We are called to show Jesus to the world in three important ways: by enduring suffering with patience, by making a verbal defense, and by living a life that reflects the character of Jesus. We cannot do any of this unless we rely upon the life of Jesus within us.
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1 PETER #22. 1 PETER 3:13-16
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.(1 Peter 3:13-16, ESV)
After describing the way Christians need to act toward each other, Peter now says a few words about how we should act toward those outside of our community of faith. In a way, this text is neatly laid out for us. In the first place, in our relationships with non-believers, we should be prepared to suffer – even if it is unjust. Second, we should be prepared to “make a verbal defense” of the hope we have (that is, our Christian faith). Third, our lives should be so directed by the Holy Spirit that the way we live also provides a kind of defense, or testimony.
We might as well start with the first: patient suffering. As we have seen already in Peter’s letter, he is passing on the teaching of Jesus, more or less directly.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,(Matthew 5:10-12, CSB)
for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
11 “You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. 12 Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.(Matthew 5:38-47, CSB)
43 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?
We talked about this a bit, last time: these verses should make us despair of our own efforts and resources. I find it impossible to rejoice when even the company Amazon treats me unjustly simply because they are huge, and can get away with it. How much more difficult is it to suffer because I’ve been doing the right thing? How much more difficult to be criticized, to be lied about, to be considered evil when I’ve done nothing wrong, and in fact, I’ve been trying to do good? I find these words of Jesus, and of Peter, his apostle, to be impossible to actually follow.
I am supposed to find them impossible.
Jesus gives us the answer to this dilemma. He and his followers often warned about the great dangers of worldly wealth. At one point, he described how difficult it was to be rich, and remain faithful to God:
23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”(Matthew 19:23-26, ESV)
With man – that is, with our own effort – suffering unjustly seems impossible. But with God, all things are possible. When we allow Jesus to live his life through us, we can indeed love those who hurt us. But only then is such a thing possible. We need to despair of doing it by our own efforts, and cry out to Jesus, and lean on him to do it through us. Then, with God, it is possible.
The second piece of our text today tells us to continually make sure that Jesus is first in our lives, and then to be ready to offer a verbal defense for our faith. Paul says something similar in Colossians 4:6. In case anyone wonders if “make a defense,” might include physically defending ourselves in that situation, I need to say two things. First, the Greek word here is very clear – the defense is one made with words. There’s no semantic wiggle room to expand it to mean anything physical. Second, when we read the context, it is all about entrusting ourselves to God, and allowing God to make things right in his own time. One cannot shoot, or strike, someone “with gentleness and respect.” I believe the Bible does allow Christians to be soldiers in a proper, legal army or militia. I believe the Bible allows, and even encourages, us to defend the weak and defenseless. I don’t see anything wrong with fighting back against someone who wants to hurt you in general.
But the Bible does not endorse Christians using physical force to either defend or propagate Christianity. If someone is trying to hurt you in general, I don’t see a problem with physical self defense (although the Bible does not insist that you respond with physical force). But if someone is attacking you specifically because you are a Christian, a different kind of defense is called for.
Yes, during the crusades, and in some of the Roman Catholic Church’s missionary endeavors, they did use force to defend and propagate Christianity. But they did so in contradiction to the scripture. Just go back and read our text for today, and the verses I’ve quoted so far. To the extent that anyone has tried to spread or defend Christianity by force, they have been bad Christians, disobeying the teaching of Jesus and his apostles. In case it is not clear, I condemn the Crusades, the Inquisitions, and the other “holy wars” of the Roman Catholic church, and I condemn them with, and based upon, the words of the Bible. Virtually all true Christians are with me on this.
We are definitely told, however, to offer a defense made up of words. The Greek word here for “offer a defense” is “apologia.” You might recognize a form of the word “logos” there at the end (logia). Logos is a term that means both “words,” and “logical thinking” (just by looking at it in English letters, you can see that the word “logic” comes from “logos.”) Apologia means, essentially, to speak out, to use logic, reason and words to explain and justify. From this word we get a Christian term you might have heard before: “apologetics.” Christian apologetics is basically the process of putting this command into action. In Christian apologetics, we use words and logic to explain, reason with others, and verbally defend the Christian faith.
The first Christian apologist was arguably Paul the apostle, who used the Roman legal system, and Greek philosophy, to argue for the truth of Christianity. Immediately after the time of the apostles we have the letters of Christians who were engaged in explaining the faith, and reasoning with others about the truth of Jesus Christ.
Over the centuries, Christians have developed a wealth of resources for explaining and defending the Christian faith, and reasoning with others. In recent years the internet has brought an explosion of websites dedicated to apologetics. I have to admit – for me, apologetics is like mind-candy. I could read these sorts of resources for hours, and in fact, I often do. Just to get you started, let me offer a couple books and websites.
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, is sort of the gold-standard for Christian apologetics. It was written about eighty years ago, now, however, and there are some modern concerns that C.S. Lewis simply never thought he would have to address. Even so, Mere Christianity is well worth reading. A more recent resource that is very good is What’s So Great about Christianity? By Dinesh D’souza. In addition to explaining many of the traditional pillars of apologetics, he addresses issues like the checkered history of Christian behavior, and other things that modern people find important, that are not found in Mere Christianity.
If you are specifically interested in the relationship between Christianity and modern science, Reasons to Believe (https://www.reasons.org) is an excellent place to start. It was founded by Dr. Hugh Ross, who was notable in the field of astrophysics, and later founded the ministry. In general, Reasons to Believe is made up of legitimate high-level scientists who are also Bible-believing Christians.
William Lane Craig is a philosopher who is also a Christian, and he has developed a ministry that touches on virtually all aspects of defending the faith with gentleness and respect. The organization he started can be found at: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/ . The video in the next link is produced by that ministry, and is a great example of Christian apologetics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRyq6RwzlEM&t=317s
There is a widely-held assumption that because Christianity is a religion, there is no evidence in favor of it, and it is not intellectually robust. Even a quick skimming of some of the resources I’ve listed here will reveal how utterly false those ideas are.
Now, apologetics are very interesting and fun to people like me. But you could spend countless hours and days on apologetics resources. These days, you can literally get a Ph.D. in it. However, traditional apologetics might not really be your cup of tea. It is a fairly scholarly, intellectually-oriented discipline. Your own approach should reflect who you are, and above all, it should reflect the things you really know and believe.
Perhaps the best advice I can give you when you start the process of defending your faith, is that you should be willing to say: “I don’t know the answer to that,” when you don’t. Honesty goes a long way in our present cultural moment. I still have to say that once in a while. For instance, several years ago, someone asked me this question: “Can a God who is all-powerful make a rock that is impossible for Him to move?” This is a conundrum. If the answer is “yes,” than how can he be all powerful if there is a rock he cannot move? If the answer is “no,” how can he be all powerful, if he can’t make a rock according to any specification at all? Some people believe that this makes God vanish in a cloud of cold logic. Personally, I think the question assumes facts that are unknown and unknowable to human beings, but I couldn’t absolutely prove that by logic. I could have turned the question around a little, and discussed the alternatives to an all-powerful God, and prove that everyone ultimately believes in something that is absolute (like an all-powerful God, or an infinite multiverse), and that every version of that belief has problems, but that isn’t a direct answer to the question. So, I said, “I don’t have a good a answer for that.”
Since then, I have found a better answer, but of course, no one else has asked the question again. The better answer is that God’s nature is the one inviolable thing in the universe, and if God were able to contradict his own nature, he couldn’t be God in the first place. In other words, “No, he can’t make a rock that he is unable to move, because if he could, he wouldn’t be truly God: something he himself created would be as great as himself.” In other words, the question is a “contradiction in terms,” which, in even more plain language, means: “it is nonsense.” Another example of the exact same kind of nonsense is this question: “Can God make a square circle?” That makes it more clear. If God made a square circle, it wouldn’t be a circle anymore. A circle cannot contain right-angles, or it ceases to be a circle. “A square circle” is nonsense. So, also, is the idea that God can contradict in Himself what it means to be God, while remaining God. So, actually, the question about creating the unliftable rock is nothing more than a cheap parlor trick.
I think that answers the question, but even so, there’s a lot of subtlety built into that answer (such that I could probably write several thousand words about it), and I doubt it satisfies everyone.
Sorry, the last few paragraphs were a lot of fun for me, but, again, that might not be your style. The point is, when I encounter questions I can’t answer, I’m honest abut it. I also then tend to go look for a good answer. I encourage you to do both things as well.
You should also find a way to talk to others about your faith that reflects who you are, and what you do know about Jesus. This is one reason, I think why Peter begins this little instruction with: “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life.” That’s the way the NLT puts it. It isn’t exactly “word for word,” but I do think it gets at the essence of what Peter is saying. If you want to make a good verbal defense of your faith, it begins with letting Jesus have first place in your life. Only when we orient our lives around him, when we make him our first priority, will we be able to offer a good verbal defense of our faith.
When we get that part straight, we can speak to people in a way that accurately reflects what we know, or don’t know, about following Jesus. But we can start with what we know. For instance, here’s a question everyone can answer, no matter how long (or briefly) they have been following Jesus: “Who is Jesus to you?” When he is Lord of your life, that question isn’t so hard to answer. Everyone has enough knowledge to answer that question, because it is a question about your own experience. Here’s another one: “Why do you trust Jesus?” Again, our answers might differ somewhat, but anyone who does, in fact, trust Jesus, can answer these questions.
Here are a few more: “What has Jesus done for you, and what does he do for you now? What is the best thing, for you, about trusting Jesus? What difference does Jesus make in your life?
The key is to think about what you believe, why you believe it, and who Jesus is to you, and focus on those things. No one will say to you: “No, you’re wrong, you don’t follow Jesus because you feel his love.” They may think your experience is mistaken, but there can be no doubt that it is your experience. People can’t, and don’t, typically argue with personal observations and experiences like that. In other words, you don’t need to be William Lane Craig, Hugh Ross, (or even Tom Hilpert!), to make a good verbal defense of your faith.
Peter closes this section (and begins the next) with another observation about our behavior: that we should maintain a clear conscience, and good behavior, and sooner or later that will bring shame to those who slander us.
Suffering patiently for the sake of Jesus is a way of showing him to the world. Telling people with words about your experience of faith is another. Finally, having a clear conscience and good behavior will show Jesus to the world.
All of these should scare us. All of these should lead us to say: “But I can’t do that!” Because we can’t. But Jesus can do all of these things through us, if we are willing to let him. We need to allow him to lead us to act, or not act, to speak, or not speak. We need to use our hands and voices as he directs. But if we are relying on him, he is the one who will make it all work out. It won’t come from our own strength, but from His. It won’t come from our flawed natures, but rather, from His perfect character. All he needs is our trust.