Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart 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.” (1 Peter 3:13-17, NIV)
Oh, how times have changed. Who would have thought that a woman would be jailed for professing her Christian faith in this country? While there are many opinions floating around about Kim Davis’s refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as the county clerk of Rowan County, KY, you can’t dismiss the fact that Davis’s Christian faith is at the center of her refusal and, therefore, her imprisonment, as temporary as it may have been. Many Christians are surprised, confused, and even fearful because of Davis’s imprisonment, and many wonder whether this is an example of things to come.
While I am not prone to fear, uncertainty, or dread when it comes to such “signs of the times,” this situation ought to lead us to consider Peter’s words from 1 Peter 3:13-17. The fact of the matter is that the church has faced such difficulties, if not outright persecution, from the very beginning, and the answer to the problem has always been the same: trust God; be faithful.
Peter’s advice is to “be prepared.” Many people know that “Be Prepared” is the motto of the Boy Scouts. As an Eagle Scout, I remember how we spent our scout meetings and outings practicing all the different skills Boy Scouts are known for – tying knots, building fires, navigating with a map and compass, cooking, etc. – all for the sake of being prepared for future emergencies or other everyday situations. Those who have served in the military probably remember some variation of the phrase, “Prior preparation prevents poor performance.” What Peter, the Boy Scouts, and the military all know is that situations will arise that will require us to be prepared ahead of time for appropriate words or actions.
Peter directs Christians to be prepared to answer questions about our faith, to be ready to tell people why we trust Jesus and why we hope for eternal life in heaven, and he seems to be warning us that the questions will come when we experience persecution because of our faith. If the headlines are any indication, perhaps we ought to have a greater sense of urgency to prepare ourselves to answer the questions when they come.
Peter starts with “set apart Christ as Lord,” which should lead us to focus first on our own faith; we need to make sure that we know Jesus as Lord. It’s not enough to wear the name “Christian” these days, because people are redefining what it means to be a Christian; we must, as Paul writes in Romans 10:9, confess openly that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead. Otherwise, our faith is foolish; why should we suffer for something we do not believe?
Peter also qualifies our answers, that they ought to be made with “gentleness and respect,” which ought to give us an additional sense of urgency for being prepared. Have you ever had to give an answer or make a decision under pressure, without any time to prepare or consider your options? Most often we respond quickly and without a lot of thought, and sometimes without the most tact or consideration for others. In Philippians 4:5, Paul writes, “Let your gentleness be evident to all”; the English Standard version translates this as, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” Gentleness and being reasonable go together. As we share our answers, they should be tempered with gentleness, but we should also be reasonable.
Peter gives another reason for being prepared and gentle, to have a clear conscience. It’s no secret that the world might persecute us for our faith – and probably will – but we should be prepared to give reasons for our hope in such a way that we would have no guilt about the way we present ourselves, whether in our words or by our actions. Our goal shouldn’t be to embarrass those who slander us or Christ, but if we are prepared to give the reasons for our hope in a gentle and reasonable way, they will have no basis for their attacks.
I’m certainly not hoping for more persecution of Christians, but I do hope that we prepare ourselves so that we will be gentle and reasonable ambassadors of Jesus Christ. As we wait, let us prepare ourselves. Make sure that you are spending time reading and studying God’s Word, whether on your own or in smaller group studies, such as our Sunday school or Sunday and Wednesday evening studies. Make sure that you are attending and participating in our weekly worship services, not only praising God and getting to know him better but getting to know your brothers and sisters in Christ better. Let us prepare ourselves, following the examples found in Hebrews 10:23-25:
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The times are changing; let’s be prepared.