstone for the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, as the massive and plentiful cedar trees native to Phoenicia/Lebanon were necessary for the construction of the Temple.

Why does any of this matter today? Throughout most of the Old Testament, God would frequently reprimand Israel on their interactions with foreign lands such as allying with them or intermarrying with them. However, this interaction between Phoenicia and Israel is not explicitly condemned. I believe that an important modern application is that Christians should put some emphasis on maintaining relationships with non-Christians, while being careful to avoid their negative influence on us. This is necessary not only because every one of us lives in a society with non-Christians, but also that we should be focused on bringing these people to salvation through Christ.

A passage that highlights this point further is Matthew 5:16, which reads:

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

This is what Solomon did by his generous trade agreement (which, arguably, benefited the Phoenicians more than Israel, as evident by verse 7: “As soon as Hiram heard the words of Solomon, he rejoiced greatly and said, “Blessed be the Lord this day, who has given to David a wise son to be over this great people.”), and it also reinforces my previous point that we need to have positive and generous/giving relations with non-Christians. This is something that I believe we don’t emphasize enough in Christian circles. Oftentimes, the focus is on making stronger relationships with our fellow Christians, and while this is extremely beneficial to our own faith, it should never completely replace relationships with people who are not Christians. After all, how are we supposed to bring people to Christ without having any meaningful social interactions with them?

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6:9-10) This brief passage of scripture about the interaction between the Phoenicians and Israelites may not look like much on the surface, but 2 Tim 3:16 tells us that “All Scripture is … profitable for … training in righteousness,” so if analyzed further, application can be made on many other passages of the Bible as well. This should spur us on to study the Bible in more depth and to find every piece of detail that God has given us in His Word.

Hospitality, Straight from the Heart

(The following article was first published on Dec 22, 2019, at the Cedar Park Church of Christ. RTS, age 14)

Hospitality isn’t just a bachelor’s degree for hotel managers.  Christians are commanded to show hospitality in Romans 12:13, which reads: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality”.  Being “given to hospitality” – or being the type of person who regularly seeks to show hospitality to others – is a requirement of one who would like to be an elder someday. (Timothy 3:2) There are many, many examples of hospitality in the New Testament, from the saints at Puteoli (Acts 28) to the saints of Macedonia (2 Cor 8)

Traditionally, hospitality has meant “entertaining strangers”, or welcoming someone into your home for food or lodging.  Google defines modern hospitality as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers”.  That sounds like fun.  While these are a good start, hospitality is so much more!

Let’s first take a look at one of the most widely-know examples of hospitality in the Bible, the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:

“… ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.”  Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’  He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.’”

Obviously the priest and Levite are not good examples, but the Samaritan certainly is!

  1. As a Samaritan, he was considered scum-of-the-earth at that time. No one would dare help him, so why should he help others?  This entire story is outside the comfort zone of a Samaritan.
  2. He “saw him” and he “had compassion”. Noticing someone (like the priest & Levite did) and really SEEING someone (like the Samaritan did) are entirely different things.  Compassion is that inner drive that causes someone to truly WANT to help someone else.  He didn’t help out of obligation (refer to point number one).  He owed this man nothing.
  3. He rendered first aid, using his own supplies. He had a bit of oil and wine in his pack, but it was probably just enough for himself for his journey, and he probably planned to refill it for the return trip.  How did he bind the wounds?  We aren’t told, but it would likely be strips of cloth ripped from his own clothes.  He gave what he had, even the shirt off his back.
  4. He put the man on his own animal and carried him to an inn. That means he gave up his mode of transportation … his comfort … and he walked.
  5. When he got to the inn, he didn’t drop him off and walk away. The text says he cared for him.  He stayed the night, which means he was probably late for whatever appointment he was journeying to keep.  From the story’s description – multiple attackers who left the man for dead – it’s likely this man was knocked out, had open wounds, and had broken bones.  Perhaps he had a concussion and needed to be watched so not to vomit in his sleep and choke to death?  Someone needed to keep his wounds clean and re-dressed so they would not become infected.  He needed to be washed and re-clothed.
  6. The next day, he paid the innkeeper to continue the care of this man. The hard work had already been done.  This was just maintenance.  The man needed rest and food, and since he had been robbed when he was beaten, he had no way to pay for the services.  With the extent of his injuries, he probably needed help feeding and dressing himself for a few days.  The Samaritan, in addition to his supplies, his comfort, and his time, gave even more to help the stranger.  His first response wasn’t to throw money at the problem.  Money was the last thing he offered – and he offered it abundantly.  He gave what he had, and he promised to give even more when he returned… which means he promised to follow up on the man’s care as well.

How can we apply this example today?  We probably won’t have the opportunity to put an injured man on our donkey and go for a walk, right?  We can get out of our own comfort zones, though.

One way to show hospitality is to open up your home to others, even if the floor hasn’t been mopped and you only have a hodge-podge of leftovers to offer. This helps the ones you’ve invited, but it also encourages you with the bond of fellowship. In the beginning of the church (Acts 2:44-45), we’re told that they sold their belongings and distributed to those in need. If your house is too small to host a study or meal, go out to lunch or coffee.

Be helpful in everyday situations, both to Christians and to strangers. Carry a heavy load, mow someone’s lawn, donate money to toward a medical procedure, clean someone’s house, offer free babysitting to a young couple, make a meal, send a grocery gift card to a family who has lost a job, donate blood, tip well, and even clean up after your children in a busy restaurant.

Some things that you can do to be hospitable are much less obvious. Sometimes it simply means to pay attention to others around you. You can watch their moods and tell if something is wrong, which can often open the door to other opportunities.  Show up 10 minutes earlier to worship and stay 10 minutes longer so that you can greet more people.  “Greet” doesn’t just mean opening the door or saying hello.  It means, “How did your mom’s surgery go?”, or “I noticed your husband isn’t here today.  Can I sit with you and help you with your children during the sermon?”

Hospitality has much less to do with income and much more to do with effort.  It requires time and a willing heart.  Some final verses to consider are: Matthew 7:12 (do to others as you would have them do to you), Matthew 6:3 (don’t do things just to be noticed by others), and Eccl 9:10 (whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might).

Wealth, Power, and God

(The following article was first published on Aug 4, 2019, at the Cedar Park Church of Christ. RTS, age 13)

Wealth and power are very useful things to have on this side of eternity, but they can also be huge stumbling blocks. If you are educated enough to be reading this article, you have both wealth and power already. As I explain what I mean, I’ll also encourage you to use them for good.

Although people usually think about money when considering wealth, there are actually several types of wealth. The “money” type includes money and material possessions.  Other types include spiritual wealth (like the freedom of religion and the abundance of religious supply stores in America, for example), time wealth (we have more free time and opportunities than developing countries), and lastly, social wealth.

Social wealth includes all the resources available to meet your social and emotional needs, whether it’s friends, family, & co-workers, or phones, mail, & social media.  It somewhat equates to power of influence and popularity, and it can be used for both good and bad, just as the other types of power can be (but I’ll get to that in a moment).

In 1st Kings chapter 5, Solomon and Hiram, the king of Phoenicia, make a trade deal. Solomon uses his vast stores of food wealth to buy cedar, stone, labor, and many other resources from the king of Phoenicia. Solomon then uses these resources to build the temple in Jerusalem. This was a massive undertaking, unlike anything that the people had seen, and it is an example of how wealth can be used for God’s glory. Wealth is not inherently evil, although several New Testament scriptures warn about its destructive power (Mk 10:25; 1st Tim 6:10).

As I mentioned earlier, there are various types of power.  First, let’s look at coercion power, in which people are forced to submit to a person or group because of a threat to life or property.  An example of this is the ten plagues brought upon Egypt, beginning in Exodus 7. God used coercion to attempt to get Pharaoh to release the Israelites from Egypt.  Pharaoh thought of himself as a god on an equal plane with Jehovah, so he did not yield until he could no longer resist the destruction brought on by God’s plagues.

Another example of coercive power is seen when the government was against the spread of the Gospel in the first century.  The church in Smyrna was told, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev 2:10).  Even today, Christians around the world are faced with death because of their faith.

We must never give into coercive efforts to derail our faith, but we must also never coerce someone into doing something sinful, and we should never be a stumbling block to a weaker Christian.

Another type of power is reward power, which just means using a type of reward to get someone to do what you want.  This could be illustrated by an employer/employee relationship, or by God’s promises to help his people (the walls of Jericho didn’t fall down by themselves!), but it can also be something sinister like a bribe.  Judas was rewarded with 30 pieces of silver for his assistance in the arrest of Jesus.

On an interesting note, many of God’s commands are both coercive and reward based. If Noah followed the command of God, his family would be saved by the ark, but if he didn’t, they would die.  If we follow God’s commands, we will be saved by the blood of Jesus, but if we don’t, we will also die.

Probably the most commonly thought of type of power is official power. This is power you get when you hold a government office, become an elder, or own a company. Even teachers, parents, and babysitters have this kind of power. This kind of power can be very destructive, because people are often willing to blindly follow official powers.  Ephesians 6:1 tells children to “obey your parents in the Lord”.  In other words, obey all the time, unless they tell you something that is against God’s will.

Finally, a lesser-recognized type of power is the power of knowledge.  Some people have great knowledge in a specific area of study (like a brain surgeon), some have a lifetime of wisdom, and some simply know the WiFi password or the location of your car keys. Having people like this in your life is a blessing, but again, we must be careful who we follow.  An older Christian could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and an older child could influence a younger child to walk down the wrong path. (Mt 7:15; 1st Jn 4:1; 2nd Pet 2:1)

James 1:16-17 says, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

Wealth and power are gifts from God, and we should appreciate them greatly.  However, we must be cautious in how we use them. How will YOU use them?

Evangelism Is for All

(The following article was first published on May 19th, 2019, at the Cedar Park Church of Christ. RTS, age 13)

Evangelism is arguably the most important aspect in the life of a Christian. Evangelism, however, is not solely the responsibility of elders and preachers. A quick Google search gives the definition of evangelism as, “the spreading of the Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness.” Evangelism should reach all, and all Christians should take part in the effort.

Scripture commands evangelism.  In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gives His last words to his disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (ESV)

God wants all people to be saved, and He is being patient with those who are still lost (2 Pet 3:9), but He won’t wait forever.  If we are to reach the whole world, we must start with the people we know and those we encounter during our daily lives.

Evangelism works as a chain. One person teaches another person, and then the person who was taught can now bring the gospel to other people they know. Each time you or I are presented with an opportunity and do not take it, we are breaking the chain.  How many others could have been saved down the line?

There are several useful strategies for evangelizing.  Here are just a few of my thoughts:

Talk to people who are already religious. In Acts 17, Paul notices the religion of the Athenians and begins to preach the gospel to them.  The “god” they did not know was “the God” of heaven, creation, and salvation.

Simply explain the plan of salvation to people.  In Acts 8, Phillip teaches the Ethiopian eunuch what he did not understand about Jesus. Phillip then went on to explain what he needed to be saved. If the people who we are trying to teach do not know what to do, how can they be saved?  We might not be as knowledgeable as Brother So-and-So, but if we have been saved, we can tell others what we did to become saved.

Use evidence from the Scriptures.  Scripture must always be used within context, and it is important to know how a verse was used at the time it was written. Who was the author, and who was the audience?  There once was a daily scripture calendar with a quote from the book of Matthew, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” It sounds inspiring, doesn’t it?  However, the quote came from chapter 4, and it was a temptation spoken by Satan to Jesus.  It doesn’t sound so inspiring anymore, does it? We must be careful when proving matters of salvation and authority.

Study the word yourself.  The calendar illustration brings me to my next point. Study habits are an absolute must if we are trying to teach others. Timothy was instructed in 1 Tim. 2:15 to be diligent in his efforts to “rightly divide” the word of truth.  Diligence implies an ongoing, concerted effort, not a one-time “open your Bible where it falls and read a few verses” type of study.

Keep on keeping on. In 1 Pet 3:13-17, Peter explains that we will be met with those who do not want to hear the truth, and that we must be prepared to answer those who question our faith. “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (ESV)

When religion comes up in casual conversation, seize the opportunity to teach. Often the best opportunities for evangelism come up at unexpected times. That is why we must be ready at all times! However, if we spring upon an opportunity like this, we may not recall everything we need to know. In that case, my personal suggestion is to arrange a time with that person to discuss whatever subject came up, and then do research on the topic before you meet again.  That way, you’ll be ready the next time the opportunity comes up with another person.  The more often we do this, the less often we’ll have to reschedule to have time to come up with the right words to say.  The best time to teach someone is always “now.”

Learn from others’ experience.  Is someone else already doing Bible studies with others?  Ask if you can tag along. Watching how a brother or sister teaches others can help you develop your own knowledge base and strategy for teaching as well. “…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Tim 4:2-4 ESV)

The greatest thing we can do in this life is bring a soul to Christ. No matter what personal suffering or even inconvenience it might cause, it will reap eternal benefits for you and for others.

How to Be a Living Sacrifice

(The following article was published at the Cedar Park Church of Christ on April 1st, 2018. RTS, age 12)

As Christians, we must be a living sacrifice, as commanded in Romans 12:1-2 (ESV), where it says,

“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.”

But what is a sacrifice, and how do we become one?

Vine’s Dictionary describes sacrifice as the act of offering something, which is usually a life.  There are many examples of sacrifice throughout the Bible, some of which were pleasing to God and others that were not.  Pleasing examples include: Abel’s animal offering (Gen 4), Abraham’s offering of Isaac (Gen 22), and when Jesus offered Himself (all four gospels).  Bad examples include: Cain’s offering from the ground (Gen 4), Saul’s unlawful sacrifice (1 Sam 13), and the offerings of the people in the book of Malachi (vs. 6-14).

What do the pleasing examples of sacrifice all have in common? They were all offered in faith, in the correct way, and they were the best that was available.  Look at the bad examples, though.  Cain’s offering wasn’t done in faith, Saul’s offering was done incorrectly, and the people in the book of Malachi were going through the motions with a lazy and cast-off attitude.

Each of these sacrifices involved a death, so what is a living sacrifice? Going back to the text in Romans 12:1, we are told to present our bodies.  Verse 2 describes how to do that by telling us to transform ourselves by the renewing of our minds. I can think of three easy ways to start the transformation process – study our Bibles (2 Tim. 2:15), pray about it (Js 1:5), and surround ourselves with other Christians (1 Cor. 15:33).

Romans 12:2 also says that we are not to be conformed to this world.  That means we cannot desire to be like the world.  Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  Each day, I must compare what I want to do with what God wants me to do. Selfishness cannot win if I am denying myself of worldly temptations.

The only way to truly be a living sacrifice is to do it continuously.  If you’re continuously living in a sacrificial way, you will be rewarded.  This can be seen clearly throughout the Old and New Testaments (Is 40:30-31 and 2 Tim. 4:7-8), but especially in 1 Cor 15:57-58, But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

In short, put God first, and keeping on putting God first.