A Biblical Response to Opposition: Part 2
Passage: 1 Peter 3:13-17
Last week we began a two-week study of this text. It begins the third major section of 1 Peter, which addresses the question of how we can honor Christ and be effective witnesses for him in the midst of a hostile culture. As our culture moves further from a Christian worldview and becomes more hostile toward our faith we all know that it makes life tricky and difficult. It’s frustrating when we are misrepresented. It’s overwhelming to endure ethical dilemmas in certain professions. What do you do as a public school teacher when you are required to teach anti-God positions? What do you as a health care provider when you are required to do procedures against your conscience? On and on we could go. And ultimately, it’s intimidating to attempt to live for Christ and to be a witness for Christ when it’s costly to do so. We can respond to these difficulties in several ways. We might be tempted to run and hide to protect ourselves from hurt, but the Bible doesn’t give us that option. Jesus said that we are to be in the world and reach the world with gospel. We may also be tempted to give people what they deserve or to stick our chest out and put people in their place. But again, we probably know that won’t work either. Sticking your chest out isn’t very effective when you are the smallest guy in the room. What then do we do? I mentioned last week that I’d like to give 7 challenges from this text regarding how we should respond to opposition. We saw in v. 13 that we should “hope for a reasonable response to godly conduct.” We saw in v. 14a that we must “rest in God’s reward” and in v. 14b that we must “maintain courage.” Finally, we saw in v. 15a that you must “maintain your primary allegiance to God.” Remember that this idea of setting God apart as Lord in your heart is the central issue. If we are going to stand for Christ and not wilt under the weight of opposition and if we will instead impact the world for Christ, we must be committed to the lordship of Christ at the center of our hearts. Increasing pressure is going to demonstrate who is really on the Lord’s side, and may God help us to stand faithfully no matter what may come.
The fourth challenge Peter gives is grammatically dependent on this central charge. Setting God apart as Lord requires that we...
Be ready to articulate your faith reasonably and graciously (v. 15b).
Reason for the Defense:
Peter pictures a scenario where someone notices the hope-driven life of a Christian. It’s interesting Peter highlights hope as a defining characteristic of Christians. Our confidence in God’s reward makes us different in very practical ways. Imagine an unbeliever in a 1st century community noticing the unique life of a Christian. He notices that he does not live like everyone else. He isn’t driven by temporal comforts or security. He doesn’t participate in the normal activities of life in a 1st century pagan community. He lives outside the center of culture and is willing to suffer for his faith. He does all of these things because of his eternal hope. The unbeliever wonders what makes this guy tick. We can’t remind ourselves too often of the importance of hope to Christian living. We must remember that we are “sojourners and pilgrims” as 2:11 said and that God has something better for us in eternity. This mentality will make us stand out to the world. But we won’t always draw complimentary attention, and we shouldn’t assume that the questioner in v. 15 is being drawn to our faith. In fact, Peter is thinking of a scenario where the questioner is antagonistic toward our faith. This is clear in v. 16 where someone who “defames you as evildoers” and is “reviling your good conduct” does the questioning. People will not always respond positively to our hope or its effects on our lives. They may react with hate or even violence.
But we cannot back down at this point. We must resolve with God as our Lord to defend our faith. Notice the…
Nature of the Defense:
Peter commands us to “always be ready” to give a defense when asked for “a reason for the hope that is in you.” Peter seems to primarily have in mind a scenario where someone brings an accusation that results from Christian conduct. Think again of the Christian wife whose unbelieving husband doesn’t understand why she won’t go the pagan temple with him. Or think of the tradesman who won’t participate in a pagan ritual along with his trade guild. It’s possible that this accusation is brought before some sort of magistrate or judge. The word translated “defense” is apologia. Apologetics comes from this term, and it was commonly used for a legal defense that would be presented to a judge. It pictures the Christian as on trial for his hope and conduct. However, at this point, there was very little official, governmental persecution of Christians; therefore, Peter is not so much thinking of an official trial but of a questioning that would come about in the normal course of life, like I said with an unbelieving husband or employer. We need to be ready in these moments to defend our faith, to articulate essentials doctrines, and to give a reasonable basis for why we believe them. I want to highlight the word “reason” because it implies that there is a rational basis to our faith. I’m not a Christian fundamentally because I feel something or because of some mystical experience. No, Christianity makes sense, and it stands up to intellectual attacks; whereas every other worldview is fundamentally flawed and filled with inconsistencies. We need to be ready to respond to these attacks with a rational defense. Now that doesn’t mean that you need to have an apologetics degree, or that you have to understand all of the ins and outs of creationism, biblical archaeology, and so forth. But you are responsible to understand the foundations of Christianity so that your faith is built on a proper foundation and so that you can be an effective witness. Are you able to obey this command, or would you be stuck bumbling around if someone challenged you? Can you articulate the gospel clearly? Do you know why you believe the Bible is true? Are you ready to answer common challenges from postmodernism, atheism, the cults, Catholicism, or Islam? There are good answers to all of these challenges, and you need to build your knowledge so that you can witness effectively. At some point, I’ll do a series on apologetics. We are offering a class on Islam in a few weeks that may be a help. If you would like to read on some of these things, I can direct you to some great resources. Don’t be content with ignorance. Don’t stay in a place where you really can’t be a good witness because you don’t know what you believe or why you believe it. Our God is great, and the world needs to know who he is, and they need to hear a clear presentation of the gospel and be saved. Make sure you are ready when the opportunity arises.
But it’s not enough to be ready to win a debate. The manner of our presentation must reflect our Savior. Notice as well the…
Character of the Defense:
Peter says that we are to defend our faith with “meekness and fear.” Meekness speaks of gentleness, humility, and grace. To defend our faith with meekness means that our witness should not come across as arrogant or demeaning. Our goal isn’t to make people feel like fools and to put ourselves on a pedestal. I want to be clear that we should not present our faith as if it is on an equal plain with other worldviews or faiths. In our pluralistic world where people are offended by the exclusivity of the gospel, we can be tempted to present our faith simply as what I believe and leave them with the impression that they are free to take it or leave it. When we do that, we dishonor God’s Word, and we aren’t helping people. The Bible isn’t just another path. It is the only path, and we have to present it that way. But again, our goal isn’t simply to prove we are right or to win an argument. We want to see people get saved. To do that, we need to win people to the truth, not by the force of our personality or intimidation but rather with sound reasoning presented with the meekness of Christ. This flavor flows quite naturally into the next point that our presentation must be marked by fear. This word is always used in 1 Peter regarding the fear of God; therefore, Peter is saying that our defense must be presented with a spirit of reverence toward God. In other words, we want to honor our Lord by how we present his truth. This is important because we sometimes dishonor God in our presentation by setting the sinner up as in charge and God as a weak beggar. Our presentation is all about what God wants to give you. He wants to give you a good marriage, make you happy, or even make you wealthy. God doesn’t sound anymore holy than a door-to-door vacuum salesman who really wants your business. But the Bible says that God commands all men everywhere to repent. We must glorify him by our presentation. We must also honor him by not trying to do what only he can do. Our arguments and pleas won’t save anyone unless the Spirit works; therefore, we need to pray and depend on him to work. We must trust his Spirit to open blind eyes and to transform hearts. Our presentation must be marked by gentleness and fear. We need to heed this challenge. It’s sad, for example, how often Christians put things on social media that come across as harsh and arrogant, or their involvement in social causes is cutting and not marked by gentleness and fear. It’s really more about putting people in their place than it is about honoring the Lord and reaching people with the gospel. It may feel good to get something off your chest, but belligerence doesn’t honor God, and it’s not going to win people to Christ. We’ve got to be especially careful to keep perspective with social causes. I’m not saying these things aren’t important, but convincing someone that you are right about evolution, abortion or homosexuality won’t get them to heaven. And so cultivate the heart attitudes of meekness and fear. Cultivate a heart of compassion and a concern for souls. Grow in your reverence and trust in God. And let these things shape your witness.
Be ready to articulate your faith reasonably and graciously. The sixth challenge of this text is…
Maintain a testimony that supports your claims (v. 16).
This challenge is also grammatically dependent on the command to “sanctify God as Lord.” Committing to the lordship of Christ means being ready to defend your faith and maintaining a good conscience. What does it mean to have a good conscience?
Meaning of Conscience:
The Scriptures define conscience as a God-given sense of right and wrong that he has placed in all people. It is an essential aspect of the image of God that sets us apart from the animal world, and it speaks to the fact that we are God’s creation, not the product of chance. The concepts of right and wrong don’t fit in an atheistic/evolutionary worldview, and yet even the staunchest atheist or those who have never heard the truth of God still have a sense of morality. However, their conscience may be warped. First Timothy 4:2 says that we can sear our conscience through evil choices. Just because your conscience feels a certain way doesn’t mean it’s accurate. Therefore, as a Christian, it is important to always be at work to make sure that your conscience is informed and shaped by Scripture. But having a “good conscience” is about more than just a scripturally informed sense of right and wrong. It also requires that we live accordingly. In Acts 24:16, Paul states, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.” He’s saying that he tried to live in such a way that he did nothing sinful toward God and other people and that if he did sin against God or people, he confessed it and made it right. In our text, Peter says that an essential aspect of our witness in a hostile world is that we must be very careful to maintain a good conscience or you could say a bulletproof testimony before a watching world. There should be nothing about your life or your conduct that would discredit your witness or give people a legitimate reason to hate you, slander you, or ultimately do you harm. Daniel is a great example of such a life. You may recall that when Daniel was an old man and very high in the government of Darius, several other men became jealous of his position and wanted to ruin him. They searched and searched for a way to tear him down, but they couldn’t find any holes in his conduct and his service. The only strategy they could devise was to deceive the king and use Daniel’s faithfulness to God against him. What a powerful testimony! Peter calls us to live with the same kind of good conscience before the world.
Why is this so important in the face of opposition?
Need for a Good Conscience:
Peter again describes a scenario in which his readers faced opposition and hatred. A Christian may be marked by “good conduct.” This word keeps coming up over and over. It describes consistent godly living. However, evil people may still hate a Christian and twist good conduct into an opportunity revile or slander him as an evildoer. Again, this slander may take place before a judge in a public setting, but it’s more likely that the evil person is spouting off to the trade guild, trying to get the Christian kicked out. Or maybe an aristocrat is beating a Christian slave in the marketplace and trying to justify it by slandering his faith. Or it may be someone is sitting with family and relaying all of the evils of a fellow family member who is a Christian. This evil individual presents his case, but because of the Christian’s good conscience, he is brought to shame.
Result of a Good Conscience:
Peter doesn’t specify when this shame will occur. We know that this evil slanderer will most certainly be brought to shame when he stands before God at the judgment. It’s hard to imagine anyone who will face a more severe wrath in the final day than the person who observed genuine godliness and heard a clear Christian witness and didn’t just reject it but also hardened his heart and twisted it to do evil against God’s people. I wouldn’t want to be the guy at the Great White Throne Judgment who bullied God’s children. But Peter is not primarily thinking of a shame at the judgment but a shame in the present as others recognize that this guy is off his rocker. Imagine again the trade guild scene. Some guy is in front of the crowd ranting angrily about how a Christian, let’s call him Jim, who needs to be kicked out for not going to a pagan ritual. Then someone stands up and says, “Wait a minute. We need more guys like Jim, not less. He works hard, and our customers love him. Not only that, he’s a good guy. When I broke my arm and couldn’t work, he took care of my family. He brought us food, and he gave us what little money he could. I know Jim, and I know that what you are saying is ridiculous.” Everyone starts to nod in agreement, and before long, the accuser is booed off the stage. Again, Peter is hopeful that people will respond positively to consistent godliness, and he again emphasizes that a godly life is essential to our witness.
Consider what would happen to you if you were in Jim’s shoes at work, in your neighborhood, or in your family? Have you lived a life of consistent godliness and love to where people would be loyal to you if someone started to slander you or would they all kind of agree as they reflect on the times where you weren’t completely honest or were harsh and unkind? What does your life do for your witness? Do the people who are closest to you see a godliness that is real and attractive? Parents, is this what your kids see in you? Do they see real godliness and the humility to make it right when you fail? One of my mentors, Dr. Ollila used to say that the hardest kid to reach with the gospel is not the one who grew up in a wicked home but the one who grew up with hypocrites who acted great at church but it was obvious at home that it was all just a show. Do you have a good conscience? Is there something you need to make right with God? Is there something you need to make right with another person? When was the last time you said, “I’m sorry.” If you can’t think of a time, you probably need to make some things right. One other note that needs to be made is that a good conscience will only be an effective apologetic and evangelistic tool if we live among lost people. For some of you that’s not hard to do because your job or family demands it. But for others it takes intentional work to mix closely with unbelievers. Make it happen so that the world can see what Christ is doing in your life.
The sixth challenge is to maintain a testimony that supports your claim. The seventh challenge is…
Make sure you suffer for the right reasons (v. 17).
Reality of Persecution:
Again, while Peter is hopeful that godliness will diffuse hatred, he notes that it may at times be God’s will that Christians suffer for doing what is truly good. If that’s what God has for us, then we have no choice but to embrace it, trust the Lord’s purpose, and hope in eternity. But the real point of v. 17 is to say that we better make sure that our suffering is truly persecution and not self-inflicted harm because of our sin. If we offend people because we are obnoxious jerks or hateful, then we shouldn’t expect any reward from God.
God’s Use of Our Suffering:
But true persecution is far better. It is kind of strange that Peter says it is “better” because there is of course nothing good about suffering for our sin or foolishness. If Peter is simply contrasting the rewards of eternity that come with suffering persecution with the pain of just suffering, then you would not expect him to use “better.” But the fact that he makes this kind of comparison indicates that he is thinking about something more than reward and punishment. Specifically, he has in mind the opportunity for greater evangelistic witness that may come from persecution. I believe we can make this inference based on v. 18. Through his suffering Jesus brought a vast people to God, and similarly, when Christians endure unjust suffering with the same grace Christ demonstrated, people will respond like the centurion who watched Jesus be crucified and concluded that he was truly the Son of God. Just over 100 years after Peter wrote the church father Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” God can do great things through our suffering if we honor him in our response. As our culture shifts, we have two options. We can sulk about the good old days, or we can believe in the power of God to transform hearts and get excited about what God may do. Let’s not run for the hills; let’s run to God, let’s make sure that we are ready to defend our faith, and let’s make sure that we have a godliness that is strong and consistent. Then, let’s pray that God will bring a harvest of souls for his glory.
Before I close, I want to acknowledge that this kind of call may sound nuts to someone here. You don’t see how God could possibly be worth enduring such great hardship. You’re here today to get pumped up a bit so that your life is better, not to follow Christ to the cross. I want to tell you today that Jesus absolutely is worth it. A moment ago, we read v. 18, which says that Jesus took on himself the punishment for my sin so that I could have a relationship with God and the hope of an eternal home. This hope is worth anything you could ever give up in this life. Jesus offers a gift that is better than all the wealth or happiness this world could ever offer. And this gift can be yours if you will believe on Christ for salvation. I want to urge you to do that today. If you would like to know more about how you can receive eternal life and have a relationship of grace to God, I hope you will talk with afterwards.