I can imagine the conversation Paul must have had when he came to Jerusalem after he had been secreted out of Damascus by being let down over the wall at night. Paul had been out of circulation for about three years and this was his first visit back to Jerusalem since his Damascus road experience.
Imagine him coming to the gate at Jerusalem and approaching members of the early church. The conversation might have gone a bit like this.
Paul: Hi brother! My name is Paul
Bro: Hi there. Paul? Paul? Do I know you?
Paul: Well I used to be called Saul but I haven’t been around for a few years.
Bro: Changed your name eh? Not a bad idea with all these Pharisees looking to lock us Christians up. Hold on…did you say your name was Saul?
Paul: Used to be but I’m a changed man now!
Bro (to wife): Hey Martha, wasn’t there a guy named Saul a ways back who was public enemy number one to us Christians? Dragging our friends off to prison and didn’t he even consent to stoning that Stephen fellow? Really lovely guy that Stephen was too!
Wife: Yes, that’s right. Last I heard he went to Damascus…and good riddance I say!
Bro: You can say that again! He was one bad dude! Where are you from Paul?
Bro (suspiciously): You’re that Saul guy aren’t you! Think you can sneak in among us Christians as a spy and change your name to entrap us eh? Why don’t you beat it…or else!
Paul: No, no, no! You don’t understand. I’m a changed man! I’m not that guy anymore!
Bro: Yeah sure you are! Do you reckon I came down in the last shower? Beat it buster!
Paul: No really! I’ve been teaching and preaching the gospel for the last three years in Damascus. The Lord Jesus appeared to me on the Damascus Road in a vision and I was struck blind! Seriously I am the real deal here!
Bro: What a great story you tell pal! you ought to be a used camel salesman! If he struck you blind, how come you can see? Like I said, beat it!
OK so maybe it wasn’t quite like that, but the bible in this section of Acts tells us that when Paul came to Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples but they were all afraid of him cause they didn’t believe he was truly a disciple. Why not? Let’s have a look at the situation some more.
A Question of Trust
When Paul came back to Jerusalem no one knew anything about him other than his past history. They remembered the man who had letters from the elders and leaders of the church to imprison Christians and to do whatever he could to try and destroy the early church. They remembered the man who stood consenting to the death of Stephen who was stoned for his beliefs in Jesus Christ.
The Christians at the time had no knowledge of the changes wrought in Paul and how he was turned around by The Lord on the Damascus road. Although the conversation above is pure fantasy, I can imagine Paul trying to show he was a changed man so that he could gain the acceptance of the early Christians, which he desperately needed.
Let’s face it, he could not go back to the Pharisees as he had turned against them. You can be sure that some of those who had travelled with Paul to Damascus and who had witnessed the Damascus road event had returned to Jerusalem long ago to give their account of the event and the way Paul had turned against their ways to follow Jesus. No, Paul would find no friends in that quarter and his people now were the Christians, if only he could find a way to convince them of his change of heart.
His problem was that he had no credibility. It all came down to a question of trust. And because he was so opposed in the past, it would take a lot for him to gain the trust of these people.
As such it was fortunate for Paul that Barnabas came forward to vouch for Paul and to bear witness to the changes that had taken place since the Damascus road experience and the teaching and preaching that followed while Paul was in that city. It was only then that the people came to trust him and allowed him to move freely amongst the early disciples.
Whom do you trust?
It raises an interesting point for all of us. Whom do you trust? Whom should you or can you trust? This was the issue that Paul had to deal with and it is one that we need to deal with also today, both in our dealings with this world and in Christ as well.
There are many people in the world who will seek to gain your trust often to gain an advantage over you. Marketers, sales people, businesses and so on. Not all of these are untrustworthy and some of them you have to trust just to transact and live from day to day.
There is a lot of effort put into identifying how to increase trust. Psychologists and marketers run surveys and tests on people to identify what triggers trust in people and also what destroys it. Often the one thing that will destroy trust greater than any other is not keeping your word. When a person says they will do something and they don’t, trust is damaged. Do this more than once and trust is destroyed and may never be given again.
This is the position Paul was in. After the stoning of Stephen and then Paul’s ranting and raving to imprison other Christians as well as him breathing threats of violence against the early church, you can bet his trust quotient with the early Christians was sub-zero!
Trust is not given easily and it is hard to know whom you can trust. But often we will trust someone when we have a reference point that we do trust. We are often more likely to trust someone who a friend recommends on the basis that if our friend trusts them, they must be OK. That was how Paul eventually gained access into the church. They learned to trust him, or at least gave him the benefit of the doubt, on the basis of the reference and testimony of Barnabas.
Earning trust is not easy and it is easily lost if it is mishandled. Today we have similar issues with trust when looking at the many teachers, preachers and ministers of the word in the christian church. Many people have been hurt by the teaching of the church. Many have been taken advantage of. Many have been emotionally and spiritually damaged through ministers of the church who either knew no better themselves or who deliberately sought to gain advantage over these people.
So again I would ask the question, whom can you trust and how can you know who to trust? Here are a couple of things you can do that will help keep you safe until you believe a person is trustworthy.
First, pray. Always! Prayer is the very first thing you need to do when you come upon a new teaching or are looking at a new minister or church. Seek The Lord first and his guidance to lead you and continue to seek him as you move forward.
Second, The Lord told us that we shall know them by their fruit. (Matthew 7:15-20) so listen to what they say and whether they are aligned with the truth of the new covenant. Are they preaching the bible or are they bringing in some other philosophy that has no root in the scriptures.
Third, test whether what they say is leading to freedom, which is aligned to the truth of the new covenant, or is it leading you into bondage. Remember, Jesus said in John 8:31-32, “…If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Freedom is the thrust of the new covenant. Any teaching that will lead you to bondage, either binding you under law, binding you financially, binding you spiritually or emotionally or binding you to a belief system is NOT in line with the teachings of freedom.
Fourth, look at whether they are seeking to gain any kind of advantage and whether they are giving the glory to The Lord. Is what they have to offer free of charge and with no strings attached? If they have nothing to gain in what they are offering and are not seeking to gain anything but are giving, then there is a good chance they can be trusted. If they are truly aiming to promote and give glory to Jesus, not seeking their own glory, then as The Lord said in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
So what are your thoughts? What processes do you go through to establish trust in others or to try to build trust yourself? Drop me a note in the comments so that we can all learn.
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