Let’s come before the Lord in prayer that we might be prepared as we come to His Word.
Blessed Lord, You have caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us that we may in such a way hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of Your Holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which You have given us in our savior, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Our text this morning comes from 1 Peter chapter 3. I encourage you to turn in your Bibles, or use the Bible provided for you in the pew in front of you. 1 Peter chapter 3.
As you’ve noticed we’ve taken these first two weeks of the fall semester, our ministry year, to focus and think about what it means to be Christians in a non-Christian world. What it means to be salt and light. And we’ve had two wonderful Sunday School sessions altogether, thinking about how we can share our faith in outreach, last week from the book of Jeremiah about how we live as the city of God in the midst of the city of man.
Then this morning I hope you’ll find that it complements very nicely what Eric had been doing the last two weeks in our Sunday School class as we think together about how we might speak of Jesus. Our focus will be on verse 15, but let’s pick up the reading at verse 13 and read the whole paragraph. Follow along as I read from 1 Peter 3, beginning at verse 13.
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
The aim of this sermon is very simple. My prayer, and I have been praying it this week, is that every Christian here would grow in his or her eagerness and ability to talk about Jesus with others. If you’re here and you’re not a Christian, we’re very glad that you’re here. You haven’t come on the wrong Sunday. We’ve very glad that you’re here and hope that you’ll have an opportunity to learn from parts of this message, but there are some parts in Scripture that talk particularly about how Christians are to engage when a non-Christian world invites them and asks them. This is one of those passages.
So we’re focusing in particular on how Christians, and that’s most of you here, how we can grow in our eagerness and ability to talk about Jesus with others. I choose those words carefully. Not simply a duty, but a joy. Not just a willingness, that’s important, but an eagerness, that we might grow not simply as an act of the will, that, uhh, I should talk about Jesus this week, but we would be eager if the Lord would give us the opportunity to talk about the one that we love and the one who saved us from our sins, to grow in an eagerness to talk about Jesus.
And an ability. Now it didn’t say that we would all become expert apologists. There are some of you here, that’s your thing and you’re really good at it and you’ve read the books and you’ve watched the videos and some of you have even given seminars on it and that’s really good and it’s really great to have some experts who are particularly well-tuned to how to approach and how to answer some of the hardest questions of the faith.
But that’s okay if that’s not you and that’s not most of us. I didn’t say that we all have to become highly sophisticated in our intellectual defense of the faith, but rather that we would grow in having a basic ability to talk about Jesus with others. Now notice that language. I didn’t say that we would all become off-the-charts extroverts. The Bible doesn’t say that you have to be that. Or that you would be salesperson of the year for Jesus. No, simply that we would grow in our eagerness and our ability to talk about Jesus with others.
So the aim of this sermon is very simple – growth. And the outline of this sermon is also very simple. I see in this text four things we can do. Four things we can all do this week, today, right now. Four things we can do to grow in our eagerness and in our ability to talk to others about Jesus.
Four things – don’t be afraid, honor Christ, be prepared, show respect.
It’s a clear outline. It’s not hard to follow. Don’t be afraid. Honor Christ. Be prepared. Show respect.
First thing we can do, right now, every Christian, can begin to cultivate this that we might grow in our ability, in our eagerness, to talk about Jesus. Number one – don’t be afraid.
You see this at the end of verse 14, “Have no fear of them.” Now to be fair, this is not talking immediately about going out and exercising evangelism. That’s not what the “have no fear.” Now I think that’s a fair application, but what is Peter talking about? Why does he think he needs to tell the people receiving this letter, “Have no fear.”
The context throughout this book is that there is a threat of suffering. Indeed, the likelihood of suffering for the Gospel.
Hopefully you have your Bible open. Let’s just look at a few of these. Turn back to chapter 2, verse 12. 2:12: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles,” and that’s just a word that technically means the non-Jews, the Church started out among the Jews, to the Gentiles, but it’s a word for the people out there who aren’t like you. “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable so that when they speak against you as evildoers they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
So he’s anticipating there are people out there and they will say that you are an evildoer. They will think that you’re hateful, they will think that you’re a bigot. They will accuse you of doing evil things. That’s what Peter anticipates.
Turn over to chapter 3, verse 9: “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling.”
Again, he anticipates you will likely receive evil. You will likely be reviled. It’s an important word in this letter. We don’t use it that often, but it means for someone to think disgust about you, when they think of you they want to spit something out of their mouth. Revile you. He says you’re not going to revile in return.
Look at chapter 4, verse 12: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you as though something strange were happening to you.”
Suffering is never enjoyable, that’s why it’s called suffering. If it’s enjoyable, it’s something else. It’s not suffering. So you don’t have to like suffering, but suffering can be worse when you don’t expect it.
It’s like if somebody’s going to punch you in the arm, back when, you know, there would be a group of guys together and they’d say, “Let’s just… Don’t flinch.” Well, of course I’m gonna… You’re punching me. Especially if it’s Eric Russ, I’m going to flinch if you’re going to punch me in the arm. But if maybe you sort of tense up, you can embrace it a little bit.
Peter says, “Now don’t be surprised when this comes to you.” Verse 13: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the spirit of glory and God rests upon you.”
And then down in verse 19: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful creator while doing good.”
Over and over in this letter, Peter anticipates, “Look, be prepared. Don’t be surprised. You are very likely going to suffer for being a Christian.”
The persecution at this time throughout the Roman Empire was not widespread, it was not top down, it was really sporadic and informal. It could be localized, it could still pop up. It wasn’t that the whole empire was looking to exterminate Christians, they had other more important things to do, they thought, but this would happen.
You see what kind of persecution they may have been facing. Now it’s true they may have been facing vocational persecution. In the weeks ahead we’re going to look at the seven churches in Revelation, we’ll talk about this again, but very popular in the first century in the Roman Empire were these guilds. Just think something kind of like, we still have that word “guild,” or a labor union, or some sort of coming together of people in a particular profession, and there were certain things that you had to do as a part of this guild, and often it meant that you had some patron deity, some god or goddess, that you had to sacrifice to. Or you would all be together, the brick layers association, and before you had your company picnic for the year, you’d have to give thanks for the God of the bricklayers.
Well, what do you do in that situation? You can’t commit pagan idolatry. These were the sort of tests that Christians across the Empire were facing. Maybe the names are different and maybe it’s not gods and goddesses so-called, but they are still the same kinds of things that you may be facing in your workplace. That’s one way that they could face some opposition. It may have been physical, prison, bodily harm. It was certainly a suffering through speech.
Now I think most of us realize that “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” is one of the least true things you might ever learn as a child, because actually sticks and stones sometimes don’t hurt you nearly as much as words can hurt you, and can stick with you for a long time.
So there is the pervasive power of negative speech. Now I understand we’re not persecuted in the way that some Christians around the world are. Look, we’re in this place, we’re in a public setting, we’re preaching Christ, we can share our faith with others, so we don’t want to have some sort of persecution envy complex. No. Yet, understand that the New Testament has a fairly broad category for what it means to be persecuted, or to be opposed.
Matthew 5:11: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of false things about you on My account.”
We don’t want to exaggerate what Christians are facing in Charlotte. This is a city with all sorts of churches and all sorts of Christian influence, and yet most of us increasingly are finding that some people may utter all kinds of false things, or may revile. In fact, that’s what we’ve heard, if you paid attention to those verses we just went through. The kind of persecution that Peter’s anticipating has to do with words.
2:12, “reviled”, or 2:23 rather, “reviled. Chapter 3, verse 16, we read, “You might be slandered.” 2:12, “called evil.” 4:14, “insulted.”
So this is the sort of opposition that Peter says you should expect, that you will be reviled, you’ll be slandered, you’ll be called evil, you’ll be insulted. Now what are you going to do when that happens? Because it will happen.
Peter says have no fear of them, nor be troubled.
Okay, Peter, that sounds nice. How does that work? It seems like they can do a lot of things. They could hurt me, they could hurt my kids, they could take away my job, they could just make me feel bad. They could spread all sorts of lies about me so people think that I’m this horrible person that I’m not. How can you say “don’t be troubled”? There are a lot of troubles that can come if I stand up for Jesus, if I say I believe everything this book says about the Bible, about heaven and hell, about Jesus, about eternal life, about salvation, about men and women and marriage.
Well, do you see the logic here? It’s actually the same logic that Jesus gives in the Sermon on the Mount. Verse 14: “But even if you should suffer,” so verse 13 says ideally, if you do good, you shouldn’t have to suffer as much. The governing authorities, Romans 13, are there to punish the evildoer, reward the one who does good. So do good, generally speaking, if you follow the rules, generally speaking, if you’re a kind person, if you’re a humble person, generally speaking that means things go better for you.
However. Verse 14: “Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake,” here’s the promise, “you will be blessed.”
It’s the same thing we just heard from Jesus in Matthew 5: Blessed are you, happy are you, congratulations to you, when you’re reviled and persecuted and people utter all kinds of false things about you on My account, you’ll be blessed.
Look back up at verse 9: “Do not repay for evil for evil, reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called that you may obtain a blessing.”
You were called to this. This is where it’s a new experience for many churches and many Christians in this country and in this part of the country. We are used to having some cultural cachet with being a Christian. We’re used to generally a Christian is a good thing, and it still may be in your particular neck of the cultural woods, but increasingly to be a real, Bible-believing, earnest Christian who believes everything in this book is not considered a good thing. That means we’re facing this test. What do we do? And some people convince themselves if they hate me, the only way to move forward is to hate them. In fact, to find the people who hate them. It’s not so much that I want my leaders to be the people who, I want my leaders to be the people who hate them as much as they hate me.
That’s not the way of the cross.
You have an opportunity to bless – for to this you were called. Some of you try to find out your calling in life, what’s my calling, what should I do, where should I live, what job, should I have a career change? Well, God tells you, here’s one of the things you’re called to, you are called to bless people when they are not a blessing to you. You are called to bless people when they revile you. That’s why you were, you know, you see the slogans, “I was made for this” or “I was born for this.” You were born again for this. You were born again to bless people when they revile you.
Now what’s the blessing that God’s going to give you? Because the Bible says very clearly you do this why? Why should you not have fear? Why should you not be troubled? When in fact they can do a lot of things that make your life worse? Well, the promise is if they do that, I’m going to bless you.
Do you see what God’s going to do? Look at verse 12. Notice three body parts here. God doesn’t actually have a body. He’s a spiritual being. But He’s described with these anthropomorphisms so we can understand sort of what He’s like. Notice three body parts, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, His ears are open to their prayer, and the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” That’s how He describes the blessing, the blessing, what God promises, is the eyes of the Lord are upon you.
Kids, doesn’t it help when your brother or sister is picking on you, and you don’t like that, but if you turn around and you see that mom or dad, they saw the whole thing, well, that feels pretty good. In fact, that’s when you start to cry a little louder, “my arm, I’ll never use my arm.” At least they saw it. You can endure because the authorities, the one who has power, they saw it.
The eyes of the Lord are upon you. Everyone else may forget you, but God won’t forget you. The world may believe lies, but God knows the truth. He knows the truth. Even if they say false things about you, He knows the truth.
And His ears are open to your prayers. Come to Him, He’ll listen. And His face, His face is against those who do evil.
You may experience opposition from being a Christian. People may not like to hear about Jesus. It is easier to tell someone about the great doughnut you ate because who doesn’t like doughnuts. If you don’t like doughnuts, the elders want to have a visit with you.
But plenty of people don’t like the truth of the Bible and they don’t like the truth about Jesus and often they don’t like the truth about themselves. So it’s hard to speak of Jesus. It’s easier to speak of doughnuts. You found the best doughnut place? Yeah. It’s a little harder with Jesus because you know they might not like it. No one wants to be rejected. You don’t want to be made fun of. You don’t want to be thought silly. That doesn’t feel good. But you open your mouth with the expectation that you can’t lose. You say something about Jesus, they want to hear more, they love Jesus, ah, they’re already a Christian, great, a new brother or sister in Christ that I met.
When they say you’re terrible, I hate you, what a bigot you are, I don’t want any of this, I can’t believe you’re having this conversation, how dare you mention that name around me again. Well, that doesn’t feel good, but still a win because you’re going to get a blessing. God promises to bless you when people say hurtful things, when they revile you, when they utter all kinds of false things about you on Christ’s account. Either way, a blessing.
So don’t be afraid.
Number 2 – Honor Christ.
You see that in verse 15: “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”
1 Peter 3:14 and the beginning of 15 are a riff on Isaiah 8:12-13. Here’s what Isaiah says, and you can immediately hear the resonance with what Peter is saying. Isaiah says, “Do not fear what they fear nor be in dread, but the Lord of hosts, Him you shall honor as holy.”
Well, Peter isn’t exactly quoting that, but you can hear the refrain, “Do not fear what they fear nor be in dread,” that’s the end of verse 14, have no fear nor be troubled, and then Isaiah says, “But the Lord of hosts, Him you shall honor as holy.” Now notice what Peter is doing. He’s obviously referring to Isaiah 8 except he has moved from “honor the Lord of hosts,” Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, and he inserts there Jesus Christ as Lord. So the same honor that you as an Old Testament Jew, as a Hebrew, would give to Yahweh, that same honor now you give to Christ.
How could they not have concluded that Jesus was God? The first commandment was you shall have no other gods before Me, and here Peter is saying, “Oh, you know one of those verses about honor Adonai Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts? Well, you do that for Christ. He is the Lord of armies. He deserves the same honor.
We will not be prepared to suffer for Christ unless we have already set apart Christ, the Lord, as holy.
Isn’t it true one of the ways, and you can’t even manufacture this, you just pray that the Lord would do this for your kids, one of the ways to keep kids from heading down a dumb path is hopefully if they have good parents who love them and basically give them good instruction, the kids have a healthy desire to please their parents.
Now, I was a sinner and all kids are, and I was a sinner as a young kid, sinner as a teenager. By God’s grace I didn’t head down an ostensibly rebellious path anyway. Always had things to work on in my heart. But when I think about it, why didn’t I, and there might have been opportunities, and I can say by the Lord’s grace, because what mom and dad thought of me always felt a little more important than even what these other 18- or 19-year-olds thought of me. It wasn’t that I told the other 18- or 19-year-olds, well, I want to please my mom and dad more than you. No. Everything in me right there. But there was this sort of nagging good sense of but I know how I was raised.
Some of you raise your kids all the right way and they still don’t have that, and it’s not your fault, but when it’s there, it’s a gift from God. And how much more when it comes to Christ, that you have in those moments a profound sense, I want to please man, I want to please God, it’s really more important to me that I please God.
Many Christians know the second half of verse 15, and we’re coming to that in just a minute. The second half, famous evangelism or apologetics verse, “always be prepared, make a defense to anyone,” all of that we’re coming to. But many of us neglect the first half, and the first half is essential to the second half. You are not going to be prepared to make a defense of your faith unless you have first set apart Christ to honor Him in your hearts. You honor Christ because He’s worth it. You honor Christ because He will bless you. You honor Christ because He’s the Lord, which means He’s in charge. He’s good. He’s great. No one else is Lord of your life. He’s holy and the world is not.
You won’t be prepared until you first set apart Christ the Lord as holy, to honor Him in your hearts.
You’ve heard me say this line before, I can’t remember if I got it from someone else or I thought of it. If you think it’s great, then I thought of it. We are all natural evangelists for the things and the people that we love most. We are all natural evangelists for the things and the people that with love most.
If somebody came up to you afterward and said, “Hey, you got any pictures of your grandkids you could show me?” “Oh oh, [sound effect], do I ever.” Or especially when you have your first kid. “Could you give me a day by day, just a digest, give as much information as you can, what is happening every day with your newborn?” Of course you want to do that.
Some of you here, you want to talk about the football you saw last night. Talk about the movies, “Did you know that that new Top Gun movie, you can get it and you can stream it now? Man, hope I look like that Tom Cruise when I’m that old.” You go to a new restaurant, you have some food, you want to talk about it.
We all love, even the quiet shy people, we love to talk about the things and the people that we love. Now, again, I get it. Talking about your favorite doughnut is easier than talking about Jesus. There’s not the same scandal. Talking about your grandkids, sports is sometimes safe, not always.
Here’s the point. Too often messages about evangelism, sharing our faith, they bypass the heart and they go right to the will and they just get people, just, would you just do it as an act of the will. Just go and talk about.
Listen, if you don’t really want to talk about Jesus, you won’t. And if you don’t, now I understand, it’s fearful, all of the things that come up, I’m not the world’s greatest one-on-one evangelist either, but you do have to ask yourself, if given the opportunity you don’t want to say anything about Jesus, have you really set apart Christ the Lord as holy in your heart? In fact, maybe the central thing to do that we might grow in speaking of Jesus to others, is that you would love Jesus more in your heart, you would get to know Him better, because we all love to speak about the person and the things that we love, that we enjoy, that mean everything to us. If that’s not Jesus, that’s where you need to start there with your heart.
Honor Christ. Be prepared. Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Be prepared.
This doesn’t envision a formal trial, though that could happen, too, but more the casual interaction whereby the Christian is asked to explain himself. The opportunities where people invite you to say more. If you look in the Gospels and in Acts, it’s striking how almost always Jesus or the apostles, they’re speaking about the good news when people give them either implicit or explicit permission to do so.
Now that doesn’t mean that sometimes you have to, you’re in a country and you have to speak of Jesus, to be faithful even when they don’t want you to speak of Jesus. It doesn’t mean that sometimes you don’t pass out the tracts on the beach or knock on somebody’s door, but you just think about Jesus and the apostles. It was normally an occasion where there was an expectation and even an invitation. So Jesus would speak to the crowds, they were here to, they wanted to hear what He had to say. Or He would have one-on-one encounters and people would ask Him things. Or sometimes it was opponents and they were trying to trip Him up and trap him.
You look at Paul. Paul would go first to the synagogue. It was understood that somebody like Paul, who’s trained, could share from the Word and could say something. It took a lot of courage to do it because he knew that he was risking his neck for it, but it was an opportunity that you would say something.
Other times we find him in the marketplaces, kind of the internet of the day, or the classroom of the day, where people are expecting to debate all of the ideas. Here, we want to hear what this babbler has to say to us. Or other times he’s on trial and somebody asks him a question. All of these occasions, people are inviting, “Would you speak?” It doesn’t mean that sometimes you don’t make your own invitations, you do, but the most common method is speak where speaking is available and be ready to speak when called upon.
I know we have a number of people here who are in sales, so I’m not using this little analogy as a weapon, we love you salesman and women, glad you have that gift and you’re trained and you do it in all in the right way. But suppose you saw move in across the street, I don’t even know if people still do this, and if this is your job, just forgive me, a vacuum cleaner salesman. I’m going to find out afterward, “Pastor, we have like 30 vacuum cleaner salesmen in the church.” Well, I’m sure they don’t do it this way. You know, you see the folks move in and they’ve got the van and you see it’s just all covered in their vacuum paraphernalia. You and the rest of the family, “Oh, know, one of those vacuum cleaner salesman moved in across the street.” They don’t seem normal, their kids don’t ride bikes, they’re just outside with vacuums. They’re just riding on vacuums. Oh, one of these people. They have little signs in their yard, “Suck it up.” You’re like, “Really?” Everything, the first thing they do, is they come over and, “Oh, you’ve got a dog.” “Yeah, it’s a dog. We love this dog.” “You know dogs can shed a lot.” Oh, boy, I see where this is going. And you always feel like the only thing this person wants to do is make a sale. I’m not even a real person to them, they’re just thinking of “I’ve gotta sell the vacuum.”
Well, none of us like to be on the receiving end of that. You don’t feel like somebody actually loves your or cares about you. So in the same way don’t hear “speak about Jesus,” don’t hear “be prepared,” as you’ve got to be that super-aggressive salesperson that nobody wants to hear from, to tell them I’m not taking this phone call.
Be prepared when people ask you.
Now what does it mean to be prepared? Well, it may mean that you have to learn more. Some of you maybe need to make sure you understand what the gospel is. Some of you might want to use a tract. I appreciated Eric saying that. You may just memorize a couple of verses and you just have your go-to verses, that’s what I’m going to use. Maybe you do open the Bible and you read it with someone. Be prepared.
Here’s the reality, though. Almost all of you are already way prepared. Now I know some of you maybe are exploring Jesus, some of you just became Christians and so you really do got to get a few things worked out, but a whole lot of you have been in the church for a long time and you grew up in the faith, or you’ve heard a bazillion sermons, you can say something about Jesus. It isn’t so much that you need another class on what it is all about. You’re prepared.
Like I said at the beginning, apologetics is good and some of you are really attuned to those issues. The textural criticism questions, the reliability of the Gospels, what about other religions, what about science, what about Darwin, what about evolution, and it’s good. It’s good to have a few experts that we can lean on for those sorts of things. But this isn’t about being an expert in every question. Now you may be saying, “Well, Pastor, you’re overconfident in us. You went to seminary. You do this for a living. Of course you think you’re prepared. But we’re not prepared.”
You’re not prepared to tell people that Jesus came to earth as a man, the Son of God, and He died on the cross to forgive us of our sins? You know what you can say if somebody asks you a hard question? This is really revolutionary. You can always say, “I don’t know.” That’s not a failure. You can say, “That’s a really good question. I don’t know that I have the answer to that right now, but if you want to talk about it later, I’d be happy to go. I know some smart people who could direct me to some books or to some other articles. I don’t know. I’d be happy to look.” You can always step out.
Some people are not asking real questions, they’re trying to get into an argument. You don’t have to go into the argument cave with them. You can say, “I’m not really interested in getting into an argument about this, but I’m happy to talk about what I believe.”
Notice what Peter says – be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason. A reason.
It’s important that we are able to tell our own story, that God changed my life, God helped me, to be able to explain that. We see that Paul does that when called upon and he had a very dramatic story. Others have very less seemingly dramatic stories. It’s important to be able to do that.
It’s important to be able to do more than that, because there are people all over the world who have stories about how a 12-step program changed their life, or Allah changed their life, or Jordan Peterson changed their life, or any number of people have stories of things that changed their life, “I once was this and now I’m better,” that aren’t necessarily Christian stories.
So we need, yes, to share our story, but we need not only to here’s what happened to me, that’s powerful, this in particular is talking about a reason. Why do you believe that? Now again, this does not have to be complicated. This does not have to be scary. Peter is not saying you must be able to answer every question anyone could ever ask you. No, what he has in mind is the sort of thing that the apostles did. Why are you part of this crazy sect called Christian? Because there was a man, Jesus the Christ, who came to earth and He died and He rose again. That’s a reason.
We don’t just believe because we were brought up in it. People always say, “Well, you’re just a Christian because you were brought up in a Christian culture. If you were brought up in some other country, you’d be a Hindu or a Muslim.” You say, “Well, were you brought up here?” “Yeah.” “Are you a Christian?” “No.” “Hmm. Well, then I guess it doesn’t always work like that, does it?”
But you have a reason. You’re telling people, “I didn’t just will myself to believe something without any evidence, without any good rational reasons for it. God is the creator. That’s why I give my life to Him. He came to earth as a man. He died. The tomb is empty.” These are the sort of reasons that the apostles would give. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to be intellectually robust. But there are reasons.
You’re communicating to people this is not something I just stumbled into, it’s not just something I was born with, it’s not just something that makes me feel better, actual history, something happened. Jesus died, Jesus rose again. That’s what you want people to see. Because they can discount your story, but they have to come face-to-face with did this man you call Jesus, was He the person you say He is, and did He do what you say He did? And what the Bible says He does?
You’re inviting people to ask. Don’t you like how realistic verse 15 is? It’s not a copout, that there’s no other time to share your faith, but it is saying realistically, this is what you’re doing, you’re making yourself ready for when the opportunity comes. Pray that someone would ask you. Put yourself in positions where people may ask you, work, hobbies, sports, school. And have your ears open, because people may be asking you questions that aren’t just the direct question, “Tell me, what do Christians believe?”
I remember one time when I had a relationship with a Muslim man from Niger, I was trying to share my faith, and eventually we were sitting down, we were actually sitting down over doughnuts, so it all comes full circle, full circle, huh, I just thought of that, too. And he said, because as a Muslim he knew something about Jesus and had a high view of Jesus, and he said, “Here’s the thing I’ve never understood about Christianity. Why do you Christians think that Jesus had to die on the cross?”
If you get that one, that’s, I don’t know, that’s not just a softball, that’s a T right there, you get 10 swings at it. Most of them don’t come quite that obvious. But if you have ears, you can hear these questions. “Why are you so calm?” Okay, we don’t always get that one, but maybe you do. “Why are your kids so respectful?” “Why are you so encouraging in the sporting events when all the other parents are losing their cool?” “I heard what happened in your marriage, but you didn’t get a divorce. Why?” “Why are you at church so much?” “Why do you have so many kids?” If it’s relevant. “Why do you have a Bible on your desk?” “Why do you think that about marriage?” “Why do you think that about abortion?” “Why did you adopt?” “Why did you foster?” “How are you handling that disappointment in your life?” “How are you doing with that loss?” “What does that painting mean that you have hanging up in your house?” “Is that a verse from the Bible on your desk?” On and on.
Then ask ourselves this question: Are we people of hope such that someone would ask us from time to time, “There’s something different”? Or are we people most fundamentally marked by panic, by anger, and by fear?
Why do you have hope? Something… Now they won’t put it quite like this, but what they sense is this person must not be living for this life alone. What is that about?
Then finally, be prepared, show respect. Yet do it, verse 15, with gentleness and respect.
There’s a lot of debate about how Christians are to engage the culture. How do you engage a culture that’s increasingly hostile? There are some Christians, and they look at different models in Scripture and have reasons for this, and their fundamental posture is we need to build walls because the bad guys are trying to get in and trying to corrupt things.
There are other people whose fundamental posture is we need to build bridges so people can come over as easily as possible.
Actually, we need to have the discernment and the wisdom to know that both of those activities are required. The Church does need to build sturdy walls to keep out false teachers, to keep out false teaching, so there is an occasion for defense, that’s the word used here. But we also build attractive bridges to welcome the curious in. It takes discernment to know is this person really a critic and a danger, or is this person genuinely contrite and curious.
Here’s how I put it one time in an article I wrote: “When people give you a hearing,” like we envision in verse 15, they’ve asked you a question, “When people give you a hearing, don’t lead with a hard edge and don’t leave the hard stuff out.” You don’t lead with a hard edge, “Thanks for asking about Jesus, because if anybody needs Him, it’s you.” “Speaking of Jesus, let me tell you the three most unpopular things for you about Jesus. Here we go.” And yet don’t leave the hard stuff out, that you’re just dealing in just vague spiritual generalities, “Oh, Jesus? Jesus gives you purpose in your life. Jesus will be good for your family. Jesus gives you something to live for.” Well, what’s that? That’s just a mantra. So don’t lead with a hard edge and don’t leave the hard stuff out.
When somebody is coming and asking you, of course you want to build a bridge and that means you do so with respect and with gentleness.
I head this analogy from Greg Koukl before, I’m sure you’ve heard and you’ve used it before, but often when we share, it’s putting the proverbial pebble in someone’s shoe. When you’re walking along a path and you get that pebble, at first you don’t think about it and then you tell yourself, “I’m not going to think about the pebble in my shoe.” Then you go a little farther and farther and eventually you have to stop, you have to take off your shoe, what is this thing here in my shoe? It feels like a boulder and it’s just a little teeny pebble. That’s what happens so often when we share our faith. We give a reason for the hope that we have. It’s not on the spot, but later someone thinks, “Hmm, what was that about?”
Often it will not be, you know, “That was the most brilliant intellectual defense I had ever heard, and the book they recommended.” Often what it will be is the character that you showed. “You know, when I think about that, I came at him pretty hot and heavy. He didn’t respond in kind.” “You know, she didn’t get upset even when I was so angry at her.” “They didn’t get flustered when I came at them with everything.”
So we don’t have to twist arms. We don’t demean their person. We don’t feel like we have to win an argument. Gentle respect. It takes a miracle of the Holy Spirit to cause anyone to be born again, and this verse is simply saying don’t require the Holy Spirit to do a second miracle and overcome your stupidity. One miracle, just, okay, God, we’re asking for one miracle, we’re not going to try to make You do two or three or four because of our way of acting. Gentleness and respect.
You need to know, am I talking to a wolf, a pig, a dog, a sheep? Someone genuinely interested in hearing?
Here’s the last question, as we close. I would be remiss if I didn’t bring this to your attention. As we talk about this, you probably heard talks about sharing our faith before, but you need to think, because it’s possible, you get these talks, you hear these, and one of the reasons maybe we don’t talk about our Good Shepherd is you aren’t actually yet a sheep. You may be a churchgoer, you may have grown up around Christianity, but you’re not actually a sheep, and you’re not actually listening to the Shepherd, not actually interested in other people knowing the Shepherd because you’re not yet a sheep. Some of you may know that about yourself, but some of you may have been around lots of sheep and you even sort of smell like a sheep, but you’re just sort of a smelly not-sheep.
So you really need to think about this. Do you honor Christ? Is He really your Lord? Do you really know Him? Have you really come not just as an intellectual exercise, an abstract statement of faith, not just the Lord, not just a savior, your Lord, your savior, you’ve come to Him, I have sin, not metaphorical, vague, ambiguous sins, real sins, I’m really guilty and I really come broken-hearted and I need forgiveness, I need a savior.
It’s very hard to give to other people what we don’t already have, to introduce to someone One whom we’ve met but not really embraced. So as we give as a reason for the hope that we have, with gentleness and respect, let us first make sure that we have set apart Christ as Lord and holy in our own hearts.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we give thanks for Your Word, for all that You have to teach us here, and may we this week, each one of us, start with the pastors and the elders, may we grow in our eagerness and in our ability to talk about Jesus. In His name we pray. Amen.