John 2:24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.
U.S. NCAA Division 1 college athletes were polled in 2012 and asked to respond to: “My coaches can be trusted”. Only 53% of basketball players answered “yes”! The sports with the highest trust in their coaches were: wrestling (78%), track/cross country (68%), swimming and hockey (63%), and football (59%). Rather than discussing the reasons for the lack of trust of these young athletes, I’d rather unpack an important Biblical concept on trust and entrusting that might surprise most Christians. What does the Bible actually say about trusting others?
Many years ago, God challenged me with John 2:23-25. Jesus had performed miracles, people believed in his name and Jesus’ response was that “he would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.” I remember re-reading the verse, reading it in complete context, looking up the original Greek word for “entrust”, and looking for other examples of its use. This theme had come up twice just that week, once where church leadership asked me to trust them, and a second where a young man had been hurt so badly that he was unable to trust anyone.
Surprisingly, the word used here for entrust “pisteuo” in the Greek or “bāṭaḥ” in the Old Testament Hebrew was never used as an instruction towards people. In other words, I couldn’t find a verse that explicitly told me to trust other people. I found “Trust in the Lord” (Psalms 37:3; Proverbs 3:5; John 14:1), but where were the verses that say trust your leader? Surely they must be there because the Bible instructs God’s people to follow ordained leaders, and not be rebels. I did find the words “bāṭaḥ” and “pisteuo” in other places in the Bible, including Joseph telling Potipher’s unfaithful wife that her husband had “entrusted” everything to him (Genesis 39:8); that the Scriptures were “entrusted” to the Jewish people (Romans 3:2); and that Paul was “entrusted” with the task of preaching the gospel (Galatians 2:7). In fact, in 1 Peter 5:2-3 we read instructions of how to be shepherds of God’s flock that has been “entrusted to you”. But I could not find a verse that explicitly said trust your parents, your church leaders, your government leaders. It tells you to honor them, but nowhere does it say trust them. Why is that?
Our Lord is a God of order, a God who sets leaders in place and one who wants us to follow others. Why then the apparent contradiction? I think Jesus answers this in the latter part of John 2:25, “for he knew what was in each person”. Ultimately, as long as we walk on this earth, there is sin in us. The more we are sanctified, the more we are humbled, the more we will understand what Paul did – that he was the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). We cannot be fully trusted. Only God can be fully trusted, and that is exactly where we need to begin, with trust in God.
In my situation where church leaders asked me to trust them, they turned out to be wrong and I had sensed God telling me that. I told them that I loved and respected them, but in this I could not trust them because I had to trust God first. And the man I encountered who could no longer trust anyone, this was because he had fully trusted his leaders and they let him down. Since his trust was first in them, when they fell, he lost his faith in God. Where we first entrust ourselves to God, and then trust others through our faith in God, we are never let down by God. Even where humans let us down, it is never God letting us down. Read Acts 17:11. There is a reason that Paul said the Berean Jews were “more noble”. They weren’t cynics (“they received the message with great eagerness”), but they also “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true”. They entrusted themselves first to God and through him they could trust what Paul preached. Go and do likewise!