Do Not Fear, Give Your Defense With Kindness and Respect
Section 4.1 of 1 Peter (1 Peter 3:13-3:17)
Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?
But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.
AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.
For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
The third section of the First Letter of Peter had a focus on real, practical, and applicable ways to live as Christians among a population of people who slander their name. It closed with the recitation of the old Psalm, speaking of how a person ought to live who desires a good life. Peter transitions from that topic into the fourth section of his letter by asking the question “Who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” In our modern, cynical mind, we would come up with some snide remark in response to this question. However, putting your mind properly into context with the people of Peter’s time, his intended audience, it is not likely they would respond in a similar manner. The Roman people did have a high standard of what it meant to be good. But I do not see this being the direction Peter is going with this question.
When reading this simple question, we must remember that it comes after a Psalm that mentions, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:12 NASB). Then after the question, Peter writes “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.” Given this context, it appears that the question is answered. The answer is those who do evil, and those who do evil have God’s face against them. However, those who remain righteous have God’s eyes and ears tending to them. He is offering here a message to be good even in the face of such poor treatment, for this is what God desires and favors. To respond in kind to such behavior is to do evil in response to evil, and that certainly won’t end it.
Peter continues, “And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled..” which is often capitalized or the like in different translations. This means that it is citing an Old Testament writing. Here, it seems to be referring to Jeremiah 46:27,
“But as for you, O Jacob My servant, do not fear, Nor be dismayed, O Israel! For, see, I am going to save you from afar, And your descendants from the land of their captivity;…”
It appears this is repeated in Jeremiah 30:10 as well. There is also something similar to this found in Isaiah 51:7,
“…Do not fear the reproach of man, Nor be dismayed at their revilings.”
Given that it is becoming clear that there are Jewish-Christian converts at least among the intended recipients of this letter, these would likely be the passages that are brought to mind when they hear this read to them. The Jeremiah references seem more “in-sync” with the greater context of the letter and the use of “aliens” to refer to the diaspora, etc. This gives a hint of reminding the people there that God brought His people out of their captivity in other lands, and so to will He deliver them and their descendants from where they are now.
Peter continues from here with a direction that is in the heart of my fellow apologists and myself, “…but sanctify the Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense (apologia) to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you…” It is here we see Peter telling the people that they must be willing to give an answer to the questions others have of them. In the context of the recipients having heard the Gospel message, they would likely understand this to mean to be ready to tell why they have the hope that they have by responding with the Gospel as well.
However, it is in a more specific nature when Peter uses the Greek, apologia. This means to present the reasoning of one’s actions as before a judge. Peter is telling them to sanctify Christ as Lord, that is, to make Him set apart as holy in their hearts, meaning that the apologia they are to give is with consideration of Christ. He continues, “…yet with gentleness and reverence, keep a good conscience…” In responding to the challenges, as he has mentioned already, they must do so in a manner that is kind and respectful. But why?
“…so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” One can come to understand what he means. Imagine a scene where there is a Christian being challenged by some angry non-Christian (of whatever background) who reviles that Christian because of what he or she believes. Now you can see the hatred in the manner of the challenger, but as you look at the Christian, you see him or her responding to this anger with kindness and gentleness as they give the reasoning of the Gospel. It becomes clear in the eyes of others who the accuser is, who the judgmental one is.
Many non-Christians might respond to this commentary I am making here with the usual, “Well just because so-and-so is a non-Christian doesn’t mean they are bad people. Christians can be just as mean sometimes too!” Yes, yes, we are well aware of that. This is in no way insinuating that non-Christians can’t be good and decent people too. In fact, this is acknowledging that Christians can be just as angry! They are human! That is the whole point within the context of this subject that Judeo-Christianity makes. We are all human! We are all fallen in our nature and tend toward reacting in a manner “unbecoming.” So, we find Peter here telling Christians (not non-Christians) to watch their behavior and how they respond to anger! We call out our own just the same.
If we can step back out of the already known and accepted (i.e. there are Christian jerks just as there are non-Christian jerks) and stay focused on what Peter is saying (i.e., hey Christians, don’t be jerks) we can see that we are on the same ground here.
Peter closes this section, “For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” How true! Peter is attempting to bring forth the sound reasoning that should a people suffer persecution, let it be for what is right! How often do we hear this today being said, even within Hollywood movies! We all know in our hearts that when someone is made to suffer for doing what is right, it is an act that put’s that person in high regard among those who witness the event! The person who wrongs such an individual clearly shows him/herself to be the one in the wrong (key point being, even when among their peers who side with the accuser), and how much more we grow to love the one being wronged for doing what is right in spite of it.
Now, don’t allow yourself to take this out of context and take the extreme and suggest that this means we are to be pacifist! What is being said here is that as Christians, when it comes to matters of slander and people reviling us, we are not to stoop to such a level. This does not mean we do not defend ourselves, it simply means we defend ourselves in a right and just manner. We do not respond to hatred with hatred. We do not respond to insult with insult. As was just covered in the third section, we are expected to be an example of Christ. We should bless those who curse at us. We should love those who hate us. This does not mean we have to accept what they attempt to claim to be the truth. Instead, we are to show our love for them by attempting to reason with them so they may know the truth, and we are to do it with kindness and decency.
We all know someone who is Christian and who has the tendency to revile those who actively go against our way of life. For those of my readers who are non-Christian, I stand with you, as does Peter, in calling them out for not being true to the beliefs they claim to hold to! So do the vast majority of Christians! To my Christian readers, if we do not hold our brothers and sisters in Christ accountable to these words of Peter, we are not fulfilling our responsibilities. However, it is important to not allow the falsehoods of this “modernist” culture to lead us to believe that we must accept what others believe to be “open-minded.”
It is not wrong to tell someone they are incorrect in their understanding. It is not wrong to tell someone they are counter to the truth. It is not wrong to correct someone when they are “doing it wrong.” However, it is wrong to do these things with insult and reviling in your own heart. We must do these things with kindness, gentleness, and respect. The objective in the Christian heart is to save those who are lost in the corruption of this world so that all may be free. We are not here to win arguments in debate, or be the “hall monitors” of the world (so to speak). We are here to serve our fellow man, to love them. You can love someone through showing them what the truth is, and show even greater love when you tell them they are wrong. Don’t let this world tell you different.