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Helps Against a Hostile Planet–part 2
1 Peter 3:13-17
One of my favorite early Sci-Fi moments was on Outer Limits. As it starts, the first men to travel to the very sandy planet of Mars had lost two men already, and their final broadcast was of one astronaut screaming for help outside the ship, and the last one inside the ship running to his rescue–then silence. They were never heard from again.
So NASA sent another team, and they were trying to figure out what happened plus continue to explore. As they studied Mars, one-by-one, this much-larger team began to lose men as well–they simply disappeared. Then they began disappearing with a scream. Finally the last three men figured it out. The sand of Mars was like an ocean, and hidden beneath the waves of the sand lived these toothy, Martian monsters that looked like T-Rex’s who swam through the sand like sharks. And as the men walked on the deep, sandy portions of Mars, the monsters were feeding on them.
That is like the danger we face as a culture–the evil against us is not always obvious and often is hidden underneath the surface. But that was not the case back in Peter’s day–they could see the danger right in front of them. The Christians of 1 Peter were experiencing the beginnings of persecution, and Peter has been writing them on how to stand firm.
Standing firm when it’s hostile is to live by your salvation, as someone who is getting better than they deserve (chapters 1 and 2)
Standing firm when it’s hostile means submitting to your God-given authorities, like government, masters and husbands (chapters 2 and 3)
And now, standing firm in God’s grace when you live on a hostile planet is following what Peter says in chapter 3 verses 13 to 17—turn there and take your outline.
Last week we began our study of this amazing passage and found that God had some pretty helpful things to say to all Christians who are experiencing injustice or suffering. As we have gathered today, we are not fearful of men barging in and threatening to kill us, but many of you have faced neighbors who hate your testimony; coworkers who mock your faith, fellow-students who belittle you for your beliefs, and relatives who make it their goal to lie about you because you follow Christ.
Why does this happen? Simply, God promised you’d suffer. Read Philippians 1:29, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” That verse is probably not one of your favorite Bible promises, but to suffer for His sake is a promise given to you, nonetheless. All genuine Christians are going to suffer.
So how should you act when you’re experiencing suffering? How does Jesus want you to react when you’re treated unjustly? Last time God said to . . .
#1 Passionately pursue doing good
Verse 13 says, “Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?” You’re less likely to be harassed, even by those hostile to Christ, when you become obsessed with doing ongoing good deeds. So if your boss is overly harsh or your parents don’t understand, your teachers are cruel, your spouse is verbally harsh or your friends are mean . . . attack back with overwhelming acts of goodness. But be ready . . .
#2 Be happy to suffer for what is right
When life “just ain’t fair”, Peter says in verse 14, “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.” Peter is saying it is unlikely that you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, but if possible, you are truly blessed.
Aggressive good-doing does not always disarm the persecutor, but Peter says, “Christian, do not overrate the danger.” You could be tortured, but usually the word suffer here describes a lesser insult, hurt or slander against you. Make certain if you are hit with suffering it is because you have been made righteous, given a new heart that wants to live righteously, and Christ lives through you by His Spirit–not because you sinned, but you suffer because you follow Christ, for that suffering is a blessing, a literal happiness. And that way, you don’t have to . . .
#3 Don’t surrender to intimidation
Instead of being afraid, Peter says in verse 14, “And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled.” Do not be afraid of people or fear what they say when they threaten you. Don’t run away. And “be troubled” means don’t worry about what’ll happen, don’t be upset, agitated, stirred, uneasy, distracted or shaken up. Stay dependent on Christ, be filled with the Spirit, walk with God in humility and you can stand firm and actually be blessed in the midst of being attacked. But what is our rock–what’s the main verb, the main action, the most important truth to thriving on a hostile planet?
#4 Follow Christ alone as Master
Verse 15 says, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” Peter lists the word Lord first in this verse, making it emphatic, like shouting the word “Master” for emphasis–submit to Christ as the only Master. All genuine Christians confess that Christ is Lord. Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
And all true Christians obey Christ as Lord as a way of life. Luke 6:46 says, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” And all true Christians obey Christ as their Lord from a new heart that is transformed, so they want to obey. Romans 6:17 says, “You became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.” Plus, because the main verb in this passage is to sanctify, or be set apart, made holy, unique to Christ, Peter is telling his readers they will love Christ more than anyone or anything.
Christ will be your greatest delight, highest worship, deepest satisfaction, and first love. There are no competitors, not even your spouse or children or parents. This unique commitment to pursue Christ over all other people and things is actually found in your heart internally. Verse 15 says, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” To withstand external hits on a hostile planet, you need to have Christ uniquely set apart internally as Lord of your heart. Your thoughts, desires, dreams and plans, must be saturated with Christ, submitted to Christ and directed by Christ. Because it is the person of Christ Himself you love more than life itself which allows you to stand firm when life heats up.
Now Peter continues to give us helps against a hostile planet with the remainder of verse 15–when Christ is truly your first love, when harshness hits you will. . .
#5 Continually be ready to defend the faith
Verse 15b says, “Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” Your dealings with unbelievers must not be passive or neutral. Peter does not stop with the admonition not to fear back in verse 14, but tells every Christian to prepare to become an active witness with the goal of seeing those whom God has called to respond in faith to Christ.
God tells you in verse 15 to respond to accusations of wrongdoing and slander against the faith when it confuses the Gospel or maligns the name of Christ. Someone slams you–turn the other cheek. But someone slams Christ at work or at school—speak up. Someone teaches a false gospel, speak the truth.
Hey, look up here–do you know why you don’t speak up? Do you know why you’re afraid to share about Christ or proclaim the Gospel of grace? How many of you here remained quiet about Christ and the Gospel when you should have spoken up at some time in the past? Raise your hand–leave it up. Here is why you did that—at that moment, when you didn’t share, when you remained silent, when you didn’t speak up . . . at that moment Christ was not your first love, the Master of your heart, your greatest delight, your truest hope, your true innermost Master of verse 15a. At that moment Christ was not sanctified as Lord of your heart. That is why you were afraid, and that is why you remained silent.
The first part of verse 15 must be true before the second part of verse 15 will ever happen. Now don’t go beating yourself up. Peter got hit hard, and his famous failure is written in the Bible for all of us to read. Under the threat of torture, in the heat of trial, when allegiance to Christ might lead to his own death Peter denied Christ three times. So Peter knows about pressure and persecution firsthand.
Yet tradition tells us after a life of ministry, and empowered by the same Spirit that empowers you, it was as he watched his own wife being crucified that Peter himself chose to be crucified upside down, not considering himself worthy to be crucified the same way His Lord was. Peter met his martyrdom head-on and honored the Lord he loved. When Jesus Christ is the first love of your heart, as you follow Him as a slave does a master, as you submit to Him in all things–then from that kind of heart will flow the personal readiness to explain to hostile opponents the nature of the hope that dominates your life.
So what does this look like? How are we to defend the faith? What does it mean to, verse 15b, “always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” Peter tells us:
First When–always being ready
When do we speak? Literally always being ready means prepared always. The adjective “ready” is grammatically attached to the verb “sanctified” telling us setting apart Christ as Lord in your hearts will result in a willingness to witness about Him. When Christ is truly your first love, you will tell others about His love, even when there is a negative consequence for speaking up. A genuine first love is always ready on your tongue. Those of you who know me know I love my wife Jean and am always ready to speak of my love for her–great loves are talked about.
“Ready always” means never unwilling and never timid to respond to those who question you. Early Christianity had aroused public attention and created a curious interest from the watching world. And those who loved Christ first were ready to speak about the one they loved. Start asking the lost and those who slam our faith or make fun of the Bible, “Do you know what a genuine Christian is?” Don’t be shocked by what you hear, but get ready to give some clear answers–are you prepared?
A genuine Christian is a person who embraces the truth that Jesus is the God man who died on a cross for my sins, rose from the dead, and I follow Him as my Lord in all things. You must be ready to share that with others. Now you don’t have to answer all the critical questions the hostile might ask, nor know the answer to every hairy issue those angry at God might bring up. You can say, “I don’t know, but I do know that Christ is God and He came to die for my sins, He forgave me and He transformed my life and I follow Him as my Lord!”
Always be ready–the word literally means be ready for anything. The phrase is also used of preparing a meal. So Christian chef–are you cooked and ready to serve up the truth about who Christ is and what He did for His own? Have some questions ready and have some basic answers ready at all times. God’s Word is very pointed here–never be unprepared, and never be unwilling to respond to questions.
Always be ready to state our personal trust in who Christ is and what He did on the cross–the Gospel. When–always be prepared to let others know who you hope in. If not, take the evangelism class, meet at MSJC or the mall.
Second What do I say?
Verse 15 says to make a defense. The Greek word for defense is apologia–not apology, “I am so sorry I’m a Christian.” No–we get our English word apologetics from apologia. The word actually originated from a practice in ancient Athens where every citizen had to be able to defend himself personally if he were brought to trial. There were no lawyers back then so you had to speak on your own behalf and make your own defense. Kinda’ makes you long for the good old days–no lawyers.
So God says through Peter, if you are put on trial for your faith, whether before a court or in a discussion at school or work, be ready to state your case clearly and convincingly. You don’t have to know everything, but you need to know the main thing–that Christ is Lord and He alone can save you. If you have genuinely come to Christ in salvation, you already know enough to tell others about Christ as the way of salvation. If Christ has transformed your life, then you already know what to say to others who need to be transformed.
To make a defense is to reply, to answer, to speak and to give reasons as to who you follow and why you trust only Him. Like Colossians 4:5 to 6, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Peter says in verse 15, I want you Christians to talk, to share, to tell them about who Christ is and what He has done for you. You are to give a logical apologetic, you are to share the truth of the Gospel because Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Who do we talk to?
Third Who do we talk to?
Do we speak only when we are dragged into court or attacked for our faith? No, Peter says always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you. Who do we talk to? Everyone–the Greek word means each, all, everybody. We are to give a clear answer to every person who makes an inquiry, not merely officials in court.
Now watch out–don’t be one of the many Christians who misapply this phrase. Who do I talk to? I answer only those who ask, so I will live marginally, isolated, and so removed from non-believers that no one would think to ask me about Christ. I am so afraid of being asked that I cocoon myself into a private Christian world where I have little interaction with non-Christians. They may know I am a Christian, but they never see Christ through me. I go to a non-Christian school, I work with non-Christians, and I live surrounded by non-Christians, but no one asks me about Christ because I never show off Christ in an attractive way.
Friends, do not take verse 15 out of its context. Look back at verse 13, “Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?” God told us to be crazy passionate about doing good deeds to the unsaved world around us. If you obey the Scripture in verse 13, then people are going to ask you in verse 15 about your faith. So when anyone asks us why we do so many good things for them, be ready for a clear and pointed answer about Christ as your Lord.
The verb “asks” in verse 15 is an informal term describing normal conversation, and not a legal defense or police inquiry. And asking here is continual questioning. People should regularly be asking you about your hope–in the barber chair, the stylist’s chair, at the lengthy checkout line at the store, in the classroom, at work and more. The only reason they don’t ask is because you are too cocooned. Who do we share with–to everyone who asks.
Fourth Why should I share an answer?
Verse 15 says, “to give an account for the hope that is in you.” Whenever questioned or confronted, because of a life of excessive good deeds, a Christian is to be ready to give a reason, to give an account, that’s literally to say a word about Christ. Again, your witness is not to be only your life, your behavior or your good deeds–but your witness is also to be the words of your mouth, your speech, a verbal utterance.
The Greek word for “give an account” means a clear, verbal presentation, a conversation and a clear message. You are saying Christ is your Master because you are living Christ as your Master. You are speaking about your greatest love because Christ is your greatest love. You talk about who is most important to you because Christ is most important to you. But Peter is even more pointed because he says to give an account for–literally give an account about, or give an account concerning, clustering all our answers around “the hope that is in you” in verse 15.
Literally the Greek order is “the in you hope”–biblical hope is different than English hope. English hope is “I wish this were true”, or “I wish this would happen.” But Greek biblical hope is I am confident this is truth and I am confident this will happen. Born again Christians are confident that Christ is real and indwells all Christians through His Spirit. True Christians are confident God became a man, lived a perfect life, offered Himself as our substitute on the cross, took the punishment for our sins, died and rose again. And genuine believers are confident that He is coming again, or if we die we will live forever with Him in heaven. That confident hope is in you. Though we doubt at times, God’s Spirit prods us to have confidence in a Christ not seen and a future home not yet visited.
True saving faith is not a secondhand story, it is a firsthand discovery. Our faith is not based on another’s experience, but on personal transformation. That is why you answer, Christ has changed my life. You can and should say to others, “Christ has forgiven all my sin, given me a new heart with new desires, empowered me by His Spirit so that I can overcome sin, shed His love abroad in my heart so I can love others unconditionally, given me peace in the midst of trial, joy in the midst of hardship and a certain hope of heaven when everything here is desperate.”
Peter already reminded his readers in 1 Peter 1:3 that they have been born again into a living hope—you have hope. And you are answering questions and sometimes responding to hostile attacks because you have a future hope with Christ forever in heavenly bliss, and they do not. You are confident this hostile world is your only hell and you want to share with all those who can only look forward to torment in hell forever. They only have despair, then death and judgment and you have heaven, perfection and life forever with Christ.
Why wouldn’t you answer? How can we not answer? It is when we are not walking with Christ, filled with His Spirit and following Him as our greatest love and only Master, verse 15a, that we don’t speak when asked the questions of verse 15b. So Peter says let ‘em have it–unload your gospel gun and shoot ‘em with megaphones and verbal abuse so they’ll listen–right? No, that is not how to answer them–how do we?
Fifth How do we answer?
Verse 15 ends this way, “Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” The English translation of “yet” is a little too soft. The Greek word is actually the strongest single word for contrast in the New Testament. It is “but”–in strong contrast, with gentleness and reverence. The word is harsh enough to make a point.
Do not fight back, do not argue, and do not use caustic, sarcastic, abusive or verbally harsh speech. Second Timothy 2:24 to 25 says, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.”
In my past, I have failed to be gentle with unbelievers. There were times when I was arrogant, feeling superior because I knew I was right and I knew they were wrong. After all, God’s Word is truth and everyone else who disagrees with God’s Word is wrong–every other view is error or less than His truth, so I am right and they are wrong. Ever felt that way? Young reformers, fresh Calvinists, are often so right. They are wrong because they were not gentle and reverent in their dealings with others.
Christians who are condemning have forgotten they used to be under condemnation themselves. Picky believers often forget they have a big log in their eye. So Peter says, answer critics, “Yes.” Answer those hostile to the faith, “Yes.” Answer those who make fun of you for following Christ, but with a strong contrast, do it this way . . . how?
1 With gentleness
History confirms that interrogators of Christians over the last 2,000 years and early on in Rome were notorious for being arrogant. So Peter tells Christians then and today, we must respond with a different spirit, a unique heart–with gentleness. The word gentleness also means meekness, and has been called the grace of the soul. This is not a calm exterior and a seething interior. Gentleness is actually an attitude of heart where we embrace our circumstances as under God’s control and do not resist or argue back.
Just like Jesus responded in 1 Peter 2:23, and while being reviled He did not revile in return. Gentleness means to be mild, tame, pleasant and kindly. It is a gracious friendliness. But this gentle meekness is not to be confused with weakness. Gentleness is massive inner strength under control, shown by a sweetness of words and a kind disposition of courtesy, even when dealing with those who are harsh and mean.
Even though Christians have full confident hope, you must avoid the attitude of arrogant belligerence in the defense of your faith. You must guard against giving the impression of proud superiority toward your ignorant opponents. So gentleness demands personal modesty and genuine humility, displaying a radiant hope–that is what points to Christ and makes a winsome testimony. Peter also says we are to respond . . .
2 With reverence
This is the word phobos again, where we get phobia. You are to be literally intimidated and terrorized, but not of those men who are attacking or slandering. Peter is not telling you to respond with the fear of man. Second Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” Timidity here means cowardice, and nothing quenches the Spirit more than the fear of men.
The reverent fear Peter is telling Christians to have in answering those who want to know about Christ or even threaten us is a serious terror over the matter at hand. The true subject Peter wants you to fear is their eternal destiny–Peter wants you to think more of their eternal existence than your earthly life. Do you get it? You are to be afraid for them, and you fear God as the one who judges all men.
They are yelling at you, threatening you, attacking you–but you’re afraid of what that means for their eternal future in hell. You and I must not be troublemakers. Do not show contempt for the lost and seek to avoid all antagonism. Give a firm, clear, answer with no wavering, but it must be gracious and respectful. There is a place for righteous anger when others are being sinned against, but when the focus is against Christ as Lord, you respond the way Peter says–give a pointed, confident answer, but be gentle and respectful, so . . .
WHEN–always be ready
WHAT–a clear answer about Christ as Lord
WHO–to everyone and anyone who asks
WHY–because Christ has given us a real hope
HOW–with gentleness and respect
Will you? Only if Christ is your King, your delight, your first love and your Master with whom you currently serve. And the keys to living on a hostile planet also include . . .
#6 Maintain a clean conscience
Verse 16 says, “And keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” Believers who can’t present a clear explanation of Christ as their Lord and Christ as the only way of salvation will suffer insecurity, especially when they are strongly challenged by unbelievers. Then insecurity will lead to lack of assurance of salvation and at the very least, bother their conscience and make them feel guilty all the time; like some of you are feeling right now.
So Peter says, “Maintain a clean conscience.” The Greek and English word for conscience contains the idea of knowing oneself–it is the soul reflecting on itself. With a non-believer, their conscience holds them accountable to their highest perceived standard, which in a declining society can get pretty low. An untaught Christian may find himself compromising more because they are ignorant of God’s standard found in the Bible.
But the goal of maintaining a good conscience is the same as building a large moral skylight in your life. A skylight doesn’t produce its own light but allows moral light in. And it is knowing, and then living God’s Word that brightens our conscience so we can see where to go, what to do, and what to say. Our conscience is that God-implanted ability to evaluate the moral quality of our actions.
AND the Greek in verse 16 emphasizes the word good. A good conscience is one that is cleansed by God’s grace, enlightened by God’s Spirit and made clearer by God’s Word so that we can know what is right and wrong. God wants you to have a clean conscience. It is crucial for you to maintain a clear conscience. Regularly and routinely ask God, “Lord is there anything I need to confess or repent of. Is there anyone I need to make things right with?” If He brings someone to mind or some sin to the surface of your thinking, then deal with it biblically. Personal sins deal with personally, private sins deal with privately, and public sins deal with publically.
God wants you to have a conscience that does not condemn you, since that kind of believer experiences boldness and confidence when attacked or questioned. A clear conscience allows you to be free of any burden of guilt as you face hostility and criticism on this planet. A Christian with a clean conscience has nothing to conceal. He can face an opponent without any fear.
An impure conscience is not easy to live with and makes you unable to stand firm when attacked as a Christian. That is why Paul says in Acts 24:16, “I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.” So if Christ is my Lord and greatest love, I am ready to answer any attack, and am maintaining a clean conscience, which means I am prayed up, dealing with all known sin. So what will happen?
In the middle of verse 16, see it? “So that” indicates purpose–what’s the purpose for all this? “So that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” The purpose is this–if at school or work or at the gym you are spoken against, those who attack you will look dumb because you live good deeds, love Christ above all, don’t attack back, give good answers, and have a clean conscious. Slandered means malicious lies and misrepresentations.
Many of you have been lied about repeatedly–very painful. And the present tense here tells us these lies were said continually. And revile is even more vicious, describing those who continually threaten, mistreat and abuse you with meanness. But because of your good behavior–in this context you are zealous for good deeds empowered by the Holy Spirit, actively sharing Christ and dealing with all known sin in your life, then Peter says those who oppose you will be put to shame, completely humiliated and totally disgraced.
Because you have come to Christ and He lives through you, His goodness is going to shine through you. And that’s the kind of life the enemy hates. Believers who live like Christ, who are zealous for good deeds and love Christ first above all, are going to be slandered and sometimes reviled on this hostile planet. So Peter says, often when that happens those who attack that type of believers will be ultimately disgraced. That is why it is crucial if we suffer, we suffer for doing right and not wrong.
#7 Suffer for doing right and try not to do wrong
Verse 17 says, “For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” Peter wraps up these helps for living on a hostile planet with God’s desire that if you do suffer, make certain it is for doing good moral deeds—Christ-pleasing, clean conscience actions and not because of sinning, pride or verbally attacking back on your part.
Verse 17 brings us back to the common theme of verses 13 to 17–how to react when you suffer unjustly? God says it’s better to suffer for good doing than wrongdoing. There are two types of suffering, and neither is pleasant–but suffering for living like Christ is better.
WHY? because you are learning what it is like to live like Christ, who suffered for our ultimate good and salvation
WHY? because your conscience will be clean
WHY? because at that moment Christ is your first love and Lord
WHY? because it silences the slanderers
WHY? because it is a powerful witness to both critic and onlookers of the reality of Christ
And God says suffering is in His plan and according to His will. But the phrase “if God should will it” is in the optative mood, making it a rare possibility. Suffering for what is right does happen, but it is uncommon. It is more normal to suffer for doing what is wrong. But, God says unjust suffering is always better than deserved punishment.
Martin Luther said this to those who were being persecuted, “Go on in faith and love, if the cross comes take it; if it comes not, do not seek it. Suffering for well doing is vastly better than suffering for evil doing. But–if, because of sin and foolishness a believer endures suffering there is no merit in it, you’ve reaped what you’ve sown. You must accept what you’ve done, grow in humility and seek forgiveness. But to suffer for what is good, pleases Christ, brings a happy blessing to this life and ultimately brings eternal reward.”
An old Hebrew tale tells of a righteous man who suffered undeservedly. He was a man who turned away from evil, took care of his family, walked with God, and was famous for His integrity. But in just a few moments he lost everything he had–his servants, cattle, flocks, his children and his health. Yet this was no fairy tale, it’s the story of a real man named Job. He is counted as blessed because he obeyed our passage today. In fact it says in James 5:11, “We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.”
If God calls you to be a Job, zealously pursue good deeds, follow Christ alone as your Master and first love, be ready to share the Gospel with all, friend and foe, keep a clean conscience before God dealing with all known sin, and confess all ways you live contrary to Scripture and remember the Lord is in control, full of compassion, is all wise and desperately loves you.