Always be Ready to Give a Defense

Sermon preached on 1 Peter 3:13-17 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 6/19/2011 in Novato, CA.

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Peter 3:13-17

“Always be Ready to Give a Defense”

Peter has been talking in this letter about enduring Christian suffering. And yet he has not been talking about just some passive endurance. Peter’s never said to just grit and bear it. No, Peter’s always had a bigger perspective in mind. He’s wanted us to see how God can use our righteous suffering for a greater good. To help bring people to Christ.

Well, today he continues this line of thinking, and expands further on it. Today he especially brings out the language of “defense.” As Christians, we are to go on the defense when we are persecuted and attacked for righteousness. It is right to defend our faith when persecuted. We see that language of defense specifically mentioned in verse 15. And as he uses this language of defense, we see this helps explain his earlier statements as well on Christian suffering. He’s been telling us how to defend ourselves when the attacks come against us. And yet, as we study this passage, we are reminded of the radical nature of our defense. Peter gives a uniquely Christian plan of defense here. Not the kind of defense the world might come up with – but it is a defense plan that is so fitting for Christians.

And so here’s how we’ll tackle this passage for today. First, very briefly, we’ll see how Peter is setting our context – those who might suffer while doing good. Second, we’ll see the defense we are to mount against this. We’ll consider a defense through our actions. And then in more detail, we’ll consider a defense through our words. That last point, from verse 15, will be our main focus today.

And so let’s begin with the context Peter sets. Verse 15 is the heart of this passage, but he brackets it with the context of Christian suffering. Verses 13-14 and verses 16-17 both talk about the possibility that Christians might suffer for doing good. That sets the context for verse 15 when it talks about being ready to give a defense for our Christian hope. Our defense is because of this suffering. We are defending ourselves against this kind of suffering. But notice more specifically how he develops the kind of persecution this is. Look at verse 13. He asks a question. Who is going to harm you if you do good? That’s his question. This is a sort of rhetorical question. There’s an expected answer here. Surely, no one would want to harm you if you are doing good, would they? Peter acknowledges that this is typically how life works. Usually if you live a good moral life, one that is good to others, people won’t typically bother you. Read this question especially in light of last week’s passage. Last week we saw that God generally blesses righteousness. Verse 12 from last week’s passage said this pretty boldly – that God’s eyes and ears are toward the righteous, but that God turns his face in judgment against the wicked. And so in light of that sobering truth, who is going to harm you if you do good? Do you see the force of Peter’s point? It would be foolishness for a wicked person to afflict one of God’s people. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Well, Peter makes that point in verse 13, but then immediately in the next verse assumes nonetheless the possibility of Christian suffering and persecution. In verse 14, he puts it only as a possibility. He even uses a rare Greek tense to express that this is only a possibility. If we really seek to live godly lives, we probably won’t face widespread persecution. Yet, Peter acknowledges the possibility. Even though godly living normally is respected by the world, it might not always be. People should fear God and not afflict the righteous, lest his face turn against them. But sometimes they do anyways. One way or another, God will have justice. And yet in verse 17 Peter acknowledges that God might allow their persecution against you for a time. Verse 17 acknowledges that in God’s will, he might allow you to suffer while doing good. And if it’s God’s will, we know that he will work amazing things through it. We know that we can trust this, because if we are Gods, and are seeking good, then we know that his eyes are upon us for our good, and his ears hear our prayers.

The first exhortation Peter gives us here then comes in verse 14. There he quotes Isaiah 8:12, saying, “Do not be afraid of their threats nor be troubled.” Trust God. Fear him. Don’t be afraid of their persecutions and threats. As Jesus said, let us not fear man, but God (Luke 12:4-5). Jesus also said that those who are persecuted for their faith are blessed (Mt 5:10-12). We can appreciate the fear that could come up when we face Christian persecution. But don’t let it stick. Trust God’s good will for your life. Trust in the faith and hope that you have. Trust that God will judge justly. Your hope is secure in him. The world can’t take that from you. Instead, Peter calls us to go on the defense. Defend our faith, even when others persecute it. We are called to defend that hope that we have in us.

I’ve mentioned the two ways this passage calls us to defend our faith. One through our actions, and another through our words. I’ll just briefly mention the actions, because this is essentially the point Peter has been making repeatedly. Look first at verse 15. Right after he tells us what not to do in light of persecution, he tells us what we should do. He had told us not to fear their threats. Now in verse 15, he tells us instead to sanctify the Lord in our hearts. That’s actually still a reference back to Isaiah 8, continuing on part of the quote from there. That same Isaiah quote goes on to say that we should fear God. The idea then is that we set the Lord as holy in our lives, and look to serve him, even if the world around us persecutes us. A similar idea is given in verse 16. There Peter says we should have a good conscience. As we read on in verse 16, we see he’s relating that again to having good conduct before unbelievers. And the so the point is that we should defend our faith with good righteous conduct. But Peter points out how that will start in the inside. Our hearts must set apart God as holy. We must look to live with a good conscience – a conscience that looks to obey God’s word, not ignore it or bend it. We must seek good, as it says in verse 14.

And so Peter is saying that our godly actions coming from a heart submit to God, is central to our defense. We’ll consider how verse 15 calls us to defend our faith with words, but Peter clothes that idea with a call to action. Defense through godly living. Defense through a God-focused heart that lives it out for others to see. Though he talks about the words we are to say in our defense in verse 15, he spends more words telling us about how our actions will defend our faith. And we see how this defense works in verse 16. People might defame and slander you, but your actions can put them to shame. You see, Peter is saying that we should look to live above reproach. We should really strive for a righteousness that can be observed by the world. Then if an unbeliever speaks evil against you, it will be clear to others, and even himself, that this is untrue. Instead of bringing negative light on you, it will actually bring shame on him. Others should recognize his slander is baseless. Hopefully even he will eventually recognize his lies. And so Peter says that our defense against persecution from the world is more and more godliness. Defend ourselves by our actions – actions done for Christ, in obedience to him.

And let me point out what we all must keep pointing out. We live this out by grace. We grow in godly living with Christ’s help. We see that mentioned subtly again in verse 16. Peter says it’s our good conduct in Christ that will be this defense. “In Christ.” That’s a favorite label of Paul, but here Peter uses it too. What’s it mean that our good conduct is done in Christ? Well, that a rich phrase. It’s language that expresses our union and connection with Christ. As a Christian, our whole life is connected with Christ. We don’t do things on our own strength any more. We do things in and through Christ who strengthens us. Our old life is passed away, we now live for Christ. And Christ lives in us. As Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” In other words, it’s our new life in Christ that will make all the difference. His death on the cross enables the start of this new life. He living inside us grows us in this new life. So now, we don’t have good conduct in ourselves, but we have good conduct in Christ. We strive to live godly, but we keep praying to Christ asking for help, and keep following his words, trusting he will help us. As we show forth good conduct, we show forth a life that is Christ’s handiwork. Let us all look to faith in Christ both for our forgiveness of sins, but also for our growth in godliness.

And so we’ve talked about how we defend ourselves with our actions. Let’s turn now to consider how we defend ourselves with our words. This is verse 15. “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” Let’s start by noting the word “defense” here. It’s the word “apologia” in the Greek, though don’t impute too much from our word for apology today. Rather, this is where we get the word apologetics today. The word apologia in the Greek simply means a speech we give in defense. It is very specifically about a defense that we make, but specifically one we do with our words. This is even more clear with the word “reason” in verse 15. The word translated as “reason” here is actually the word for “word;” logos. Literally, we are to give a word for the hope that we have. A word or rationale for the hope that we have. The point that I’m making is that the defense described in verse 15 is very clearly a verbal defense. You will have times to explain yourself with words.

And I think this is a very important point that Peter makes here. You see, Peter has been talking so much already about how when unbelievers speak evil of us as Christians, we should respond with godliness. He’s said over and over again in the last chapter and a half that this could actually lead to the person’s salvation. I’ve mentioned repeatedly that this doesn’t mean that someone could ever be saved without some words at some point. You see, if someone is going to be saved, they have to know the gospel. People can see the effects of the gospel lived out in your lives. That can lead them to inquire further. But at the end of the day, someone will have to use words and share the gospel with them. Well, here Peter explicitly brings this out. Here he brings up that there will be opportunities as we defend our faith to use words.

And so this is where we get the study of apologetics. In our adult Sunday School class we have recently been talking about apologetics. Now let me offer a bit of clarification. As a discipline, apologetics has gotten very deep and very philosophical. Its intention as a discipline is to help Christians become equipped and prepared to defend their faith. What we do in our apologetics Sunday School is hopefully very helpful to that. But let me make it clear that you don’t have to go through months and months of training before you can start living out verse 15 here. Our discipline of apologetics looks to answer a lot of questions, and that is great. But verse 15 reminds us of the simplicity of this at the same time. Though Peter tells us to be prepared to give a defense, he doesn’t break into a long series on apologetics. He simply reminds us what we’re going to be defending: the hope that is in us.

There is a certain simplicity here that we ought not to miss. We want to tell people about the hope that is in us: that gospel hope that says we believe Jesus died on the cross for our sins. That hope that says we believe that faith in Jesus brings us the free gift of eternal life. A hope that believes Jesus will come into our hearts by faith. That his Holy Spirit will be growing us as his people. A hope for a better life beyond this life. This is not an uncertain hope. It’s not hope as the world hopes. It’s a firm and secure hope. A hope wed with faith. Faith in this most glorious hope. Faith in something yet unseen, but faith that is convinced of its truth. This is your faith and hope brothers and sisters. We need to be able to tell others about this hope.

Notice that this passage assumes that people will ask us. Verse 15 says that’s whom we should be prepared to give this defense to. To everyone who asks. Again, remember the context. Peter’s been telling us to live godly when the world persecutes us. He’s said that can lead people to Christ. Well, here he fills in some of the details. He sees that there may come a time when they ask you about your faith. After all your living for Christ, people might ask you about it. It may be from the person who persecutes you. They might slander and defame you. In turn you hopefully will keep loving them and doing good to them. At some point, in their shame, they might be dumbfounded why you keep living like that. They try and try and can’t get an evil response out of you. They very well might ask why. At that point you can tell them why. Tell them about your faith in Christ and how it calls you to the kind of radical love that Jesus has shown you. Or, these questions might be others observing you. They might see people persecuting you and your Christian response to it. That too can spark people to ask you questions why you are responding in love. Again, you then have an opportunity to tell them about Jesus.

Certainly these explanations and defenses of our faith can come in all ways. We see Peter and Paul giving speeches that defend their faith in the book of Acts. There they are often in court trials, the most literal apologia. You yourself might stand before a court. You might stand before a real honest inquirer who’s noticed your gracious love for those who persecute you. You might stand before a hostile person challenging you in the most combative way on every point. You might stand before a staunch adherent of another religion or cult trying to sway you to their beliefs. But, this passage uses the word “everyone.” We must defend our faith against whoever challenges it.

Peter describes what this defense is to look like. Three adjectives characterize that nature of our defense; all of them are here in verse 15. The first one I’ll mention is meekness. Meekness can also be translated as gentleness. This is the same word mentioned by Paul in Galatians 5:23 as a fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I think it is so very important that he mentions this for us. This is an easy thing to lack when we start dialoguing with people about our faith. When people are asking questions about our faith, our tone can quickly change into a negative one. We can become harsh in our speech. We can yell in our speech, unnecessarily. We can start to get angry and impatient and not temper those emotions with meekness. We can be very rough and hurtful in how we say things. In the heat of the argument, we have to be so very careful with not just what we say, but how we say it. We might win the argument but not the soul. Christ has been gentle and merciful with us. He wants us to be that way with others. This requires some soul searching too, because it’s really hard to fake gentleness and meekness. That’s why Paul says it’s a fruit of the Spirit. It needs to come from the heart, and in that, a heart changed by Christ. A big part of meekness is an inward humility that comes out in courtesy and kindness toward others. Well, as we recognize that we are those saved from so many sins ourselves, that should challenge our own hearts toward this humility that yields meekness. Let us see how Christ has shown us meekness in how he’s come to us. And so let us look to be meek; seek to be meek; and pray to be meek.

A second adjective that Peter uses here to describe our defense is “fear.” We are to give our defense not only with meekness, but also with fear. There are two main interpretations for what kind of fear this is referring to here. Frankly, I don’t think we have enough to determine which Peter most specifically had in mind here. Either could be in view, and the fact that he doesn’t elaborate might mean that he himself had both in view. And in actuality, they are closely related and so I’m going to give you both. Some see this fear as directed toward the people we are speaking to. Others see this fear as directed toward God. Let me explain both, and frankly commend them both to you as Biblical. There is a sort fear that we can generally direct to others, and we often call that “respect.” Many English translations take this perspective and specifically translate the word for fear here as “respect.” Just like this word can be used to fear authorities in the sense that we respect and submit to those authorities, so there is a way that we can treat everyone with a measure of respect to who they are. Kind of like how the Peter earlier called us to honor all men, 1 Peter 2:17. There is a fear of respect we can show to all people, especially those who we are dialoguing with about Christ. When we are defending our faith, we should not be arrogant and looking down upon people as if we are better than them, or smarter than them. We should show respect and honor to them as humans that are in that same place we found ourselves in – sinners needing forgiveness and grace. Who are we to think we are better than them? All sinners need God’s grace. Let’s speak in a way that recognizes that.

The other sense I mentioned, the fear toward God is that fear he’s mentioned earlier as well in that same reference, in 1 Peter 2:17. We fear God in reverence as the supreme authority and master of the universe. The argument for reading that here comes with the context. Peter just quoted here Isaiah 8:12-13, and the part of that quote he didn’t mention is how it ends with a call to fear God. It may be he has that in mind here as he calls us to give our defense with fear. That we fear God in the way and manner that we share our faith with others. The sharing of our faith should remember our position before God. How he graciously saved us; that we didn’t earn that salvation. The result should be a great humility again as we share with others. We know we are but God’s servant speaking about the gospel on his behalf. We should speak every word to those who ask us, knowing that God is present and hearing every word.

And so both of these aspects of fear – respect for others and a reverence for God are fitting here. Peter very well may have had both in mind. Certainly both are commendable to us today. The third adjective Peter uses to describe our defense is “readiness.” That comes as an imperative. Be ready. Be ready to give a defense of your faith. We need to be ready. To be ready means you are both prepared for questions that will come, and that you are alert to make the most of every opportunity. It means that you are equipped to know how to respond to the kinds of questions you might get. But it also means that you actually seize the opportunities that come and speak when they arrive.

Earlier I mentioned that our apologetics in one sense don’t have to seem overly complex. On the one hand we can we be prepared in a general level for any question that will come. That preparation is essentially to know our faith. To know whom you have believed and to be convinced that he is able to keep you safe in him until he comes back, to bring you to a heavenly reward. To know the gospel and explain it to others. That’s our basic preparation. Each of us should be able to explain the basics of our faith. And yet, this passage would certainly not be opposed to going beyond that too. We should really grow to know the whole Word of God backwards and forwards to be able to answers the questions of our faith from the Bible. And certainly that is what the fruit of apologetics does for us. The study of apologetics is to help us to think how to respond biblically to the world’s questions. And so on the one hand, I’d urge us to become prepared in a general way. If you can’t explain the basics of your Christian faith and hope, that really is something you should look to remedy right away. And on the other hand, I would urge to always look to grow more and more in this area too. Our Sunday School series on apologetics is one way of doing this. There are lots of good books that specifically consider common questions unbelievers ask, and propose biblical answers to them. Let us be prepared, and grow all the more in our preparation. Keep abiding in Christ and his Word. Keep knowing him better and better, and you’ll be learning more and more how to respond to each challenge to our faith.

Let me close with one final thought today, brothers and sisters. Think about the defense commended here today. We are called here to defend against the attacks of unbelievers through godly actions and with words of our gospel hope. Think of how we are not called to respond. We are not called to respond with physical arms. We don’t use violence to convert people to Christ. Nor do we use slander or gossip in return. Now are we to be passive-aggressive to people in return. No, we are to love in return, not fearing their threats, but trusting God. And, the greatest love we can show to them, is to gently and humbling tell them about Jesus. Let us defend ourselves in this way, entrusting all of this to God’s good plan.

He will see that justice is served ultimately. Let us delight to be used by God in these ways as we defend his kingdom in Christ through our words and actions, and in our hearts. Amen.

Copyright (c) 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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