16.7.10

Christian Apologetics Week Post #2: 1 Peter 3:8-22

Recently I prepared and led a training session with the youth at my church on evangelism and apologetics. I don't think I did a very good job, unfortunately.

As I started I, of course, pulled out the ever trust and oh so common 1 Peter 3:15-16. Always be ready; a go to passage for preachers everywhere. At this point, my seminary training kicked in, and I couldn't quite bring myself to proof text from hear on into some lesson. So, I looked at the broader context: 1 Peter 3:8-22. What I quickly realized was that this whole section can be taken as instruction in terms of evangelism and apologetics.

Peter begins, in verse 8-12, by exhorting the reader to live a certain way:
"Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 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. For "Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 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."

This, then, is who we are to be to the world. A people marked by love and unity, humility and compassion. Even more telling, we are to return evil with blessing (echoing, of course, the sermon on the mount). If we live this way, then what will be the result? Surely no one will harm us, says Peter (v. 13-14):

"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,"

So, people ought to respond well. But, even if they don't, we will be blessed. The issue Peter was facing was persecution. But, I think you can apply this to questioning as well. If we are zealous for what is good, who will question us? But even if we should be questioned, and we will, we will be blessed. In fact, if we are zealous for doing good, for repaying evil with good, for love and truth, then I think people will ask us questions. However, they may not be the questions we are used to. At the very least, we will attract attention.

Something else we did recently with ICON (the youth at my church) was to put on a free car wash. Its part of a thing we are doing this summer, trying to show God's grace in our community and so on. Anyway, the reactions we got were quite varied. Some people couldn't accept that it was free and, therefore, literally threw money at us as they drove away. Others gently and generously expressed their desire to support us, with varying levels of persistence. Most people were varied from appreciative to amazed, but everyone asked the same question: Why are you doing this? We live in a self-centred consumeristic society which constantly flirts with nihilism. We are surrounded by greed and exploitation and raised to look out for number one. In the face of that common cultural context, giving something away for free, and returning evil with good, will always be shocking. If there is any place to start outreach, and apologetics, in an overchurched burnt out society that we are lucky to get within shouting distance of our buildings, then this is it.

Peter goes on (v. 15-17):
"But in your hearts revere Christ as LORD. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil"

Instead of responding in fear, to persecutions or questions, have Christ set in your hearts as Lord. Be firm and steadfast in your belief. Be prepared to give an answer for your hope.

We can only offer grace and love, as well as good for evil, as long as we are firm in Christ and have our hope set in Him. Returning evil with good is difficult. I guarantee it will cost you a lot if you actually practice it. People will try to take advantage of you and there will be times when it seems that evil is wining, or at least getting ahead. Psalm 73 is my personal favorite when it comes to lamenting exactly this problem, and is worth studying if this is your struggle. Nonetheless, be prepared. Know your reasons, know your hope, know your Lord and revere Him.

Not only that, but do so in a certain manner: Gentleness and respect.

I'm not sure exactly how it happens, but this advice seems to be oft forgotten. It is entirely possible to have all the right answers and still be very, very wrong because of how those answers are given. Going back to the free car wash, I noticed very quickly that when I refused people's generous offers of money, I needed to do so with great gentleness and respect. I also noticed that when I did, it only increased the person's desire to know why we were doing what were doing. I have had the same experiences in apologetics conversations. When the other party knows that I respect them, when I take the time to listen to them and seriously consider their position, then they return that same attitude. However, when I come across as arrogant, dismissive, and superior I rarely get more than one question.

Still, even gentleness and respect are not always enough. Some people are just angry, or gravely wounded (or both). So, when that is the case, Peter tells us to remember we have done the right thing and to know that suffering for doing good is the better way. This is never, ever, to be an excuse for suffering we deserve. If your a jerk and someone calls you out for it, well, you kind of got what you deserved. It is, however, encouragement when you do what is good and suffer.

Peter doesn't stop here however. He goes on to tell us, once again for his original audience anyway, why we have this hope and what our good news is (18-22):

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. In that state he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits -- to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand--with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him."

He is our salvation, our hope, our future, and our source of power. He is the Lord, who became man for us, died for our sins, was raised for our new life, and is Lord over ALL!

What I want to say about that is that we ought to incorporate this, in its entirety, into both our evangelism and our apologetics. I realize that, of course, we have to start wherever the other party is, and that many conversations will not get past the idea of God, let alone all the way to the Lordship of Christ. However, we are not arguing for an abstract God, nor a philosophical ideal, but for Jesus Christ. Sometimes our apologetics ought to be discussion (philosophy and theology) but we also ought to be able to say "Come and See!" and focus on introducing people to Jesus (in the normal sense of the word introduction, not the 'conversion' sense, though that is good too :).



This post is a part of Christian Apologetics Week. You can find the introduction, with links to all the posts, here.

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