Trust is critical to the wellbeing and functioning of society, but it is haemorrhaging at an alarming rate. An annual global survey that serves as a barometer of trust indicates that distrust in government and media (including social media) continues to plummet. Almost two-thirds of people are inclined to distrust organizations and societal leaders. It is now the default emotion with a growing cycle of distrust that “threatens societal stability.” The danger comes when leaders try to build trust with one group by undermining trust in another. Edelman, who released the report this week, say that trust “should be at the top of everyone’s agenda in 2022.” They recognise the need to “rebuild that essential foundation of modern living: Trust” but it is difficult to identify solutions. Of course, distrust has entered the life of the church to a greater extent too leading to damaged relationships. But surely, we have biblical wisdom and divine resources for rebuilding trust? Indeed we do although that still does not render it easy from our perspective.
Clearly trust must be built on truth, truthfulness, accountability and openness. Truth is not merely an abstract principle that we defend at all costs with all the arguments at our disposal, it also means a shared understanding rather than misunderstanding and misrepresentation. Loving our neighbour as ourselves requires us to avoid this and therefore is a key element of loving the truth. It means helping them to come to a right understanding rather than seeing them as opponents.
All too often we think more about what others must do to earn our trust than what we must do to earn theirs. What do we need to be trustworthy? Love in all its dimensions.
This is what we learn from 1 Corinthians 13 where in comparison with other graces we are told “the greatest of these is charity.” Hugh Binning comments that we can easily be self-satisfied and think we have attained much in the life of Christianity without seeking “to be acquainted with this in which the life of Christianity consists, without which faith is dead, our profession vain, our other duties and endeavours for the truth unacceptable to God and men.” Paul shows “a more excellent way,” (1 Corinthians 12:31) – this love is more excellent than gifts, speaking with tongues, prophesying etc.
And is it not more excellent than the knowledge and acknowledgment of some present questionable matters, about governments, treaties, and such like, and far more than every punctilio of them? But he goes higher. Suppose a man could spend all his substance upon the maintenance of such an opinion, and give his life for the defence of it, though in itself it be commendable, yet if he want [lack] charity and love to his brethren, if he overstretch that point of conscience to the breach of Christian affection, and duties flowing from it, it profits him nothing.
As Binning shows, this love must have the governing influence over all our actions and gifts and in giving vent to all our opinions. Whatever knowledge and abilities we have, it must be charity and love that make use of them.
Without this, duties and graces make a noise, but they are shallow and empty within. Now he shows the sweet properties of it, and good effects of it, how universal an influence it hath on all things, but especially how necessary it is to keep the unity of the church.
If trust has degenerated within society and the church it is everyone’s duty and responsibility to rebuild it. How can we do that? The more trustworthy we are and the more we display trust for others the more it can be rebuilt within our sphere of responsibility and activity. And the way that we do this is governed by love as shown in 1 Corinthians 13 as helpfully expounded by Hugh Binning in the following updated extract. It tells us much about always hoping, believing This is the way to display trust and to be trustworthy.
1. Be Longsuffering
Charity “is kind” and longsuffering. There is indeed no great, truly great, mind except that which is patient and long suffering. It is a great weakness to be soon angry. Such a spirit does not have the rule over itself but is in bondage to its own lust (Proverbs 16:32). Much of this affection of love overrules passion. There is a greatness and height in it, to love them that do not deserve good from us, to be kind to the unfaithful, not to be easily provoked, and not soon troubled. A fool’s wrath is soon known. It is a folly and weakness of spirit, which love, much love cures and amends. It suffers much unkindness, and long suffers it, and yet can be kind.
2. Be Content
Love does not envy. Envy is the seed of all contention, and self-love brings it forth. When everyone desires to be esteemed chief, and would have pre-eminence among others, their ways must interfere with one another. It is this that makes discord. Every man would decrease the estimation others enjoy so that he may add to his own. None lives content with his own lot or station, and it is aspiring beyond that which puts all the wheels out of course. I believe this is the root of many contentions among Christians—the perception of slighting, disrespect, and such like, kindles the flame of difference, and heightens the least offence to an unpardonable injury. But charity does not envy where it may lie quietly low. Though it is under the feet of others, and beneath its own due place, yet it does not envy but is contented to be there. Suppose it is slighted and despised, yet it does not make much of that because it is lowly in mind.
3. Be Humble
“Charity is not puffed up.” If charity has gifts and graces beyond others, it restrains itself, with the bridle of modesty and humility, from vaunting or boasting, or anything in its conduct that may savour of conceit. Pride is a self-admirer, and despises others, and to please itself it does not care how it displeases others. There is nothing so unsuitable in human or Christian society, so apt to alienate the affections of others. The more we take our own affection to ourselves, the less we will have from others. Romans 12:10, 16 contains golden rules of Christian walking! O if only there was a seemly strife among Christians, each seeking to go beyond another in unfeigned love, and in lowliness of mind, each to esteem another better than himself! (Philippians 2:3). Knowledge puffs up but charity edifies (1 Corinthians 8:1). Knowledge is a mere swelling and tumour of the mind, but love is solid piety and real religion.
4. Be Seemly
Charity does nothing which is unseemly (1 Corinthians 13:5). Vanity and swelling of mind will certainly break forth into some unseemly conduct such as vain estimation, and such like, but charity keeps a sweet decorum in all its conduct, so as not to provoke and irritate others, nor yet to expose itself to contempt or mockery. Or the word may be taken thus, it is not fastidious. It does not account itself disgraced and abused to descend to those in a lower position. It can with its Master bow down to wash a disciple’s feet and not think it unseemly. Whatever it submits to in terms of doing or suffering, it is not ashamed of it as if it were not suitable.
5. Be Self-Denied
Self-denial and true love are inseparable: charity does not seek here own. Self-love monopolises everything to suit its own interests. This is most opposite to Christian affection and communion, which puts everything into one bank. If every one of the members would seek its own things, and not the good of the whole body, what a miserable disease it would cause in the body. We are called into one body in Christ, and therefore we should look not on our own things only, but everyone on the things of others also (Philippians 2:4). There are the public interests of saints, mutual edification in faith and love, which charity will prefer to its own private interest. Addictedness to our own apprehension, and too much self-overweening and self-pleasing is the great enemy of the particular place to which we are called into one body. Since one Spirit informs and enlivens all the members, what an unnatural deformity it is for one member to seek its own things, and attend to its own private interest only, as if it were a distinct body!
6. Be Calm
Charity “is not easily provoked.” This is the straight and solid firmness of it, that it is not soon moved with external impressions. It is long suffering; it suffers long and much. It will not be shaken by violent and weighty pressures of injuries, where there is much provocation given, yet it is not provoked. It is not easily provoked at light offences. It is strange how such a little spark of injuries sets everything aflame because our spirits are like gunpowder—so capable of combustion through corruption. How ridiculous, for the most part, are the causes of our wrath! We are strongly moved for light things and sadly for ridiculous things too. We are like children who fall out among themselves over toys and trifling things. Or like beasts provoked by the mere appearance of a colour, such as red or such like. We would save ourselves much trouble if we could stop and judge things before we allow ourselves to be provoked.
Charity has a more solid foundation. It dwells in God, for God is love, and so is truly great, truly high, and looks down with a steadfast countenance on these lower things. The upper world is continually calm and serene. There are no clouds, tempests or winds there, nothing to disturb the harmonious and uniform motion. But this lower world is troubled and tossed with tempests, and obscured with clouds. Thus, a soul dwelling in God by love, is exalted above the cloudy region. He is calm, quiet, serene, and is not disturbed or interrupted in his motion of love to God or men.
7. Be Charitable
Charity is apt to take all things in the best sense, it thinks no evil. If a thing may be understood in a variety of ways, it can put the best construction on it. It is so benign and good in its own nature that it is not inclined to suspect others. It desires to condemn no one, but would gladly, as far as reason and conscience will permit, absolve everyone. It is so far from desiring revenge, that it is not provoked or troubled with an injury. That would be nothing else except wronging itself because others have wronged it already. It is so far from wronging others, that it will not willingly so much as think evil of them. Yet if necessary, charity can execute justice and inflict chastisement, not out of desire for another’s misery, but out of love and compassion. It looks more to preventing future sin, than to punish a past fault. It can do everything without any discomposure of spirit just like a surgeon can cut a vein without anger.
8. Be Holy
Charity is not defiled in itself, though it descends to all. Though it can love and wish well to evil men, yet it does not rejoice in iniquity. It is like the sun’s light that shines on a dunghill, and is not defiled and receives no tincture from it. Some wicked spirits find sport in doing harm to themselves, and take pleasure in others that do it. But charity rejoices in no iniquity or injustice, even though it were done to its own enemy. It cannot take pleasure in the unjust sufferings of any who hate it, because it has no enemy except sin and iniquity and hates nothing else with a perfect hatred. Therefore, whatever advantage it could have arising from other men’s iniquities, it cannot rejoice that iniquity, its chief enemy, should reign and prevail.
But it rejoices in the truth. Its pleasure is in the advancement and progress of others in the way of truth and holiness. Even if this would eclipse its own glory it does not looks on it with an evil eye. If it can find out any good in its enemies, it is not grieved to find and know it, but can rejoice at anything which may give grounds for putting a good construction on them. There is nothing more beautiful in its eyes than to see everyone get their own due, even though it alone is disadvantaged.
9. Be Supportive
By nature, we cannot bear anything patiently. But charity is accustomed to the yoke—to the yoke of reproaches and injuries from others and to bear a burden of the infirmities and failings of others. We all want to be carried on the shoulders of others but not to put our own shoulders under the burden of other people according to that royal law of Christ (Romans 15:1; Galatians 6:2) that is unquestionably the law of love.
10. Be Trusting
Our nature is malignant and wicked, and therefore most suspicious and jealous, and apt to take everything in the worst light. But charity has much candour and humanity and can believe well of everyone. It believes all things as far as truth will permit. It knows that grace can go alongside someone’s sins. It knows that it itself is subject to similar infirmities. Therefore, it is not a rigid and censorious judger; it allows as much latitude to others as it would desire of others. It is true it is not blind and ignorant. It is judicious, and hath eyes that can discern between colours. It believes all things that are believable and hopes all things that are hopeful. If love does not have sufficient proof she believes there are some probabilities for as well as against. The weight of charity inclines to the best and hope. Yet having been deceived sometimes she has good reason to be watchful and wise (Proverbs 14:15).
If charity cannot have grounds for believing any good, yet it still hopes. It is patient and gentle, waiting on all if God may “give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth,” (2 Timothy 2:25). Charity would account it both atheism and blasphemy to say such a man cannot, will not find mercy. But to pronounce that such have often had the approval of the consciences and hearts of all will never find mercy and have no grace, because of some failings in practice and differences from us is not sobriety but madness. It is certainly love and indulgence to ourselves, that make us aggravate other men’s faults to such a height.
Self-love looks on other men’s failings through a magnifying glass, but she puts her own faults behind her back. Self-love he can suffer much in herself but nothing in others, and certainly much self-forbearance and indulgence can spare little for others. But charity is just contrary. She is most rigid on her own behalf, will not pardon herself easily, knows no revenge but the self-revenge spoken of in 2 Corinthians 7:11, and has no indignation except against herself. She can spare much forbearance for others, and has little or nothing of indignation left to consume on others.
…here we know but darkly and in part, and therefore our knowledge, at best, is but obscure … ofttimes subject to many mistakes and misapprehensions of truth…And therefore there must be some latitude of love allowed one to another in this state of imperfection, else it is impossible to keep unity, and we must conflict often with our own shadows, and bite and devour one another for some deceiving appearances. The imperfection and obscurity of knowledge should make all men jealous of themselves, especially in matters of a doubtful nature, and not so clearly determined by Scripture. Because our knowledge is weak, shall our love be so?
If it can be said that society depends on trust, then surely trust depends on a charitable spirit. Binning says that there is no better friend and nothing more useful to secular and Christian society than this love or charity. Its benefits extend to everything. It never fails, it is permanent and durable, remaining when all other things go. When everything else vanishes it will abide, and then receive its consummation. “We might have heaven upon earth as far as is possible if we dwelt in love, and love dwelt in and possessed our hearts…there is nothing makes a man so heaven-like or God like as this, much love and charity.” If want to rebuild trust, relationships and indeed anything we need to start and continue here.
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