Establishing Trust – Part I

The Scripture commands us to love others and love one another. Is this the same as trusting others and trusting one another? In Matthew 5:44, Jesus commands his disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Luk 6:27,35). Does loving our enemies mean trusting them?

It is naïve to think that we should trust our enemies. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus sent his disciples into danger. He exhorts them to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” The author of Proverbs said that “the prudent gives thought to his steps” (14:15). When the prudent sees danger, he hides himself. The simple (naïve) goes on and suffers for it (22:3; 27:12). Thus, loving your enemies does not mean trusting them.


Competence, Character and Confidentiality

While it makes sense not to trust those who seek to harm us, how about our family, friends, professionals in different guilds and others? Again, it would be naïve to trust everyone in these categories equally. From our experiences, we know that we trust some family members or friends more than others. The level of trust depends on our encounter with them whether good or bad. With professionals, we trust those who are more experience or more skilful than those who are less experience except when they provided bad services.

From our experiences with family, friends, professional and others, we learn how to trust people. It is natural that we trust people whom we consider trustworthy. What does trustworthy mean? The following is not an exhaustive and comprehensive list of what constitutes trustworthiness.

First, trustworthy individuals are competence in their fields of expertise. We consider those who have received training in their fields as trustworthy. In the areas of their expertise, we trust doctors, accountants, engineers, lawyers, educators, car mechanics, electricians, pumpers, money brokers, economists and others for their advices and services. When there is a need for a second opinion, we look for experts in the same field to evaluate. However, we will trust them less when they are advising outside of their fields of expertise.

Second, trustworthy individuals have good character. While different people have different standards, there are at least three common qualities that most would agree as good character. One common quality is being sincere, truthful and honest in their dealings. When people demonstrate such quality, we will gravitate toward trusting them. When we suspect that someone is insincere or untruthful or dishonest, we will trust them less. This applies to experts, and also to friends and family relationship. We will be cautious in trusting them.

Another quality is a gentle tongue. The author of Proverbs says “A gentle tongue is a tree of life” (15:4a). Such a person will not use words that cut but words that bring healing (12:18). A gentle tongue will ponder how to answer others (15:28a). Such a tongue will restrain itself (10:19). It will not belittle others (11:12). This person builds up and gives grace to the listeners (16:24; cf. Eph 4:29).

One more quality is a discerning ear. The author of Proverbs says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (18:13). In hearing, it is more than hearing the sound. It means seeking to understand what has been heard before speaking. It is being slow to anger over what has been said even if it is an insult (14:29; 12:16). It is restraining oneself from expressing one’s own opinion when an understanding is lacking (17:27; 18:2). It is being impartial toward what one hears until it being investigated (18:17; 14:15). It will give careful consideration in how to respond (14:8,15).

These three qualities of good character are what we look for in people whom we trust. When such qualities are lacking, we will withhold or reduce our trust. When we see a person being consistent in demonstrating such qualities, we will increase our trust over time. Thus, we trust people whom we recognize as having trustworthy character.

Third, trustworthy individuals maintain confidentiality in other’s personal matter. The author of Proverbs warns against breaking confidentiality. It can separate close friends (16:28). Sometime it is unintentional. During a discussion or debate, confidential personal matter is leaked (25:9). Whether it is intentional or unintentional, the effect may be destructive (17:9; 18:8, 21). If a person regularly leaks others’ confidential information, this person’s trustworthiness will come to ruin (13:3, 18:7).

On the other hand, a person who is able to keep secrets will have no trouble with people (21:23). Such a person will restrain oneself from commenting on others’ personal problems so as to avoid the transgression of leak (10:19; 12:13). When being asked by others about another person’s problem, the same person will ponder how to answer without leaking confidential matter (15:28). Such a person is providing covers with love over others especially when some personal offenses are involved (10:12; 11:13; 17:9).

Why do we trust people? We trust individuals because they are competence in what they do, have good character and maintain confidentiality in other’s personal matter. Our trust will go up when they are consistent in their competence, character and confidentiality. Our trust goes down when they repeatedly disappoint us. This is how we learn to trust others.


Are We Trustworthy as a Congregation?

If this is how we trust others, how about others trusting us? We will explore this question at two levels. First, do people trust you as an individual? Second, do people trust us as a congregation? These two questions are different yet related to one another.

If each of us becomes more trustworthy as we consistently demonstrate our competency, good character and maintain confidentiality in other’s personal matter, there will be more trustworthy individuals in the congregation. When more and more among us can be trusted by others, the trustworthy profile of the congregation will increase. It is important that each of us become individuals whom others can trust. They may then share their problems with us. Thus, there is a correlation between the two questions.

Although there is a correlation between individuals and congregation’s trustworthiness, the correlation is not a simple linear equation. While we may have many trustworthy individuals, the congregation as a whole may be deemed as untrustworthy due to the diverse degrees of trustworthiness among members. The trustworthiness profile of a congregation is tied to the least trustworthy individuals and will not rise above the most trustworthy individuals. Thus, the trustworthiness of a congregation does not depend totally on individuals who are trustworthy.

There is a need to put in place congregational practices to increase the trustworthiness of the congregation so that we may become a safe place for ourselves and outsiders to share. While we do not expect all individuals to share their needs publicly, our congregation must be a safe haven for people to share their struggles. What are some congregational practices?

Due to space’s constraint, this article will look at only two practices. More will be discussed in the next article. First, we should avoid discussing in public gatherings the struggles or problems of other individuals. It should not be made into a prayer request unless prior permission is sought from the individual concern. If there is no permission, we should not mention the problem of the individual in public.

When we talk publicly about another individual’s struggle, we may unwittingly label the individual as “spiritually weak,” “irregular,” “troublesome,” “unwise,” “uncommitted” or “problematic” in the minds of the listeners. Sometime listeners may continue to use such labels on the individual even after the original struggle has been resolved. Depending on the spiritual maturity of listeners, some may react negatively toward this individual by excluding this person from their group. Others may exaggerate what they heard to another group of listeners (Pro 26:22). Soon the actual problem becomes distorted by words of mouth.

When this individual comes to know that others are talking behind their back, the individual may feel embarrass or angry that others are gossiping about them. It may also lead to conflict between the individual and others over this matter (Pro 26:20). This would erode the individual’s trust toward the congregation because we are talking about their problem in a public gathering without their permission.

A better approach is to ask the individual to consider sharing their problem with others. If the individual is willing to share but not able to do so personally, it is better to ask permission first before sharing on their behalf. When sharing on behalf of the individual, the sharing should be brief without exaggeration (Pro 10:19). If permission is not sought, it is better to remain silent.

Second, we should avoid asking each other for an update about another individual’s problem. The same difficulties as mentioned above can occur also. The danger of distortion is still real. In addition, it is unhealthy to single out an individual as a topic of discussion in any big or small group gatherings. Nobody like to be in the limelight especially when he or she is struggling.

If we are concern about the individual’s wellbeing, we should directly approach the individual concern. If this is not possible, it is better to hold our peace and wait for the individual to publicly update the congregation. In this way, the individual will not feel that others are gossiping behind their back. This will build trust toward the congregation.

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