Elect Exiles: Ready to Give a Reason

Sermon by David Strain on January 12

1 Peter 3:13-17

Now if you would take a Bible in hand and turn with me to 1 Peter chapter 3 on page 1016 of the church Bibles. We have been working our way through 1 Peter together on Sunday mornings. We’ve come to 1 Peter chapter 3, verses 13 through 17. Peter has given us some counsel on how to navigate opposition. He wants to help us face the possibility of suffering for the sake of the Gospel, and he continues to reflect on that theme in our passage this morning. 

And we’re going to notice four things in particular in verses 13 through 17 as we consider Peter’s teaching. First, there is a reasonable expectation. A reasonable expectation; you can see it in verse 13. Peter says we ought all to have, as we seek to live for Jesus, a reasonable expectation. “Who is there to harm you if you’re zealous for good works?” It’s not a complicated point he’s making. If you’re a good guy or a good gal, if you’re kind and faithful, you show integrity, people typically respond well to that. “Who is there to harm you if you’re zealous for what is good?” It’s a reasonable expectation. 

And yet alongside that, in the second place, Peter says there is, in verses 14 and 15, the need for realistic preparation. Realistic preparation. “Even if you should suffer for righteousness sake you will be blessed,” he says. Then he goes on to say, “always be prepared to give a defense for the hope that is in you to anyone who asks.” So a reasonable expectation, a realistic preparation, and with that realistic preparation in verses 15 and 16 there is a rigorous obligation that rests upon us all. We are to give “a defense to anyone who asks with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience.” So a reasonable expectation, a realistic preparation, a reasonable obligation, finally, a rewarding implication. You can see it in verses 16 and 17. Do it all “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.” 

Okay, do you see the outline? A reasonable expectation, a realistic preparation, a rigorous obligation, and a rewarding implication. That’s where we’re going this morning. Before we consider those themes, let’s pause and pray and then we’ll read the Scriptures together. Let us pray.

O Lord, open our hearts, open our eyes to see wonderful things out of Your Law, for Jesus’ sake, amen.

1 Peter 3 at the thirteenth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“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.”

A Reasonable Expectation

When I was a boy growing up there was a British TV comedy show that my grandfather loved. I have very vivid memories of sitting in front of the fire in the evening watching this ridiculous TV show called “Dad’s Army.” It’s set in the Second World War. It’s a story about, it’s a sitcom about the Home Guard who were sort of a reserve militia during the Second World War for home defense. Usually the Home Guard was comprised of retirees and former soldiers and people who were otherwise disqualified from serving in the theatre of combat. And so it was often an ill-equipped rather motley crew of eccentrics and misfits; pretty fertile soil for comedy. And I have very vivid memories of my grandfather turning, you know, sort of beetroot colored as he guffawed at this show!

And there was one character on the show, a Scotsman, by the name of Private James Frazer who, being Scottish, was irremediably gloomy. I think he was actually an undertaker in the show! No stereotyping or anything like that is happening at all! And as the ridiculous antics of his unit got worse and worse and worse in each episode, he would punctuate the dialogue with his catchphrase, “We’re doomed!” he would say. “We’re doomed!” 

If you look at verse 13 you will see that Peter wants to make sure that the sort of pessimism that responds to the challenges of a dark world with Private Frazer’s exclamation, with his catchphrase, “We are doomed!” really has no place in the Christian life. It really has no place in the Christian life. He says there is a reasonable expectation that those who see you zealous for good works, they’re not going to respond in it with anything but gratitude. If you’re a good person, if you are kind and servant-hearted and you show integrity in your workplace and in your family life and you’re a good neighbor, people typically respond to that with a welcome. You see, Peter wants to avoid the sort of defensive insularity that sees, you know, you turn on the television screen and you listen to your favorite news channel and all you hear are pundits and politicians using the politics of fear to try and secure your vote. You see disaster and horror story after horror story and it’s easy, isn’t it, to begin to feel that the world is this dreadful, dark place and we have to circle the wagons and retreat from it and keep it at bay at all costs. “We’re doomed!” It’s an attitude that easily creeps up on us.

But pessimism is not a Christian attitude, not even for Scottish Christians. It’s not a Christian attitude. Peter wants us instead to face the world with open hearts and a resolve to serve. He doesn’t want us pulling back from our neighbors; he wants us pressing towards them. And so he wants to challenge his first readers who already were beginning to face some opposition for following Jesus, not yet particularly acute; mostly it was slander and social ostracism. There is worse coming, history tells us, but he wants to equip them in the wake of that growing opposition not to withdraw and not to push back but to remember that we ought to have a reasonable expectation in the first place that if we are zealous for what is good, there really is no one typically, usually, who will harm us for that. 

A Realistic Preparation

But then if, on the one hand, Peter says pessimism is ruled out, we ought not to accuse Peter on the other hand, at the opposite extreme, of naive optimism. Because along with the reasonable expectation he says we can all have in verse 13, in verses 14 and 15 he reminds us to make sure we are engaged in realistic preparation; secondly, realistic preparation. Do you see it in verse 14? You’re not generally likely to be harmed for doing the right thing, verse 13, “but even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you will be blessed.” Probably he has the words of Jesus in Matthew 5 verse 10 in the back of his mind here. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Let’s not be naive, he says. Some of his readers, as I said a moment ago, were already beginning to suffer for Christ and he wants us to be prepared when opposition comes. If you suffer for righteousness sake you are blessed. 

John Owen, the famous Puritan, once put it this way. He said, “There is more glory under the eye of God in the sighs, groans and mournings of poor souls filled with the love of Christ than in the thrones and diadems of all the monarchs of the earth.” And then he goes on to quote Martin Luther, “I would rather fall with Christ than reign with Caesar. I would rather fall with Christ than reign with Caesar.” That’s Peter’s point. Isn’t it? Suffering with Christ is sweeter than riches without Him. “Even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you will be blessed.”

And then he gives us some concrete directions on how to respond when opposition does come. Look at verse 14 again. “Have no fear of them nor be troubled, but in your hearts, honor Christ the Lord as holy.” How do you deal with a fearful heart when you know the kids in your class are going to laugh at you because you follow Jesus? How do you quieten your fears when you know that saying “No” to another drink at the office party for the sake of your testimony is going to cause offense? Social ostracism, economic losses, personal slander – those were the sufferings Peter’s first hearers were already facing. More is coming. How do you stand firm for Jesus when doing so is going to cost you? That’s a good question. 

Well verses 14 and 15 are actually quotations of a sort, slightly paraphrased quotations from Isaiah 8:12-13. Peter is saying, “Let me show you the Scriptural path to fighting fear.” Paraphrasing Isaiah’s language he says, “Here is how you do it. You honor Christ the Lord as holy.” Now we need to do a little bit of a grammar lesson for a moment if you’ll indulge me, because the structure of the English translation of verse 15 could slightly obscure Peter’s real point. The Greek verb in verse 15 means “to honor as holy,” “to set apart,” or “to sanctify something.” The object of that verb is “Christ the Lord.” It is the lordship of Christ. It’s not His holiness that is the focus of the action which you might take the ESV, our translation, to imply – “Honor Christ the Lord as holy.” But actually it is the honoring or the setting apart as sacred in your hearts of the lordship of Christ. It’s an awareness that Jesus is King. “I am His and He is mine. I have been mastered by Him. I am not my own. I have been bought at a price. And so what I say and where I go and how I live are no longer up to me. I am ruled by King Jesus and I will fight the fear of man in my heart by proclaiming to myself over and over again the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom.” 

He wants us, in that moment, you know, when the pressure to conform and cave in and go with the flow presses down on you and you are really tempted to blend right in with the worldliness all around you, and holding the line is costly, in that moment he wants us to sing to ourselves what the choir sang to us a few moments ago – “My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine. For Thee all the follies of sin I resign. My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou, if ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, tis now.” So here in the crucible of temptation, “Are You worth it? Is the lordship of Jesus, the mastery of Jesus in my heart more precious to me than the pleasures and follies of sin, the approval of my peers, the good opinion of my colleagues.” You preach Christ as Lord to yourself. You set apart in your heart Christ as Lord. You remember, “I am His. Compromise is not an option available to me. I belong to my gracious Savior, Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has redeemed me.”

But there’s more to do. He wants us to prepare for suffering but He does not want us to build our walls high and stay out of reach of anyone who might conceivably be hostile to Christ or to the Gospel. Peter doesn’t expect Christians to retreat into holy huddles with no non-Christian friends. Something’s wrong if that describes us. And so first he says we need to get ready for what is coming, we need to fight the fear of man with the stronger, sweeter, purer, better fear of the Lord, setting apart Christ in our hearts as Lord. But then, he says, having done that, we need to open our mouths and speak up for Jesus. Look at the second half of verse 15. “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

Do notice those two words, “always” and “anyone.” What is the scope of Peter’s command? “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Always ready for any question from anybody – that is the duty of every single Christian. That is to say, we must know the Word of God and the system of truth that is taught in holy Scripture and we must understand the objections that arise to it and seek to respond to them with honesty and faithfulness and Biblical clarity. The word for “defense” there is a word you may be familiar with. It’s the word we get our English word “apologetics” from. It doesn’t mean that every Christian should make a study of academic, philosophical reasoning, but it does mean that every Christian is to be ready to explain why they believe what they believe. 

I had an elder in the church I served prior to coming here who used to keep a little sermon, a little hand-written sermon in the back of his Bible and he took it everywhere he went. And one day I asked him about it and he said, “You know, I believe that we all ought to be ready to preach, pray or die at a moment’s notice.” That’s what Peter is saying here, isn’t it? “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Be ready to preach, pray or die at a moment’s notice. There’s a calling that rests upon us and we should make realistic preparations so that we might be prepared, that we might be ready. 

A Rigorous Obligation

And as we do that, he says, in the third place there is a rigorous obligation resting upon us. Look at verse 15 again. “Always be prepared to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” and notice who initiates the exchange that Peter is envisaging here, this conversation between a Christian and a non-Christian. The Christian is explaining their faith, but who has initiated the conversation. “Always be prepared to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” The initiative comes from the non-Christian dialogue partner. Now that’s fascinating, but please do not use that as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. You know, “I don’t tell anyone about Jesus because nobody ever asks me!” That’s not what he means; not at all. This is not an excuse to avoid opening your mouth for Christ. 

He’s actually saying something far, far more radical than at first we might realize. He’s saying, “I want you to live a provocative life – a life of service and kindness, a life of joy and peace in believing the Gospel, a life that is zealous for doing good, that turns away from evil, that seeks peace and pursues us. I want you to live a life of Christlikeness that is so provocative that the people who know you can’t help but ask, ‘What in the world is going on with you? Why are you the way you are?’” That’s what he’s saying. He’s not saying never strike up a conversation on your own initiative and try to share the Gospel. Please do. I think he assumes that you will do. But he’s saying, “As you do that, I want your life to be provocative that it will call forth questions from the people amongst whom you have been placed and amongst whom you live and serve.” And when you do, when you live this provocative life, he’s saying, “I want you to be ready.” 

But the preparation he has in mind isn’t just knowing the words to say; it also has to do with the way we say them. It’s part of the obligation resting upon us. Look again at verses 15 and 16. “Give a defense,” he says, yet do it – how? “With gentleness and respect, having a good conscience.” So how we speak in the moment – gentleness and respect – and the way we have been living up until that moment – a life of godliness so that we have a good conscience – those things are vital to being a faithful witness for Jesus. Knowing the arguments, you know, loving the cut and thrust of debate, being a pugilist – somebody who just loves a good fight – those are not qualifications for faithful evangelism. They may actually be disqualifications as much as they are anything else. A good evangelist is never obnoxious. They are provocative, but they are not offensive. The only offense they are willing to give is the offense of the cross – not their manner, not their methods, not their motives; they’re full of gentleness and respect and they have a good conscience. 

A Rewarding Implication

A reasonable expectation, a realistic preparation, a rigorous obligation. And then finally, Peter says there is a rewarding implication. What can we hope to see if we are enabled, by the grace of God, to implement Peter’s instructions here and we begin to live these provocative lives he’s calling us to and we share the Gospel with others with gentleness and respect, what will happen? Look at verses 16 and 17. “Do it all,” he says, “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.” 

So look, there are really only two possible outcomes from evangelism. There are ever only two outcomes from evangelism. Either people believe the Gospel or they don’t. Right? You share the Gospel and either they believe the Gospel or they don’t believe the Gospel. And in some ways, that’s what verses 16 and 17 are pushing to the fore. Those who do not believe will come to understand, in a very direct manner, what verse 12 means when it says “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Christians who suffer for doing good because the Lord wills it for a season find in their trials opportunity to make much of Christ, to show the world, “As I pass through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for the Lord is with me and His rod and His staff, they comfort me. I have a Savior who is more than enough for every trial through which I may pass.” We get to display His sufficiency in our sufferings. 

But those who will not bend their knees to Christ, Peter says they will “suffer for doing evil,” and he says they will “be put to shame,” if not in this life but certainly in the life that is to come because “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” The inference here is really not that hard to see. Is it? But it’s awfully sobering. Some will embrace the Gospel and come to trust in Jesus Christ who is our Savior, and others will face the justice of Christ the Lord only as Judge. But everyone, everyone, everyone in this room will fall into one or other of these two categories. 

So let me just pause there and exhort you to make sure as you hear the good news about Jesus that you respond in faith, because “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” and He is now warning you, calling you, exhorting you, inviting you to flee the wrath to come and come trust in Jesus Christ. The extraordinary point that Peter is really making in this passage for all of us who do follow Jesus is that as we see how this separation takes place between believer and unbeliever that one day will be eternal, Peter is saying God is going to use your witness in the world, your provocative lives, your opening your mouth to “give a reason for the hope that is in you to anyone who asks,” He’s going to use you and me to bring His eternal purposes in salvation and in judgment to pass. Destinies are being worked out in response to our witness.

Now do you feel the weight of that? The apostle Paul felt it, didn’t he? He said, “To the one, we are the aroma of life leading to life, and to the other the aroma of death leading to death and who is sufficient for these things?” He felt the enormous weight of it. “I’m proclaiming Jesus and some are responding in faith and some are rejecting Him. Eternal destinies are being worked out and it’s an enormous, pressing burden. Who is sufficient for these things?” That’s our cry. It ought to be. I’m not up to the task. Are you? So where do we turn? Well that’s what the Lord’s Table is about, isn’t it? In the bread and the wine, these are tangible, edible promises from God. It’s the Gospel depicted, the Gospel in your hands and in your mouth, taken into yourself. It’s Christ Himself available to sustain and strengthen and keep you so that resting upon Him you can say with the apostle Paul, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as coming from ourselves; our sufficiency is from God who has made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter that kills, but of the Spirit who gives life.” 

God will get His work done through weak, sinful, repentance, believing Christians who strive, clinging to Jesus Christ, to obey His commandments. God is going to do marvelous things – that’s what Peter is saying – marvelous things through our witness for His own great glory. So hear His call. Don’t flee back into the Christian ghettos we build for ourselves as a way to maintain our sense of security, but instead begin to live with an outward face. Turn toward your neighbor, your colleague, your friend, with good news. Let’s pray together.

Lord, we hear in this passage an exhortation that is convicting and challenging and we easily run from it and hide from it and say, “Well, evangelism is someone else’s business.” But Lord, the truth is, You have called every one of us always to be ready to give a reason, a defense to anyone who asks us. And we haven’t been ready. So please, would You forgive us? And instead, will You begin to work in us such likeness to Jesus that our lives will truly be provocative? And then give us such a love for the Word of God and the truth of the Gospel that when people ask us we can point them faithfully to the Savior. And Lord, would You please use us that many men and women, boys and girls, in response to our weak efforts to serve You well, might be brought to bend their knee to Christ here rather than be put to shame hereafter because the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. Hear our cries. Would You meet us now at Your Table? Come to us by the Holy Spirit and bring us back to the Lord Jesus Christ, for we ask this in His name, amen.

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