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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Ready to Give a Defense
Text:1 Peter 3:15-16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-06-03
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 62:1,4                                                                                             

Ps 119:15,16

Reading – 1 Peter 3:8 - 4:6

Ps 35:1,7,11

Sermon – 1 Peter 3:15-16

Ps 56:1,4,5

Hy 55:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, prophets and their prophecies are important to God. If you take a quick glance at the Old Testament, this is clear. So many books are either focused on a prophet’s ministry, or written by a prophet, or contain the messages of a prophet. There’s the two books of Samuel, the massive books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and then that whole collection of “minor” prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, and more. The Old Testament prophets were men anointed with God’s Spirit and commissioned to bring his Word. Whenever God wanted a message brought to his people, He’d do so through his prophets.

This meant that sometimes they would speak at great cost to themselves. The typical picture of an Old Testament prophet is that of an outsider, shunned by those who didn’t want to hear his message. We know about the deep suffering some of these prophets endured. Think of Elijah, persecuted relentlessly by Ahab and Jezebel. Or Jeremiah, thrown into a deep pit to die. But we shouldn’t make their ministry out to be all bad. For no matter what difficult message these prophets had to share, God almost always included a word of hope. This was the great privilege these prophets had: to bring the message of God’s amazing grace!

That was the Old Testament, but prophets certainly aren’t a thing of the past. Jesus is a prophet, revealing God’s will to us about redemption (LD 12). And prophets and their prophecies are still important, because God wants his Word of truth to be heard by all. We’re called prophets, for we too have been anointed with the Spirit and given a message to share.

This is what Peter teaches in our text. Over the last couple chapters of his letter, he’s described the new lifestyle of Christians. He’s taught about things like holiness, spiritual maturity, submission, and Christian love. Now Peter wants to take up the question: So what will happen when we live like according to God’s Word? In particular, what will the neighbors say? What will be their response when they see this new style of living? And when they do respond, what will we say? We have to be prophets: “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (v 15). I preach God’s Word from 1 Peter 3:15-16,

Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts:

  1. holding onto your sure hope
  2. preparing your wise defense
  3. showing your good conduct        

 

1) holding onto your sure hope: Peter says that every Christian will be known by a certain quality of spirit, a tell-tale characteristic that marks us as followers of Jesus. What will it be? You might expect him to say faith. Or perhaps love. But Peter says that a Christian will be known for his hope. Verse 15 again, “Be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” He assumes that your average unbeliever—perhaps your neighbor across the road, your classmate at university, your work colleague— is going to notice this about you, that you live with hope.

To understand why Peter says that, we should unpack what it means to hope. Sometimes we reckon that hope is essentially the same as wishful thinking, when we say: “I hope that it’s sunny on the weekend. I hope that I get good marks on my exams.” But hope is more than that. Or if we’re pressed, we might say that our hope relates to eternal life; it’s about how we’re looking forward to everlasting glory when Christ returns. That certainly is our hope, but according to Scripture hope is more than that too.

It’s our expectation of future happiness, and it’s our sure confidence in present blessing, and it’s our assurance of salvation itself. You could say that hope relates to everything that God is doing and everything that God will do for us: forgiveness of sins today, renewal of life today, and also heaven’s glory tomorrow. Hope is immovable certainty, founded on the promises and power of God! Anything can happen to us today, but we will always have this hope.

This is what Peter said back in chapter 1: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (v 3). Our hope is living, because it’s not just something stored up in the cupboard for one day in the distant future, something abstract or hard to imagine—it’s the inheritance that is already ours now, experienced as real. 

And what’s the reason that we have a living hope? Peter slipped that into the verse we just read, saying that we have hope through Jesus Christ. In Peter’s letter so far, Jesus has been a main character: this is the one who fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies, who sprinkled us with his cleansing blood, who purchased us for God, who rose from the dead, who is our chief Cornerstone. Because of Jesus Christ and him alone, we have a living hope and a lasting joy.

This is why the Spirit exhorts us at the beginning of our text, “Sanctify the LORD God in your hearts.” That word “sanctify” is all about giving something a special position, considering it holy and distinct. Another translation says, “Set apart Christ as Lord” (NIV). For Christ is unique in his greatness, exceptional in his might. In his majesty, He’s like none other. Our Saviour is not just another man, not just another god, but He is immeasurably glorious.

And Christ has this special position regardless of whether we recognize it. It’s like being in the mountains and standing in humble awe before the majestic snow-capped peaks. They’ve been there for thousands of years, and they’ll be there long after you’re gone. The mountains don’t need you to comment on their beauty or snap a photo, any more than the eternal Christ needs you to recognize him. But He wants you to! Peter says, “Sanctify him in your hearts.” In the thoughts and meditations that fill your heart, give him the highest place. Give him your sole devotion. Through the way that you live, let it always be clear that for you, Christ is supreme.

That puts the question to us: Is Christ our hope? Is He the strength and purpose and joy of your life? Or are you putting your hope in some earthly thing, some self-made position or ideal? If we’ve put our hope in something from here below, then we’re most vulnerable. We are counting on things that can crumble at any moment. But if we’re secure in Christ, and our hope is founded on him, there’s nothing that can take this away.

Even when we face a hostile world, this living hope will not be extinguished. In the verses just before our text Peter talks about persecution, being hit with false accusations and suffering for righteousness’s sake (v 14). We know a bit about this, living in a country that is increasingly rejecting God’s truth and despising God’s people. But Peter’s words show that the things we face today are not new. Later he will say, “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering” (4:12, NIV). Being insulted and mocked and even oppressed is part of the programme for the last days.

But even when it looks like the Christian cause is losing ground, we remember God’s promise. He said there’s no reason to fear the final outcome. He says that our hope can endure even this, for we have a higher Lord, a mightier King. If we know his mighty power and we’ve sanctified the Lord in our hearts—if we’ve given him the supreme and rightful place in our thoughts—then we shouldn’t fear or worry about those who oppose us: “Do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled” (v 14).

Having hope reassures. Having hope stabilizes. Having hope emboldens. The point is, having hope changes us. If we know Christ, we have a hope so strong that it creates in us a new purpose, a different set of goals.

So Peter is sure that a life with this foundation of hope will invite questions. Remember what he said, that people will ask us “a reason for the hope that is in us” (v 15). If we know Christ, and believe his Word, and belong to his church, in this life we’ll take an alternate path. Our marriages will be different. The way we do our job will be different. How we submit to authority, and how we live as neighbours, and how we react to suffering and even persecution—all different, “sanctified,” hope-filled.

And when they ask, what will we say? We’ll come back to this in the next point, but for now, let’s remember the greatest thing we can share. When we give an account of our hope, we can speak of Christ. We feel sometimes like we need to answer every question, and refute every objection, but in the end we can do this: tell others about the Lord you serve. More than anything we need to direct attention to the Saviour. He’s the reason for our hope! “I live this way, because I follow Christ. I’m not afraid, because I know the Lord.” That’s getting close to the heart of prophecy, pointing to the One who called us, testifying to the One who saved us.

 

2) preparing your wise defense: Peter wrote this letter to congregations who were deep in suffering—more exactly, to persecuted believers. He refers to their dire situation already in chapter 1, where he says, “You have been grieved by various trials” (1:6). He’ll also mention it later, like in 4:14, “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed.” In our text too, he mentions people who “defame you as evildoers.” The Christians he was writing to were being spoken about maliciously: accused of evil, discredited and slandered.   

And even if it’s not to the same extent, this is something we can relate to. For example, say you strive to be faithful to Christ at your workplace or at school. After a while, you might earn the label of “holy-roller” or a “goody-two-shoes,” or worse. You get slandered, because holiness makes people uncomfortable. People don’t like that daily reminder of their own wickedness, when they see someone else resisting sin and doing good. So they lash out.

As a church too, we can be defamed. For example, in the fight to protect unborn children from abortion, Christians are often accused of being against women, or accused of being opposed to personal freedom. Or think of the debate over the definition of marriage; the Scriptural viewpoint on marriage—though it is best for families and helpful for society—is characterized as being harmful and hateful. Yes, even though God’s perspective is right and true, unbelievers can speak of it as evil.

One strong defense against those who attack Christians and the church is a defense in deeds. By our actions, we can show the world that Jesus teaches us love and patience and even forgiveness, when we’re wronged. By how we live, we can demonstrate that we’re not on this earth to do evil but rather to do good.

Today I trust that it’s true our neighbours will recognize in us that there are good things about the teachings of Christ. We try to be honest in business. We try to be kind. We value faithfulness in marriage. We’re gracious and polite. We work hard for our employer. We’re dedicated to our families. We aim to help the sick and needy. Holiness means being “set apart,” and in this sinful world, it’s so true: holiness gets noticed! People can’t ignore it, when they look at Christians and they see and hear a difference.

And I think many of us would prefer to leave it at that. For we don’t really want to speak up at work when people are mocking the Christian faith. We don’t really want to object at university when the professor attacks the Bible. We don’t like to be put on the spot, and have to explain just what it is that we believe about the Lord. Let our deeds do all the talking! We quickly turn to what the Catechism says, “that by our godly walk of life, we may win our neighbors for Christ” (Q&A 86). Shouldn’t that be enough?

Holiness is a powerful witness—it’s a necessary witness. But on its own, it’s not enough. People can’t believe in something they’ve never been told about. Think of Romans 10, “How can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” (v 14). In our society where fewer and fewer people have ever been in church, we can’t assume that everyone knows about the gospel. If a sinner will be saved, he needs to hear about Christ!

Peter teaches this too. He knows that good deeds alone won’t silence every malicious tongue. Because even if unbelievers recognize that we do good, they might have a problem with our motive. Remember: We do it for Christ! He’s the reason we’re different, and people don’t like that. For Christ is exclusive and makes demands. As Peter said in the previous chapter, Christ is the “stone that causes men to stumble, and a rock them makes them fall” (2:8).

So as Christians, we must take the opportunities that we receive to speak up: “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (v 15). There can be occasions when we’re asked quite directly about our Christian commitment. Someone can ask us, out of the blue, “Why do you go to church?” “How do you know there is a God?” “Why does God let bad things happen?” “Don’t Christians hate gays?” “How can you be so calm, even with this serious illness in your family?” The questions can be endless.

The Spirit says we must be ready for such questions, because they will come. If we’re really living as “strangers in this world,” if we’re being holy in an unholy time and living with a clear sense of hope, then the questions will come.

And when prophetic opportunities arise, we should fight that urge to turn away. Probably we all know of situations we’ve faced personally, when that thought is on our minds, “Now, this would be a great chance to say something about what I believe.” Yet do we give an answer? Sometimes a moment of hesitation is all it takes for the opportunity to be lost.

It’s good then, to think about when these questions might be asked, and what good answers could be given. Maybe someone is asking us about our plans for the weekend, and we have a chance to mention going to church. Maybe someone is worried about where this world’s going, and we have a chance to tell about the providence of our loving Father. Maybe someone is having a hard time making a decision, and we have a chance to share God’s wisdom. In times like this, we’re called to step forward. Be ready to open your mouth.

There is the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:19-20, “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” We could take that as a reason that we don’t need to get ready. But Jesus said that to exclude our worrying, not our preparing! “Be ready to give a defense,” Peter says.

It’s true, Christ’s Spirit will guide us when we speak—we can count on him! But our responsibility remains. As Christians involved in this world every day, we need to have a firm grasp on the faith. What can we say to others about Christ? What can we say about creation? About the final judgment? About finding God’s will? What is good, Scriptural advice you can give to someone who is seeking answers? Our hope, which is secure in Christ, has explanations. It is not entirely irrational, illogical, and beyond words. So this means we need to have thought it out, and we should be able to state it clearly.

Peter speaks about giving “a defense,” or literally, “an apology.” That’s not an apology in the sense of saying “I’m sorry.” That’s an apology in the sense of sticking up for the faith, giving a good account of what we believe. And the best way that we can is through knowing the gospel, and being well-acquainted with the foundation of our faith, in the Scriptures. That takes daily training, and re-training. Beloved, what about you? Can you speak about your faith and hope in God? Can you say what it means to be part of Christ’s church? Are you equipping yourself to be a prophet?

Now, when we carry out our calling as prophets in this world, it’s easy to be harsh. Especially when someone challenges what we believe, or mocks what we do, or questions the Bible we read, it’s easy to get upset. We might feel like raising our voice, being overly defensive, even getting a bit nasty.

This is why Peter counsels us to give our defense “with meekness and fear” (v 15). Both those words can sound negative in our ears, but “meekness” is about being gentle, and “fear” is about being respectful. So instead of trying to flatten someone with our arguments, or instead of getting impatient with someone’s basic questions, we need to take the time to speak gently—to speak the truth, and in love.

Preparing ourselves as prophets also means preparing to suffer. That’s how it always was in the Old Testament, and how it still is today. As Jesus said to his disciples, “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matt 10:24). If the greatest Prophet was condemned and killed, God’s enemies certainly won’t go easy on us, but they’ll mock and ridicule and scorn. No, speaking of the faith isn’t an easy task. Let’s not pretend that it should come naturally to us, or should be a simple thing. We’re going to need help!

This was a lesson that the author of this letter learned very well. You remember the scene in the courtyard of the high priest, when Jesus was on trial, and Peter was challenged by those standing around the fire. Did Peter know the Christ? Wasn’t Peter with him quite recently? And suddenly the bold, brash Peter was afraid. Peter wasn’t ready to answer for his faith. Rather, he denied his Lord, even three times. “I don’t know the man!”

Yet what did Christ do with Peter, a few days later? He was not rejected as a worthless follower, but he was restored by Christ. In his great mercy, Christ gave Peter another chance. And Peter would make good on this opportunity. He’d preach, even when the crowds tried to drown him out. He’d bring the gospel, even facing threats of imprisonment. That’s what is possible when we know the Lord! He’s the reason for our hope, so let’s be ready to speak of him.

 

3) showing your good conduct: “Actions speak louder than words.” As we said before, a Christian’s life can be a very compelling argument for the faith. Certainly we know how the opposite is true, that great damage can be done by a hypocritical church-goer. What’s the value of our words, if our actions don’t back them up? What’s the power of our faith, if it has no effect on our life? When we don’t demonstrate the real and living presence of God, we’re almost giving people an excuse not to believe!

Yet we’re called to live prophetically. For there’s so much good that a faithful Christian can do in that humble and unique place that God has assigned. Some might defame us and throw accusations, but that’s not a reason to change our good conduct or respond with anger. As Peter says in the next verse: Better that you “suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (v 17).

Seeing the goodness of our lives, we pray that our neighbours will at least pause and think. What makes the difference for these people? What moves them? By God’s grace, our good and holy conduct might even lead to a change of heart. As someone once said, “A saint is someone whose life makes it easier to believe in God.”

And after all, that’s our desire, that the people we’re talking to, our neighbors and co-workers and classmates, come to know the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s the Biblical perspective we must have on the people we meet: “This person is a living soul, made in the image of God. With this person too, God desires fellowship. Christ’s blood is enough to save this person, too. And this person too, will go to hell if he or she doesn’t believe.”

Peter says that as we interact with people around us, it’s important that we “[keep] a good conscience” (v 16). No, in the end, perhaps they won’t accept the gospel. But that’s not for us to worry about. Rather, our conscience must be clear—that is, we must have done our best to witness to Christ, to give an account of the hope that is in us, to show that Christ is changing us.

Beloved, that’s our prophetic calling. Prophets and their prophecies are important, because God wants his Word of truth to be heard by all. We’ve been anointed with the Spirit and have his message to share, for the glory of God, who in Christ has given us a living hope!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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