by Dr. David R. Van Horn
Marshall Ministerial Alliance
One of the questions that is becoming more a mater of concern all the time is this one -- who can I trust? We live in a strange world. Did you know that you can now buy trust in a bottle? All of you aspiring politicians listen up ... all you who want to win over a member of the "fairer sex"... all of you who have a questionable product to sell to an unsuspecting public. A New York City lab claims to have put trust in a bottle. According to their ads, "After showering in the morning simply spray a squirt or two of odorless Liquid Trust into your skin, and then people you meet during the next few hours will trust you without their knowing why they trust you." By the way, they are selling it for $50 per bottle.
Trust is one of the most important issues with which all of us have to deal. It affects our life as people, if affects our life together as families, it affects our individual happiness. Surveys today indicate that trust for other people and trust for institutions is at an all-time low.
Some of you may remember when the journalist and television anchor Walter Cronkite was often referred to as "The most trusted man in America." In this day and age, in a culture that is politically, racially, economically and in countless other ways divided and polarized, trust is not an abundant commodity. For example, I remember growing up hearing the phrases, "you can trust the financial community" in the saying "if you can't trust your bank, who can you trust?" "If you can't trust Wall Street, what hope is there?"
How about the press? A recent Gallup Public Confidence poll revealed that only 29 percent of Americans express a great deal of confidence in newspapers. It was 51 percent in 1959.
What about government, particularly the Congress? Here's a shocker: even scientists are suspect nowadays, as the controversy over climate change would seem to indicate. People nowadays don't trust their doctors, their bankers, or, I hate to say it -- even their clergy. Trust in friendships, the economy, products, government, religion and science -- all has declined. This is a big deal! Our world was designed to run on trust.
Trust is essential in everything we do. We trust other drivers on the road to stop when the light turns red. We trust the builders of bridges to get it right when they build a long span across a wide waterway. We trust doctors to be accurate in their diagnosis and the hospital to provide the equipment and the sterile environment we need to survive a disease. We have to trust the banks, the government says, even Wall Street to guard our funds for the declining years.
Trust is a very big deal. It is a fact that the happiest countries are the countries in which people feel they can trust their government, trust their social institutions and trust their neighbors.
It is evident that one problem the Apostle Paul had at the beginning of his ministry was that many in the early church did not trust him. In Galatians 1:11-24, some in Galatia had questions about Paul's credentials. They challenged his authority as a church leader and raised doubts about the authority of his calling. Paul was trying to assert the validity of his apostleship. After all, he recognizes that his background and his past could possibly raise reasonable questions. The apostles chosen by Jesus before his crucifixion had the advantage of being people who actually walked and talked to Jesus. Paul had come along and announced his apostleship well after Christ's death, and after his notorious past as a persecutor of Christians. "Who is this man?" Where is he coming from, and why should we trust him?
It took time for Paul to win people's trust, as he was not accepted immediately. What did Paul do? He traveled for three years. he traveled. Then he returned to Jerusalem. Possibly that is why Paul's missionary journeys were extensive, for it gave time for people in the various areas to know him, and so they would not hold his past against him. That happens even in the church. We have trouble accepting people who have done wrong, even when they are sincerely penitent. As someone has said, "We are the only army that shoots its wounded." When Paul wrote those words in Galatians, it may have been 20 years after his conversion experience. But, still, even after that time, there were people who did not trust him, even after 20 years of ministry.
The long and the short of it is that the New Testament Church had the same problem many of us have. We accept forgiveness that God offers us, but it's difficult to apply that same forgiveness to others. And, even if we do say that we forgive those who have hurt or betrayed us, we vow never to trust them again.
Paul understood this. He is very transparent about his past. He had done wrong in his prior life of persecuting the early church. There was only one way he could win back their trust and that was to live a Christ-like life from that day forward. And he did! That is the only way any of us who have done wrong can ever really make things right. This is to make a new start with God's help.
Paul's life was an open book. Once he had been Saul who persecuted the church; now he was Paul who preached the Gospel, and everyone who got to know him could tell that he was not the same man he had been. This is how you rebuild the bonds of trust -- forgiveness and repentance -- becoming a new person in Christ.