1 Peter 3:15b-16
Last time we looked at 1 Peter 3:13-17 and considered what that passage has to say about “the hope that is in you”. From verses 13 to 14a we saw that the hope that is within you arises from The Privileged Position of Believers. That privileged position is that believers have eternal security in Christ.
From verses v14b-16 we saw that the hope that is within you gives The Proper Perspective for Believers. That is “in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord”. One of the results of doing that is that we can have a perspective of “no fear” when faced with opposition from men. It’s when Christ is sanctified in your heart as Lord that you can “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled”. Peter also mentioned another result of sanctifying Christ as Lord in your hearts but we left that for us to consider today.
Before we go on to consider that let’s remind ourselves that the last thing we saw last time was from verse 17 where we saw that the hope that is within you recognises The Prevailing Purpose of God. That gives us the comfort of knowing that everything that happens to us is under God’s control and is working for our good.
So, we thought about “the hope that is in you” being such that we enjoy a privileged position, have a proper perspective and are sure of the prevailing purpose of God. Now we’re going to think about giving “a reason for the hope that is in you” because, in verses 15b and 16, we see that the other result of sanctifying Christ as Lord in your hearts that Peter mentions is: “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”.
In that text I think we can see that Peter presents a scenario, an expectation and a purpose. Firstly, let us consider:
The scenario that Peter presents here is one in which his readers were being asked a question. He’s getting them to think about a situation in which someone “asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”. That’s how the ESV puts it. The NIV has “asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” but “the hope that is in you” is more accurate. The word that has been translated as “reason” in both versions could equally be translated as “account”, or “explanation”. The question that’s really being asked is “why do you have a hope within you or what is the basis of that hope?” The idea is of being asked to give a rational account of the reason for the hope that is within you. It’s one of being asked to explain yourself.
Now, Peter had said: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”. That could sound a bit like a courtroom setting in which a defence is being made against legal charges. Certainly, we read of a number of times when Paul made a defence when he was brought before the authorities. You might think to yourself that you’re not likely to appear in court for your faith so what Peter is saying here doesn’t apply to you. However, notice that Peter didn’t say “always being prepared to make a defense when judges or authorities ask you for a reason for the hope that is in you”. No, he said “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”. No doubt the scenario that Peter was presenting would have included the legal, courtroom situation but he had something much broader in mind. He was thinking of any situation in which someone “asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”. Primarily, that would be in day to day situations and in everyday conversations.
That Peter envisaged this scenario shows that he expected that, as a believer in Christ, you are likely to be asked to give “a reason for the hope that is in you”. Why would that situation arise? Surely it is because the lives of believers should show that they have a hope within them. Their hope should be evident. You see, as believers in Christ, we don’t merely have a hope for the future; we have a hope that is within us. It’s a living hope at the very centre of our beings. However, although it is within us, the very fact that Peter envisages that we will be asked about it shows that this hope is to be evident. It’s to be seen. It’s to be worked out in our daily lives. No-one would ask about it if it was a private hope that was simply hidden away in our hearts and had no effect on our daily lives. The hope within must affect all that we say and do so that it is evident to those around us. Is the hope that is in you so evident that you are sometimes asked about it?
So, that is the scenario that Peter presents. Next, when someone “asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”, let us note:
When someone “asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”, what does Peter expect you to do? The ESV expresses the expectation as: “always being prepared to make a defense”. The NIV has: “Always be prepared to give an answer”.
Firstly, notice that Peter presupposes that our faith is reasonable. The very fact that, when asked “for a reason for the hope that is in you”, you can “make a defense” or “give an answer” indicates that our faith is reasonable. The hope that is within us is not irrational. We might not be able to conclusively prove it but it’s not based on wishy washy, airy fairy feelings or mumbo jumbo. Neither is it the result of indoctrination. It has a solid, rational basis that can be articulated in readily understandable words. In responding to such a question, we’re not to simply express our feelings. We’re to express solid reasons. However, in doing so, it’s important to avoid Christian jargon or deeply theological terminology that will mean nothing to our unbelieving questioners. We need to answer in words that will readily be understood.
Next, notice that Peter is not simply speaking about giving an answer; he’s talking about being prepared to do so. At first sight you might take “be prepared” to just mean “be willing to” but I think there’s more to it than just willingness. I was in The Boys’ Brigade in my younger years and we felt vastly superior to the Boy Scouts because they couldn’t march, didn’t have a band and they wore silly woggles! Nonetheless, despite my non-involvement with the Boy Scouts, I was very aware that their motto was “Be prepared” and that came to my mind as I was considering this verse. Robert Baden-Powel, the founder of the Scouts, explained their motto as follows: “Be Prepared in Mind by having disciplined yourself to be obedient to every order, and also by having thought out beforehand any accident or situation that might occur, so that you know the right thing to do at the right moment, and are willing to do it. Be Prepared in Body by making yourself strong and active and able to do the right thing at the right moment, and do it”. That’s quite a convoluted statement but it expresses the idea that being prepared is to be both willing and able. It speaks of being suitably equipped as well as being well intentioned. Both are essential if anything is to be achieved. You might be very willing to do something but you won’t accomplish much without the necessary ability. Conversely, you might be very well equipped but you won’t accomplish much without a willingness to use your ability. The expectation that Peter is expressing is for us to be both willing and able to do something. So, you are to be prepared for the situation in which someone “asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”, by being willing to give an answer and by being able to give an answer.
The next thing to notice is that the ESV speaks of “being prepared” but the NIV says “be prepared” which sounds like another one of Peter’s imperatives. However, “being prepared” is the correct translation of the Greek text. Let’s get a feel for the flow of what Peter is saying by reading from verse 14b. He says: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared….”. You see, this always being prepared stems from honouring Christ the Lord as holy in your hearts. If Christ is Lord in your heart so that you have personal trust in Him alone as your Lord, besides giving rise to that perspective of “no fear” when faced with opposition from men, it will also result in “being prepared”. You “honor Christ the Lord as holy” by “always being prepared”. Having Christ as Lord in your heart results in going beyond not fearing men to being willing and able to do something.
What does it make us willing and able to do? Well, the ESV says: “to make a defense” and the NIV says: “to give an answer”. The Greek word that has been translated as “defence” or “answer” is apologia from which we get the English word “apology”. In everyday, modern parlance we think in terms of being apologetic as being sorry for something. When you’ve wronged someone you apologise to them. You give them an apology. It’s an expression of regret. That certainly isn’t what Peter is saying here. He isn’t saying that when you’re asked “for a reason for the hope that is in you”, you’re to reply by saying “I’m ever so sorry but that’s just what I happen to believe”. The English word “apology” also has a more technical meaning that refers to making a rigorous defence of a belief. We tend not to use the word “apology” in that way nowadays but you’ll be familiar with the word “apologetics”. That might sound very academic. It might make you think of complicated, intellectual arguments that are put forward to support the validity of the faith. However, while there is certainly a place for formal apologetics, that is not particularly what Peter has is mind here either. He’s not saying we’re all to be steeped in apologetics. Generally, when the word apologia is used in the New Testament it has the sense of “answer a question” or “reply to an accusation”. Peter is simply saying here that when anyone questions the “reason for the hope that is in you”, if you’re honouring Christ the Lord as holy in your heart, you’ll be willing and able to give a clear explanation.
Besides recognising that Peter is not saying that we’re all to be steeped in apologetics we also need to recognise that he is not saying that we’re all to be full on evangelists either. Sometimes Christians can be made to feel quite inadequate because they feel that there is pressure being placed upon them to be evangelising. The fact is that we’re not all gifted as evangelists. We don’t all have the ability to go out of our way to engage with strangers and directly challenge them with the gospel. But, we are all to be those who are willing and able “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”.
Looking at the text we can discern three aspects to this expectation that you will be prepared to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”. Such a defence is to be characterised by: Constancy, Civility and Consistency.
We see the aspect of Constancy in verse 15 where Peter says: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks” or, in the NIV: “everyone who asks”.
That word “always” suggests constancy. It’s not saying that we’re to always be making a defence. We only do that when someone asks us for the reason for our hope. But, it is saying that we’re to always be prepared to make such a defence when asked “for a reason for the hope that is in you”. We’re to be in a state of constant readiness for whenever someone asks the question. We’re to be a bit like firemen. For a lot of the time they’re either inactive or doing training exercises. Nonetheless, they’re always ready to respond when called upon.
This aspect of constancy is also suggested by the words “anyone who asks” in the ESV or “everyone who asks” in the NIV. You see, we don’t pick and choose who to answer. We’re to be constant in answering anyone and everyone who asks regardless of whether they be rich or poor, powerful or weak, intelligent or simple. We’re not to be afraid to answer those who might intimidate us because they seem to be more powerful or more clever than us. After all, our hope isn’t the product of our own intellect but the result of God’s work through Jesus on the cross having been applied to our hearts and lives by his Spirit. Neither are we to be unwilling to answer those who might seem to beneath us. No, it’s “anyone” or “everyone who asks”. So, we don’t only answer whenever someone asks, we also answer whoever asks.
Notice too that there is no mention of why someone might be asking. Peter doesn’t specify whether the question stems from genuine interest, idle curiosity, polite conversation or a hostile attitude. The fact is that, regardless of when, who or why, if the question is asked we are to be constant in our readiness to provide an answer.
We see the aspect of Civility where Peter continues in verse 15 to say: “yet do it with gentleness and respect”. The NIV has “But do this with gentleness and respect”. You see, it’s not merely giving an answer that matters. How we give the answer is also important. An excellent, clearly worded answer can be completely ruined if it’s accompanied by a poor manner or attitude.
The word that’s been translated as “gentleness” here could equally as well be translated as “meekness” or “humility”. This speaks of the manner in which we’re to make a defence or give an answer to those who ask us “for a reason for the hope that is in” us. I’m sure you’ve all noticed that if politicians, speakers, preachers and so on are unsure of their position they often become increasingly strident and loud in defending it and invariably, the more they do so, the less convincing they become. There might well have been occasions on which you’ve done the same thing yourself. But, we’re to answer with gentleness, meekness, humility.
Having said that we’re to answer with “gentleness”, both versions then go on to say: “and respect”. That might give the impression that, besides answering with “gentleness”, we’re to also be respectful towards those who ask the question. However, although we certainly should be respectful towards those who question us or demand answers, I don’t think the translators have captured the right sense here. The Greek word that they’ve translated as “respect” is actually phobos which literally means “fear” and, as we’ve seen on several previous occasions, Peter invariably uses phobos to speak of “fear of God”. He’s certainly not saying that we’re to fear those who question us. Rather, our respect for God, our reverence for Him, our sure hope in Him should provide us with a deep and settled conviction so that we don’t feel the need to be strident and aggressive. Having a proper reverence for God leads to humility. Because our confidence is in Him rather than in ourselves we can answer with humility. It’s having that right relationship with God by viewing Him as Lord that enables us to respond to our questioners with appropriate gentleness and humility. So, the defence we make is to be characterised by civility.
Moving on to verse 16 we see the aspect of Consistency as Peter goes on to say: “having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame”.
You see, regarding “being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” Peter didn’t stop at saying: “yet do it with gentleness and respect”. He went on to say: “having a good conscience”. The NIV puts it as “keeping a clear conscience” which makes it sound as though we are to make an effort to keep our consciences clear but that isn’t the emphasis here. “Having a good conscience” is the correct translation. The fact is that, as believers in Christ, we have “a good conscience”. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that our consciences have been cleansed and purified by the blood of Christ. So, as we answer those who question us we are to do so in a way that is consistent with that “good conscience” in the context of a life that is consistent with that “a good conscience”. You’ll notice that Peter goes on in verse 16 to speak of “your good behavior in Christ”. Our lives are to be an outworking of what we are in Christ.
In the immediate context, bringing that “good conscience” to bear when we answer those who question us will mean that we will answer them with honesty and integrity. We’re not to embellish what we say to try to make the gospel more appealing to our hearers. We’re not to put on an act. We’re not to exaggerate. We’re to say what we honestly know to be true.
So, you see, even giving an answer with civility is not enough. I’m sure we’ve all come across people who appear to be very civil but it’s really something of a facade. The answer that we give is to be convincing and our civility is to be seen to be genuine by being supported by a consistent life. The words of our answer and the civil manner of our answer are to be backed up by the inner reality of “having a good conscience” and the outward reality of “good behavior in Christ”. Responding by delivering words with civility and backing them up with consistent lives is much more eloquent and compelling than words alone. In modern day parlance we might say that we’re to “walk the walk as well as talk the talk”. Or, as I read somewhere: “The Christian is both defendant and attorney. We defend our faith with our mouths and back it with our lives. Life and lip must match for a powerful testimony”.
Finally, and briefly, let us think about:
That Peter is going to give a purpose in giving an answer or making a defence to anyone who “asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” is indicated in verse 16 by the words “so that”.
What he goes on to say will probably come as a surprise to you. You might well expect him to say something like: “so that they will come to faith in Christ” or “so that they will be encouraged to think about their need of Christ”. What he actually says is: “so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (ESV) or “so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (NIV).
You see, the purpose that he draws to our attention relates to a particular situation. That is: “when you are slandered”. In what way does Peter expect you to be slandered? We see that he expects that people will “revile your good behavior in Christ”. That is to say that people will criticise, mock, belittle, vilify the good behaviour that results from our being “in Christ”. It seems quite incongruous that anyone would revile good behaviour doesn’t it? But, in this twisted, fallen world in which we live, some people do exactly that. People mock the godly behaviour of Christians. They resent our wholesome family lives and our sexual purity and our responsible stewardship of our money and possessions and our conscientious attitude to work and our honesty and so on.
The purpose in making a gentle defence in keeping with a clear conscience when anyone “asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” that Peter draws to our attention here is that those who slander you by reviling your good behaviour in Christ “may be put to shame”. The NIV has “may be ashamed of their slander”. That gives the impression that purpose is that they will be embarrassed or made to feel bad but that isn’t the idea here. It’s to do with standing rather than emotion. We get a feel for the meaning of being “put to shame” if we look at Luke 13. There we have an account of a confrontation between Jesus and the rulers of the synagogue. Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath and He healed a woman who had been disabled for 18 years. The rulers, instead of being thankful and glorifying God, accused Him of working on the Sabbath! Jesus defended His actions and we read in Luke 13v17: “As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him”. That’s not saying that the rulers were thoroughly ashamed of themselves. It’s saying that they were clearly seen to be wrong in making their accusations and so Jesus was vindicated. Likewise, you’re to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” so that those who slander you and revile your good behaviour might be seen to be wrong. It’s not just the content of your answer but the manner of it that could have that effect. The gentleness and consistency of your answer will be in marked contrast to the slander that comes from those who “revile your good behavior in Christ”.
Of course, the aim of their being “put to shame” is not to make you look good. It’s for the glory of God. It’s so that that the power of His work in the gospel might be seen and acknowledged. That would especially be the case if those who “revile your good behavior in Christ” came to put their faith in Christ themselves.
The last thing to notice here is that there is no pressure on you to be successful in this. We live in a world that is very “results” centred don’t we? How often do you hear football managers say “it’s a results game”? The same is true in so many areas of life but it’s not the case in God’s Kingdom. He calls us to be obedient. He calls us to be faithful. He doesn’t require us to be successful in terms of outcomes. So, we’re expected to be “prepared to make a defense”; we’re not responsible for the outcome of doing so. You see, Peter doesn’t say that the purpose is that they “will be put to shame” but that they “may be put to shame”. Our giving an answer opens up that possibility but there’s no guarantee what the outcome will be. That is in the hands of God. He is the One who puts to shame. He is the One who brings about conviction. If someone comes to faith in Christ, it’s through His work and not ours.
So, may each one of you who knows Jesus as your Saviour and Lord “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”. May you do so “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience”. And may you do so in the liberating knowledge that the outcome depends on the outworking of God’s will and purpose.
Dr. Steve Orr
Dr Orr has served the Body of Christ in the United Kingdom for many years and in various capacities (preaching, teaching, etc.,). Steve is a regular contributor to the pages of Christ My Covenant. His insights into the Word of God will serve you in your personal study of God’s Word. Learn of Christ!