I recently came across this trust “traffic–light system”, which I think is helpful:
- Red: I do not trust you. You need to work to earn my trust.
- Orange: I sort of trust you, and try to give you the benefit of the doubt. Prove me right.
- Green: I trust you in a robust way, and my trust will not be easily eroded.
Trust is there in the background of all our relationships. We can move between red, orange, and green at any time. I think the analogy is helpful because it makes clear that trust is not a black and white thing; it’s graded, and can grow stronger and weaker. Trust is something that can be both earned and lost.
The importance of trust
Trust matters for healthy marriages, families, neighbourhoods, and employment. It’s really important in church too. Distrust can stop the church playing the role in our lives that it ought to.
For example, the Bible tells us to confess our sins to one another (1 John 1:9; James 5:16). Jesus encourages us to “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7), bringing our sin out into the open, in order to deal with it. But in order to do that with others, it takes a lot of trust.
“What will they think of me?”
“How will they handle this information I share?”
“Will they use it against me? Will they think worse of me?”
This is made harder if the person you’re opening up to is from a different class, ethnic background, or upbringing to you. “Do I trust these people who are different to me?” There aren’t quick and easy ways to win people’s trust or know if someone is trustworthy.
The relief of trust
It is a great thing to bring our sin into the light. Others cannot bear your burdens if you won’t honestly share them (Gal 6:2). A lot of us at church are wearing masks, under which there’s a lot of pain. The gospel of Jesus really does allow us to open up, and admit our sin and shame, in order for it to be forgiven and dealt with by Jesus. In the church, our shame (Rom 6:21) is replaced with glory (Rom 5:2).
Sin loves to isolate us and keep us in the dark; it makes us very lonely, and cuts us off from others, hiding in the bushes. “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (Prov 18:1). When we trust Jesus, he pushes us towards trusting others.
The abuse of trust
But trust is complicated. The Bible tells us not to put our trust in “man” or in “princes”.
Psa. 118:8-9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.
Psa. 146:3 Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
God is the only one we’re to trust absolutely. He alone is always on the green light! “In God we trust; for everyone else there’s checks and balances!”. This is as true in church life as political life. You should not trust me absolutely. Church ministers and elders can abuse their position of trust. Maybe you’ve had someone break your trust. It’s why we use the phrase: “Once bitten, twice shy”. So, it can be hard to open up about what’s really going inside.
The growth of trust
But, whatever your experience in the past, “men who are trustworthy” do exist (Exodus 18:21)! “Faithful men” do exist (2 Tim 2:2)! One of the fruit of the Spirit is “faithfulness”. Let me encourage you that thanks to Jesus Christ your trust in others can grow. It should not be complete trust; it will not be absolute trust, but it will be real trust. You can be convinced that these are my brothers and sisters who want my good in Jesus, who won’t excuse my sin, or sweep it under the carpet, but nor will they judge me for it, but bring it to the cross of Christ where it can be dealt with.
For you to experience the blessing of the body of Christ will take trusting not only Jesus, but one another in his church. Where there are currently red lights, think through what it would take to change to orange lights. And where they’re orange, think and pray how we can get to green.