Today’s New Testament lesson (1 Peter 3:13-4:6) contains a verse that has been a staple of revivals and evangelism conferences for as long as I can remember:
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. (1 Peter 3:15)
In my experience, the emphasis of most speakers tends to fall on the opening words of that verse: “Always be prepared to give an answer;” and again, in my experience, “giving an answer” is precisely what many of us are ill-prepared to do. This might be the result of a lack of knowledge, or a lack of courage. Or we might be unprepared to “give an answer” simply because we’ve never taken the time to think deeply about whether we have hope — and why we have that hope to begin with. And as a result, it’s certainly worth asking: How prepared do we feel to talk meaningfully — to “give an answer” — for the hope that is in us?
But I think that there are three other elements of this verse that are equally worthy of consideration. First, Peter calls us to give our answer to everyone who asks us. Implicit, it seems, in this admonition is the assumption that we’ll be living in such a way that others will have questions about our lives. How can we face hardship with such confidence and hope? How can we radiate joy, while still having our hearts broken by the things that break God’s heart? How can we have such compassion for others in a world that constantly encourages us to look out for ourselves? We often remind people in church that “your the only Jesus some may ever see.” But when was the last time that our lives so resembled the life of Jesus that others felt compelled to ask about them?
Second, Peter also says that we are to give our answer to everyone who asks with gentleness and respect. Especially in our divided and partisan age, it’s all-too-easy to “give our answer” — but with plenty of scorn, derision and stereotyping thrown in. In the small town in which I live, one will often see street preachers who set up shop down on Main Street and yell words of warning and condemnation at passersby. And while I have some admiration for their boldness — and while I don’t dispute the truth of their message (since we are all sinners who need to be warned) — I often can’t help but feel that their lack of gentleness and respect does more harm than good. On those occasions when we do get an opportunity to speak about faith and meaning and what’s truly important in life, does the character of our conversation reveal the character of the Christ we claim to serve?
And that actually leads directly to my third and final observation. On most of the occasions that I’ve heard this verse proclaimed, little emphasis is placed upon the words that actually begin the verse: “But in your hearts, revere Christ as Lord.” All of this is meant to be built on a foundation of the Lordship of Jesus. And that, of course, means not only that we believe certain things “about” Him — but also that we’ve devoted ourselves to the ongoing process of allowing the Spirit to make us like Him. We can’t truly “give an answer” for Jesus unless we’re prepared to “live” Jesus: who accepted the unlovable and the outsider, who served the least of these, and who offered costly grace to people who don’t deserve it…including you and me.
Of course, “revering Christ as Lord” also means that none of this is optional. The scriptures don’t offer this admonition so that we can ponder it — but in order for us to obey it. So, here’s my last question. Would we be willing to pray, “Jesus, may your Lordship and the hope that I have be so evident today that others can’t help but ask about it? And may your Spirit so guide me that I’ll always be ready to answer with love to everyone who asks?”