Series: 1 & 2 Peter.
“Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, but always do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
The second part of 1 Peter 3:15 is often quoted in isolation, as a kind of mantra for apologists and evangelists. It is an important reminder to Christians that our faith is not a personal matter to be kept to ourselves. As Peter demonstrated in his own sermons (Acts 2:14-39; Acts 3:11-26; Acts 4:8-12; Acts 5:29-32), we too should know how to defend the historical truth of the gospel.
We should know our Bibles, and take every opportunity to discuss why we believe in Christ and what Christ has done in our lives. We should have a winsome manner while we go about it. After all, how can someone place their trust in Jesus unless they hear the gospel clearly explained? I’m all for giving good reasons for the Christian faith.
But there’s a danger in using this verse in isolation without looking at what comes before and after it. It can lead us to elevate a silver tongue and persuasive skills above a godly life. Or to idolize a preacher or teacher who impresses his audience with clever words and appealing stories, even if he is nothing like the ‘shepherd’ leader Peter describes in 1 Peter 5:2-4: A leader who eagerly serves God’s flock under his care and is not greedy for money. A godly shepherd who sees his work as a trust from the Lord, and whose life is an example to the flock.
A righteous life.
In fact, Peter’s first letter is mostly about living the Christian faith in every position we find ourselves, humbly, quietly and consistently:
As God’s holy people (1 Peter 1:15-16; 1 Peter 4:3).
As godly citizens (1 Peter 2:13).
As godly servants (1 Peter 2:18).
As godly husbands and wives (1 Peter 3:17).
As godly church leaders (1 Peter 5:14).
As young people towards elders (1 Peter 5:5).
In our everyday lives (1 Peter 3:8-12).
Whatever their position in life, Peter urges his readers to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). According to Peter, godly behaviour and godly character speak volumes. It is our lives that glorify or disgrace Christ and his gospel message.
Let’s get a taste of what Peter says about righteous living in chapter 3:
“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct…
7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
10 For “Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,
Now here we come to verse 15:
15 but in your hearts honour 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, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
Suffering for doing good.
In fact, for Peter’s original readers, their most persuasive witness to the world was the way they would bear up under suffering and continue to live godly lives wherever they found themselves. It’s the same for us (1 Peter 2:12). And Peter gives us many practical details of what this godliness looks like:
Our harmony, humility and practical love for one another as a Christian community is a powerful witness in our divided society (1 Peter 3:8). Our ability to forgive one another and pursue peace when wronged, rather than retaliate, is as radically counter-cultural today as it was in Peter’s day (1 Peter 3:9). Truth speakers are a breath of fresh air in a deceitful culture (1 Peter 3:10; Ps 34:12-16). Our habit of confessing and turning from sin to do good is proof that Jesus is changing us into his likeness (1 Peter 3:11). A clear conscience is our defense against those who speak slander and malice against us (1 Peter 3:16). Our fear of God rather than man, is a powerful witness to the watching world. It comes from knowing that the Lord sees and cares for his children, who have been made righteous by Jesus’s blood (1 Peter 3:12; 2:19; 23). His eyes are on the righteous.
Setting apart Christ as Lord in our hearts.
But what does Peter mean, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord”? (1 Peter 3:15a) This seems to be the crux of everything he says before and after it.
Albert Barnes unpacks the first part of 1 Peter 3:15: “to act toward Christ as holy: that is, to obey his laws, and acquiesce in all his requirements, as if they were just and good….to flee to him in trouble, in contradistinction from withholding our hearts from him, and flying to other sources of consolation and support.”
When we set apart Jesus as Lord in our hearts, we are obedient to Christ as Lord of all, and we trust in him alone. We know that one day each one of us “will give account to him who is appointed to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5). This is the bedrock on which we can speak about the gospel and “give a reason for the hope that we have in Christ”.
Only one Lord.
So, there is room in the Christian’s heart for only one Lord, and that is Christ. Not the lord of opinion; not the lord of personal ambition, money, sex and power; not the lord of worldly wisdom or approval (1 Peter 3:14-16). These are all false lords that we must banish from our hearts, as if our lives depend on it.
Actually, our lives do depend on it, as the recent exposure of Ravi Zacharias has shown us (Read here and here). 1 Peter 3:15 was a verse often quoted by the world famous apologist before he died last year, and it always reminds me of him. But now I am amongst many Christians who are shocked and saddened by the overwhelming evidence of Mr Zacharias’s persistent sin, deceit, abuse of power, abuse of ministry funds, and his calculated and deliberate abuse of multiple women over many years. It all started by exaggerating his credentials, by lying and deceiving to impress the world (Read here).
Ravi did impress the Christian world with his sharp mind and ability to reach atheists and intellectuals. He charmed us with his gracious manner and convinced many people of the truth of Christianity. But he used his position and his platform as a cover-up for evil, which has left a trail of traumatized victims in its wake, including his family. He was not a faithful husband to his wife, and spiritually manipulated the vulnerable women whose lives he destroyed. As effective as he was at reaching people for Christ, he lived a double life, much like Judas did. Instead of repenting when confronted, he spun a web of lies, then bullied and smeared the reputations of his accusers. His ungodly legacy is painful to process, not least because his ministry and the broader Church initially discredited his accusers, instead of investigating the evidence against him carefully.
You may choose not to read Miller and Miller’s disturbing report, but for anyone willing to look at the evidence, there are warnings and lessons to learn there for our personal lives, ministries and churches. And Ravi’s victims deserve to be vindicated and freed from the shame of secrecy.
Giftedness does not equate with godliness.
You see, there’s nothing pie-in-the-sky about Peter’s teachings on godly Christian living. It’s a sobering yardstick for Christians. However gifted or influential a leader, helper, teacher or preacher, any one of us can be derailed by pride, sin and secrecy. We mustn’t think we are too important, as God will accomplish His purposes, with or without us. We will each give account to God for our lives. So, before we tend to anyone else’s spiritual life, we need first to attend to our own, because God requires a godly life before our service. It is impossible to separate a person’s message from their life.
Peter’s letter is a sober reminder that we must live before the face of the Lord, not for the eyes and ears of man (1 Peter 3:12). We must recognize that Satan is crouching at the door of our hearts too, seeking to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). We must turn time and time again to Christ who died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18). And instead of idolising Christian leaders, writers, and speakers, we must set apart Christ as Lord of our hearts. Of course let’s use the gifts God has given us to serve (1 Peter 4:10-11), but being gifted is no substitute for being godly.
“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Father, we want to live for your eyes and to be honest about our sin. Give us open, humble, repentant hearts that we may come to Jesus to be made clean and whole and righteous. Thank you for the lives you have entrusted to us, to live for your glory. Help us to live godly and obedient lives in whatever position you have placed us, by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.