Christians often quote 1 Peter 3:15 as a prooftext for apologetics, defense of the faith. Peter writes that we are to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you“. Some take that as a call to study up on logical arguments and scientific evidence to make a defense for Christianity. Apologetics can certainly be helpful, but that’s not what Peter’s getting at here.
Peter’s concern is not about getting into debates with unbelieving scoffers, but instead about what to do when we suffer for Christ’s sake. Verse 14-15 says, “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“.
The idea here is that when we are persecuted for the sake of Christ, we are to give a clear explanation of what we believe and why we believe it, lest anyone think wrongly about what we believe. In the early church, for example, there was a rumor going around that Christians were cannibals. Someone heard that the Christians were eating someone (the Lord’s Supper) in their meetings, and so that was what ignorant people believed. Christians in that time made a defense and clearly explained what they believed and what we as Christians still believe today. Christians also refused to acknowledge the emperor as a god, and so they were thought of as seditionists. The Christians again needed to make a defense for Christianity. And when they explained Christianity, of course, it was centered around the hope that was in them: the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Today, many believe that Christians are haters, that we’re a backwards people, that we rely on an archaic, irrelevant book, that we basically believe what everybody else believes but are too stubborn to admit it. Our duty, according to this passage, is to give a clear explanation of what we truly believe and why we believe it. It’s not about a teleological argument for God’s existence, but a clear explanation of the word of God.
Notice, also, what often gets left out when quoting this passage: “yet do it with gentleness and respect“. Too often, we’re so ready to pick a fight with someone else that we forget to be or ignore being gentle and respectful. If we make a defense with brashness and disrespect, it’s all for naught. Why? Look at verse 16:
“having a good conscience, so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” The main reason that Peter encourages us to make a defense is not that we would win an argument, but so that our lives lived with “a good conscience”, with “gentleness and respect” would shame those who persecute us. When scoffers revile us and we respond with reasonableness, gentleness, and respect, it’ll cause them to eat their words and think differently about Christians and the One whom they follow.
Sheep, ask yourself whether you’re prepared to make a defense in this way. Can you clearly articulate what you believe and why you believe it with gentleness and respect?
This is about suffering well for the name of Jesus Christ, the Savior.