No Ordinary Relationships: For Our Own Good
A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on February 12, 2012.Proverbs 3:11-13
O God, you have called us to many tasks and we are ready to do what you ask, whether it be to labor in your ministry to the poor, to serve in some capacity within the church, to repair a broken relationship or to speak good news to those who have previously turned a deaf ear, we are ready. Give us courage and resolve to do our part. Discomfort our souls so that we do not spend our days waiting for others to step forward to do our part. Forgive us if we tarry long under the hopes that somehow you will step in and do it for us. Forgive us if we expect only your miraculous hand to relieve us from the opportunities of service that are ours. We admit that we do not know it all, so we equally ask that you would teach us to wait when we try to force your will forward. Forgive us when we will not wait long enough for your spirit to do its part. Forgive us when we are ready to act but we have not prayed as we should. Let us not run ahead of your marvelous hand. Teach us patience that we might see what is possible when we allow you to work. O God, teach us today whether we should invest our efforts in moments of labor or to wait patiently on you. Teach us the right path in family, in friendship, in church, in mission, and in the world. Speak so that we might know what is our part in your service and what we should trust to you. We ask it all in Christ’s name. Amen.
Trust is the first requisite for making a friend. How could we be anything but alone if our attitude to men is one of armed neutrality? If we are suspicious and assertive and querulous and overcautious in our advances, suspicion kills friendship. There must be some magnanimity and openness of mind before a friendship can be formed. We must be willing to give ourselves freely and unreservedly.
—Hugh Black in Friendship
For a variety of reasons, I have heard different people say they were glad when the year 2011 was over. Different things occur in people’s lives and different things happen in the world.
Really, the year 2011 was the year of mistrust. It seemed to happen all over the world. For the latter part of the year, we heard about the sovereign debt crisis in Europe. Nobody trusted the Greek government or the Greek labor unions to do enough or to do the right thing. Of course, we are in 2012 and are still having the same discussion. People are talking about Spain, Portugal, and Italy, and it seems like every night on the news or everyday when you read somebody’s blog about news, an anti-Europe sentiment is being expressed because of the low trust that we have. But low trust is not just reserved for Europe.
In the year 2011, we had a marvelous political discussion on the debt ceiling. Democrats did not trust Republicans, and Republicans did not trust Democrats. Wall Street did not trust either one, and the stock market went down. Main Street does not trust anybody who is a politician. Politicians in general, and members of Congress specifically, now have one of the lowest trust factors of any profession anywhere. We find ourselves even wondering if politics still work, and it is all because we have such a lack of trust. It is as if we already have fuel for a brush fire that is burning in our society because we have come to a place where we trust so little. We are skeptical about so much, and we forget that a minimum level of trust is necessary to live. You cannot get up out of bed in the morning and begin to function without some minimal trust.
When we get up out of bed, we trust physics. We trust that gravity is still going to work and that we are not going to fall up off the planet. When we get in our cars and drive to school or to work, we trust that the principles of friction are going to work, that our brakes will work, and we will stop when we need to stop. If we leave the house, we are going to get where we intend to go because of these things.
In the community, we trust that the police are going to protect us. We trust that firefighters are going to be there for our safety. Because we have the privilege of not driving in Atlanta, we believe that roads, traffic, and stop lights will get us to where we are supposed to be.
Children arise in trust that their families will provide shelter once again. Children arise in trust that they will be fed, that they will have protection and guidance, and that somebody in the day will be working in their best interest.
A bride and groom get up in the morning believing that their vows are still intact, that it is another day to love, honor, and cherish and to keep the promises they have been made.
Friends get up and believe that their friends can be trusted, that they will tell them the truth, keep their word, and be dependable. We don’t think about these things because we take them for granted, but we have all experienced times in our lives where just about any of these, with the possible exception of gravity, has failed us. A child can remember when people did not have their best interest at heart or we know that something failed in safety or in family or among friends. We know that when the things we have assumed fail, it only leads to heartache, a sense of pain, and a sense of not being sure what we are going to do the next time. Will we ever be able to trust again? It is a time of fear when trust fails.
For two months now, we have been looking at relationships. It has not been a series about who is the man of the house and things like that, but it is the symbol about Christian principles at work in all the relationships of life—sometimes specifically family—but mostly principles in any relationship.
Today, we come to our final principle and one that is true for any good relationship. Any good relationship has the thread of trust running through it. In any good relationship, trust is the concrete foundation on which the rest of the building is built upon. It is the glue that holds the whole structure together. There just is not a good relationship unless we can trust.
When you try to find scripture on this, what we find is that the thrust of the scripture is typically on honesty and integrity. You don’t have to look very far on a definition of trust for someone to mention those two words. Without honesty and integrity, there is no trust.
When the children of Israel were at Mt. Sinai, God gave to Moses the Ten Commandments. One of those Ten Commandments is “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” The whole principle is that God wants the children of Israel to be able to live in a community where they can trust each other. If we can trust no one, we would all be packing heat. We would all be concerned about what was going to happen next. We would all be thinking that somebody was out to get us. For people who do live that way, it is a terrible way to live. So God says, “Don’t bear false witness.” You need a place where you can trust each other.
In the Gospels, Jesus says, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no and anything else is evil.” That is because he wants children of faith—the family of the church—to be able to trust one another. A common thread that runs through the Book of Proverbs is things that are an abomination to God. One of the most common ones that comes up is a false scale. God loves an accurate weight.
In the ancient commercial world, so much of business was a transaction on weighing out grain and paying for it in oil, weighing out oil and paying for it with a shekel of gold of whatever it might be. If the scales of commerce could not be trusted, then the people were going to live in a world of distrust. It is one of the other ways that scripture talks about honesty and integrity.
If you skip down to verse 3 of Proverbs 3, it says, “The integrity upright guides them and the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.” Not only does it destroy the wicked, but it destroys everybody. Trust is an absolute essential, whether it be a nation, a community, a church, a family, a group of friends, or classmates at school. If we do not trust each other, we are on a rocky road.
God did not arbitrarily go to Mt. Sinai and say, “I think it would be better if they told the truth so I will make lying one of the Ten Commandments.” He looked at what we need for a life worth living, for relationships worth having, and established the law in order to give us these things. So we have to have trust. What kind of world would God give us if he did not put things in place to make us the kind of people who can be trustworthy? As I mentioned, trustworthiness is tied to integrity. Couples keep their vows. Parents keep their promises. Friends keep their word.
Stephen Covey has done so much work on Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Effective Families. He has now changed his bent a little, and some of the titles in his works are now about trust. Trust is such an essential part of the entire Covey influence on leadership and relationship. One of the things that he says that I find is a very helpful image is that trust is like a relational bank account. Every time we do the thing that is trustworthy, we put a deposit in the bank account. If we keep our word, if we do what we say we will do, if our children know that we really meant what we told them, if friends know they can come to us and we will fulfill our promises, we keep putting deposits in this relational bank account. Covey says that sooner or later, everybody has to make a withdrawal. Sooner or later, somebody forgets. Sooner or later, somebody falls to the pressure. Sooner or later, somebody does something that makes a withdrawal from that relational account. He says if the account is too new to have enough deposits, or if in the course of having this relational account, we put too few deposits into it, when we go to withdraw, we are overdrawn. Insufficient trust is available. We are overdrawn and it threatens to wreck the relationship. But if we have made sufficient deposits, we can make the withdrawal and, typically, we can still get past whatever it is that we are dealing with.
In a marriage, we put a sufficient number of deposits in a relationship account. If somehow we goof up and do something, there is a good chance there is enough in there to cover the withdrawal.
If someone fails a friend in a long-term friendship that has built up over years and years with lots of deposits, it can withstand the withdrawal. The same thing is true in so many, many other settings. It is the accumulated trust that helps relationships be strong.
There are a couple of things that I would say that are not necessarily taken from scripture but are things that we need to note about trust. We always say that trust is earned, but I think sometimes trust just has to be given. I think this is particularly true in parenting. Those of us who are adults can remember a time when our parents trusted us with something and the trust was so important to us that we were not going to fail. Because of the trust, we became more trustworthy.
Perhaps it was the first time you were allowed to wash a car. Maybe as a small child, you tried to wash the car with mud and your father was afraid that if you tried to wash it again, you would do that again. Then one day, your father says, “You can wash the car.” We were entrusted with that, and what a marvelous thing it was. The first time I got to use the lawnmower, I can remember to this day, what the yard looked like and what the weather was. The first time my father said, “Yes, I think you are big enough. I think you can do this,” I sweated, not because it was hot, but because I was so nervous. I wanted to cut the grass the right way. Trust was given to me.
Maybe you can remember the first time your parents let you drive to Atlanta by yourself. It was such a trust and you were not going to deviate. You were going to do the right thing.
I remember years ago when I was about 20 years old. I was helping another young minister take a youth group from Birmingham to Six Flags. We were in the van behind the bus with the overflow. As we were driving on what used to exist of I-20, there was trash flying out of the back windows of the church bus. When we stopped to get gas, we walked up to this kid who had just graduated from high school and said, “Scott, get on those little kids and stop them from throwing trash out the windows. We don’t want to be that kind of youth group.”
So Scott said, “Yes, I’ll do that.”
The rest of the way to Six Flags, there was no trash whatsoever. The man who was driving the bus came up to the young youth minister and said, “How did you get Scott to stop throwing trash out the window?” Scott had been the one who was doing it, but all of a sudden he was trusted with the duty of trying to stop everybody else from throwing trash out, and he lived up to the trust. The youth minister did not know that, but he gave trust and the person lived up to it. Sometimes trust has to be earned and sometimes it just needs to be given so that a person can live up to it.
The times when your trust has been violated, I am sure are times when we think of some of the worst things that have happened. But we think of those places in life where we are the most trusting and aren’t those the places where there is the most joy? Trust is such a valuable commodity. It is the glue that holds any good relationship together. It is the cement that provides the foundation. It is the thread that continuously weaves through the patterns of the things and the people we are closest to.
God is trustworthy. We have faith in God because we trust God to be the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. All God wants is for God’s children to reflect the same character in the world for their own benefit. The integrity and the trust guide them. The crookedness and lack of trust will destroy us all.