ON TRIAL & ON DISPLAY, PART 1: SEEING SUFFERING AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHOW & SHARE OUR FAITH (1 PETER 3:13-17)
For many in the Church, apologetics is nothing more than an academic exercise for the academic elite. If you have 15 or 20 letters after your name, then you can be an apologist, but it's really not for the rest of us. Let the rest of us be devotionalists. The academics can make their academic appeals, while we make our emotional appeals. They can focus on the see-it-to-believe-it side of witnessing, while we focus on the sentimental side of witnessing. They can concentrate on their text books, while we concentrate on our devotional books.
In the general Christian population, that way of looking at apologetics has grown in popularity. Over the years, more and more Christians have left the task of apologetics to the academics as they have traded the task of rigorous study and reasoning for sentimental reflection. They want a way of interacting with God that stimulates their tear ducts more than their minds. The result of this trend is the Church being much more emotional in its worship than it is effective in its witness.
We see in God's Word that He does not separate devotion to Him from defending our faith in Him. He wants our devotion to Him displayed so that our defense of the faith can be discussed. And when we wonder why we are suffering unjustly, we need to remember that that is the answer.
The Possibility of Suffering Evil for Being Good (vv. 13-14a)
13And who will harm you if you are deeply committed to what is good [literally "if you are zealots"]? 14But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed.*
Generally speaking, when we are eager to do good to others, they won't do evil to us in return. Generally speaking, goodness from us will endear people to us.
3Never let loyalty and faithfulness leave you. Tie them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. 4Then you will find favor and high regard in the sight of God and man. (Proverbs 3:3–4)
However, that won't always be, and often is not the case. The reason is really very simple. Our goodness must be Godly goodness, not the generic, popular goodness that says, "Be nice to me, and let me live how I want to." In being and doing good, we must pursue and promote righteousness. Pursuing and promoting righteousness can and does bring persecution down on us, because righteousness is offensive to wickedness, and wickedness will lash out at it. Solomon speaks of those who abandon the right paths to walk in ways of darkness - those who enjoy doing evil and celebrate perversity (Proverbs 2:13-14). When we infringe on what people enjoy and celebrate, they will get upset with us and might even attack us to whatever degree the context will allow, whether verbally or physically. Jesus tells us plainly that those in darkness are repulsed by the light: 19“This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. 20For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it [literally "and does not come to the light"], so that his deeds may not be exposed. (John 3:19–20) So, when the unrighteous are trying to keep the light off of themselves, we might suffer, not merely in spite of righteousness, but for righteousness. And we are blessed if we do (cf. Matthew 5:10-12).
The Opportunity of Showing & Sharing Our Faith (vv. 14b-17)
14Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, 15but honor [literally "set apart" or "consecrate"] the Messiah [Christ] as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 16However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
+We are not to live in fear, but in sincere devotion to Christ, being ready to give a serious defense of our faith in Him.
Why does He say, as the alternative to fear, to consecrate Christ as Lord in our hearts? It helps to know that he is alluding to Isaiah 8:12b-13, and I believe we can include part of verse 14 as an appropriate application:
12Do not fear what they fear; do not be terrified. 13You are to regard only the Lord of Hosts as holy. Only He should be feared; only He should be held in awe. 14He will be a sanctuary.
If we consecrate Christ as Lord – setting Him apart from and up over everything and everyone else in our hearts – in suffering, we will trust Him with our lives – we will trust His control and His wisdom. We will embed our hearts in Him as the One Who knows best and will do what’s best in and with whatever we are facing. In looking to Him that way, we have nothing to fear.
Now, when that is settled – when we don’t shrink back and duck our heads in fear, but we do stand firm with our heads up, looking to Christ in submissive faith – then we put our devotion to Him on display, and people will want to know why we have such hope in Him. We can boldly tell them, then, what we see and believe to be true about Him and why.
The Greek word translated “defense”, in verse 15, is where we get our term “apologetics”. It simply means to give a reasoned and reasonable explanation, in this case, of our hope in Christ. We are to give a straight-forward, solidly-factual argument for faith in Christ. In the words of Lee Strobel, we are to make a “case for faith” in Christ.
+Our approach is important, though. We are to treat the enemies of our faith with gentleness and respect, not staining our consciences by mistreating them, so that when they accuse us by denouncing our way of life, they’ll be put to shame by how we actually treat them. Our goodness toward them should be a sharp contrast to their evil toward us – not for us to self-righteously gloat over them in their shame, but to overcome their evil with our Godly goodness in the shame of conviction to repentance:
43“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43–48)
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. …
17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. 18If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. 19Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. 20But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. 21Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. (Romans 12:14, 17–21)
24The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, 25instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:24–25)
When God lets us be put on trial under opposition, He puts our devotion to Christ on display for the opportunity to put Him on display in our defense of the hope that is in us, sustaining us in Him. This is an act of true worship when our spirits are able to rise above the petty threats of mere men, in trust and adoration of our Lord, with what is true of Him anchoring us to Him and aiming us to live for Him in knowing Him and making Him known.
*Scripture quotations in this study are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, HCSB®, and Holman CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.