In this post, I’ll look at the way we can honour the Lord in the manner of our speaking.
I recently heard it said: “too many apologetics training programs neglect how we ought to make our defence.” Observation granted. So let’s think about the significance of speaking with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15); but first, a quick refresher on the context.
Context of 1 Peter 3:15
Peter tells the saints that they’ll be blessed if they “suffer for righteousness sake” (3:14). He continues to tell them not to fear (3:15a), but to honour the Lord by making a defence to their opponents (3:15b), and to do so with “gentleness and respect” (3:15c) so that those who slander them for their good behaviour may be put to shame (3:16). Finally, Peter tells them that it’s better for them to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (3:17). So, the saints are being to called to defend the Gospel of a suffering and gentle Saviour in a manner worthy of that Gospel (cf. Phil 1:27; Col 1:10).
Peter knows the temptation for Christians. They might respond with an offended spirit that is harsh and disrespectful. As objects of hostility, we’re prone to think of our opponents:”they’re ruthless; what’s wrong the them?” In frustration, we’re inclined to look down on them: “How inconsistent can they be?” A deep seated resentment can begin to guide our entire approach of interacting with those who mock us. We find ourselves strangely determined to prove we’re right and they’re wrong. Many times I’ve won an argument, but lost the person.
What’s the right way of answering opponents?
Gentleness and respect that reflects Christ
Peter says that when we suffer for our good behaviour and are centred out, we have a great opportunity to make the most of that situation. We’re to speak and tell people the reason for our hope. In addition, it’s of utmost importance that we speak in a manner that reflects the very Gospel we profess to hope in.
Peter has already written that we’re called to suffer for doing good (2:20-21) “because Christ also suffered for [us], leaving [us] an example, so that [we] might follow in his steps” (2:21). Peter continues, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (2:22-23). Behold our King! Our job is to fear him, obey him, reflect him and represent him. This includes responding to persecutors with humility, gentleness and respect. Accordingly, we read, “Do not repay evil for evil … but on the contrary bless” (3:9) … “turn away from evil and do good” (3:11; Ps 34:14) … this is what is means to fear the Lord, indeed, to “honour Christ the Lord as holy.” This means not only defending the Gospel, but doing it in a manner that magnifies the nature of the Gospel. Think about it. We say our hope is fixed on the King who was crucified, yes, the Saviour who is gentle and suffered for doing good. Oh how loudly the truth of Gospel rings when the King’s ambassadors suffer like their King! Oh what punch the Gospel gives when spread by Christians who, by persistence in doing good, answer their opponents in gentleness and with respect!
One final word
Note the “for” at the beginning of verse 18. After vv. 15-17, Peter writes, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring them to God” (3:18a). What is the “for” there for? It seems as though Peter is saying, “honour the Lord by suffering for doing good (3:15-17), for Christ also suffered to bring sinners to God.” In other words, there is an evangelistic appeal and purpose to the Christians’ defence in the midst of suffering. The gentleness and respect with which we defend of the Gospel, in the midst of our suffering, helps bring sinners to God. If that’s not what the “for” is there for, what’s it there for?
May God help us.