I recently met with a pastor and his wife and when the conversation finally moved to the topic on their heart the question they wanted to ask was this: How do you know who you can trust? They had gone through some painful experiences of betrayal, and admitted they had now emotionally withdrawn to protect themselves. They hadnt seen it coming so they didnt know what to do differently the next time. They said they had started out by being open and vulnerable with people, assuming the boundaries and matters of conscience which governed their own walk with God were at work in all Christians. There were things they just couldnt think of doing because their conscience would make them miserable, and on top of that they feared the discipline of the Lord. But then they watched other Christians do those very things apparently without a trace of guilt or remorse. One of them said, I just couldnt do that, and if I did I would be miserable. Why can they? They hurt us and lied about us, and then went on as if they were the ones whod been offended. I dont understand. Where does Jesus come into this picture?
I dont know anyone who claims to be perfect, but some people come under conviction when they sin, and sooner or later theyll admit the truth or apologize or make it right. Yet there are others who claim to be Christians, who go to church and believe all the right things, yet out of the blue they can do something grossly immoral, cruelly selfish, or coldly dishonest, and not show any sorrow. Years pass and they never make it right, and the worst part of it is, God doesnt even seem to punish them. If being a Christian doesnt make someone trustworthy, then what does? I really need to know, because when I trust the wrong people I get hurt.
What happened? (Ac 9:26-30)
Three years after escaping from Jerusalem Saul returned to the city with one specific purpose in mind. He wanted to meet Peter (Ga 1:18), but when he arrived, believers were still afraid of him. Undoubtedly they assumed he was trying to infiltrate their community as a spy and would then betray them. For some reason Barnabas trusted Saul and aggressively stepped in as his sponsor. Barnabas may have had friends in Damascus who gave him firsthand accounts of Sauls ministry there, or God may have given him a revelation concerning Saul, but whatever the cause, Luke says he
took hold of him and led him to the disciples. He brought him into a gathering where Peter, and possibly James, were present (Ga 1:18-20) and personally introduced him. He described in detail how Saul met the Lord and that Jesus had spoken to him. Then he described how Saul had boldly preached in that city.
Considering all he had done to them, its amazing the church welcomed Saul. Not only were they risking their lives, but many would find themselves face-to-face with the man who had cruelly abused their love ones. Forgiving him would require the deepest level of obedience. In order to describe their level of acceptance of Saul Luke says,
he was with them going in and going out in Jerusalem speaking boldly in the name of the Lord (literal). This means they invited him to join them in their daily public ministry. He became one of the preachers, fearlessly proclaiming Christ in a city where he had been a rising religious leader and a vicious persecutor of the church. It also means he was invited to stay in their homes. The phrase going in and going out pictures the daily rhythm of someone going into a house in the evening and then out into the city during the day. Luke chose this phrase to show us that the church decided to fully trust Saul. Each day he went out with them as they conducted their ministry, and each evening he went into their homes where he was provided room and board. In Galatians Paul says he stayed with Peter for fifteen of those days (Gal 1:18). Peter was undoubtedly very busy but he personally took Saul with him each day so Saul could observe the ministry he was doing, and probably so he could observe Saul.
Meeting Barnabas (v26)
When he arrived in Jerusalem Saul went looking for Peter. Given his history as the leader of the inquisition he would have known where to start looking. At least he knew where they used to live and gather. This knowledge likely led him to their main gathering place in Jerusalem which was the home of a woman named Mary (Ac 12:12). This was the house where Jesus had met with His disciples and had conducted the last supper (Mk 14:12-16), and it is also the house with an upper room where the disciples gathered to wait for the promise of the Father (Ac 1:13). The Mary who owned this house was the mother of John Mark (Ac 12:12), who wrote the gospel of Mark, and she was also either the cousin or possibly the sister of Barnabas (Col 4:10). If indeed Saul went to her house looking for Peter it would be no surprise if she had quickly sent for Barnabas to come and talk to this dangerous man who had arrived at her door.
Listening to Saul (v27)
Luke says Barnabas took Saul by the hand and led him to the apostles. Paul later will say he only met two apostles on this particular visit to Jerusalem: Peter and James ,the Lords brother (Gal 1:18, 19). When Barnabas stood beside Saul in front of the apostles, and there were probably other elders present, he told them Sauls story. Notice, he didnt have Saul tell them, but he had listened so carefully he was able to accurately retell the details. He told them how (Saul) had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. In other words, he had taken the time to personally discern that Saul was trustworthy, and he did so before taking the next step of introducing him to others. Its possible Barnabas had already received reports from Damascus about Sauls activities there, but the fact that he took on the role of Sauls sponsor tells us he had personally become convinced Saul was sincere. During the process he must have received some kind of inner witness from the Holy Spirit that Saul really loved Jesus.
Without question, the gathering of apostles and elders did the same thing. They, too, prayerfully listened and watched to assess whether or not this man was a spy trying to infiltrate them or a genuinely transformed man. If they were wrong and welcomed him into their community it could be a fatal blow to the church in that city. He would gather enough names and addresses to finish the job he had started three years earlier. If they got it wrong they would probably lose their lives.
Watching Saul (vs 28, 29)
The question was not only was Saul sincere in his faith, but was he spiritually mature enough to come back to Jerusalem. There was no question about his level of theological education, he was an extremely knowledgeable Bible scholar, but knowledge does not always translate into maturity. So once they decided he was safe, they invited him to join them as they went into the city each day to minister, so they could watch him. When given opportunity he preached boldly and then afterward he would talk with individuals and get into heated scriptural discussions. Because he himself was a Hellenistic Jew its no surprise he got into intense debates with other Hellenistic Jews. Many of them must have been old friends because he had grown up in that city (Ac 22:3). One can only imagine the energy in those discussions as Jewish scholars, who had memorized huge portions of Scripture, argued back and forth about prophetic passages. And some must have ended bitterly because, just as had already taken place twice in Damascus, a plot was formed to physically attack Saul and kill him.
Somehow the church discovered the plot and quickly escorted Saul down to the seaport of Caesarea, and there helped him find a ship headed north. They were helping him escape to his childhood home of Tarsus, but in saying this Luke uses a verb which possibly hints that there was another purpose in their actions as well. He says they sent him away to Tarsus. His presence in the city, and style of ministry, had again stirred up the fires of persecution which prior to his arrival had begun to die down. Their assessment was that Saul was sincere, but his style of ministry was way too confrontational.
Did you notice that trusting Saul involved two different matters, not just one. Yes, they had to decide if he was sincere, but they also had to assess whether or not he was mature. A sincere, but immature Saul could end up doing as much damage as a deceitful spy. He could throw the church and city back into turmoil. They had to discern his sincerity, but they also had to watch his maturity.
Maturity is not something that necessarily comes with the passing of time. It generally helps, but someone can be a Christian for a long time and remain desperately immature, and someone else can be a Christian for only a short period of time and already be very mature. It all depends on where we start our journey, but it also depends on the decisions we make about how we will live along the way. Listen to some of the things Paul is forced to say to some seriously immature believers in Ephesus: (Eph 4:17-32; 5:3-8). The simplest definition of maturity is becoming like Jesus, and He says that happens when I stay close to Him (Jn 15:1-6).
So when were deciding whether or not to trust a person we often look at the wrong things (Are they a Christian? How long? Do they know the Bible?), and we make the decision way too quickly.
Here are some dangerous attitudes that can lead to bad decisions:
1) Isolation: I have great discernment, I dont need the counsel of others.
2) Hyper-trust: That person would never do something like that!
3) Cynicism: Everybody is rotten. Nobody should be trusted.
4) Impatience: I dont have time to wait to make this decision (1Ti 5:22-25; Mt 7:13-23).
5) Vested-interest: Romance? Financial greed? Ambition? I want this to work!
6) Idealism: Real Christians wont do things like that.
7) Self-protection: I dont want to see anything negative, so I selectively ignore certain behaviors so I wont have to confront or be embarrassed.
Trust factors Here are some qualities to look for in a person who is trustworthy:
1) False or true: Is this person a disciple or just religious?
2) Wise or foolish: what is their history?
3) Loving or selfish: Listen to how they speak (I) and watch what they do.
4) Anointed or powerless: Does God trust them?
5) Peace or confusion: Do I feel inner tension, or is my heart at rest?
When all is said and done, the real question is, am I trustworthy? Becoming a Christian doesnt mean I cant sin anymore, it means I dont have to sin anymore. I am free to obey and have been given access to the power to overcome temptation, but if I dont know how to draw on that power, or become passive or proud, I can be as immoral, selfish or dishonest as anyone in town.
What we believe will either protect us from sin or make us vulnerable. Heres what I personally believe:
1) I recognize my own weakness and know I am vulnerable to temptation.
2) I know I am prone to self-deception so I must constantly read the word and worship.
3) I must proactively avoid being caught in tempting environments.
4) I fear sin and know the devil is waiting for an opportunity to wound me, and will do so severely if I step out of Gods protective covering.
5) I know all sins can be forgiven, but I also know that the damage caused by some cannot be undone. I can do things that will damage me and others for the rest of our lives.
6) I know that if left unchecked some sins have the power to crush my faith under a weight of sin and take my salvation from me. I trust God to fight for me, but know there is a horrible possibility if I do not repent.
7) I know if unrepented, sin decreases my awareness of Gods presence and lifts the anointing to minister.
8) I also know that by walking in obedience there is great blessing. By paying the price (1Co 9:24-27) I allow God to prosper me, my family, my ministry. I know that the long-term sweetness of His blessing, even here on earth, far outweighs the momentary pleasure of sin. By saying no to sin I am saying yes to Gods plan for me, my family
and those I cover.
1) Do you have a history of trusting the right people or the wrong people? Why?
2) What steps do you take to protect yourself from temptation?