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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Preached At:
 
 
Title:Your conduct as a witness in the world for Christ
Text:1 Peter 3:15-16a (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2008-09-21
Added:2009-04-25
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing:

Psalm 67: 1, 3
Psalm 119: 17, 18
Hymn 19: 5, 6
Psalm 47: 2, 3
Psalm 145: 1, 2

Read: John 4: 1-26; 1 Peter 3: 8-22

Text: 1 Peter 3: 15
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters:

Concentrating on the work of outreach can be somewhat scary for many people. Many feel uneasy about evangelism because they don't know what to expect. When a church begins to focus on the work of outreach, you may wonder: Am I going to be asked to go knocking on doors? Am I going to be asked to stand on a soapbox on a corner of a street where I have to proclaim the Gospel? Or perhaps I will be asked to talk to my immediate neighbours and friends about my faith, or to hand out pamphlets in the neighbourhood or in my workplace.

You may not be willing to do these things. It’s possible that you question the effectiveness of this kind of evangelism as well. You might also be concerned about your own skills. You may think: “I'm not a very good speaker. I know what I believe, but I don't have all the answers. People will come with arguments that I won't know how to answer. It's all a bit scary to me. I feel quite uneasy about it.

The text for today's worship service should be of some help to you in that regard. Peter speaks here about our conduct as witnesses in the world. But note well that in the text Peter does not say anything about knocking on the doors of your neighbours, or about handing out pamphlets, or standing on a soapbox in a park proclaiming the Gospel. Rather Peter is speaking here about our conduct in our everyday lives, in the interaction with those with whom we have daily contact. It is through our everyday conduct that we win others for Christ. We can only have an impact on those with whom we have a relationship. The theme of today’s sermon is:

Your Conduct As a Witness in the World for Christ.

The text teaches us that we must be:

1. Dedicated;

2. Prepared;

3. Nonjudgmental;

4. Gentle.

Peter begins this text by stating that you must set Christ apart as Lord in your heart. He does that after he quoted from Isaiah 8:13-14, saying "do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." If you realize the background of that quotation, then you will see how appropriate these words are in the way that we deal in the world. Isaiah spoke these words to Ahaz king of Judah at a time when he was in a crisis situation. The Assyrians were about to invade Judah. Ahaz was afraid. The kings of Israel and Syria wanted Ahaz to join them in an alliance against the Assyrians. Ahaz did not want to do that. He had a better idea. Behind the scenes Ahaz made an alliance with Assyria. He put his trust in the sword, and not in the Lord. He went against the advice of Isaiah who told him that that was the wrong thing to do. Isaiah tells him that Ahaz should not fear the Assyrians or anybody else. He says, “Don't be afraid of the Assyrians, like the others are, like Israel and Syria. Don't make any kind of unholy alliance. Trust in the Lord to deliver you.” As Isaiah said, "The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread" (Isaiah 8:13).

Peter now says the same thing to the recipients of this letter. A person of the world is afraid of many things. We have seen that recently with regard to the economic crisis in the United States. There is panic. People are afraid of a recession. They're afraid of losing their money. They are afraid of losing their comfortable position in life. In this world of today people are constantly afraid of losing something or someone near or dear to him or her: their jobs, their reputations, their friends. They will make all kinds of twists and turns in order to retain what they have, and to get more. Then, when they are faced with a crisis, they will give in to their fears and take the easiest way out, even if it means making unholy alliances with others. That is what we are all like by nature.

But now listen to what Peter says. He says as a believer you may not conduct yourself in that way. Nor do you have to. You can and you must trust in your Lord and Saviour in all circumstances. Peter says that a Christian must set Christ apart in his heart as Lord. He uses an interesting word here. The phrase "setting apart", has to do with holiness. That is why it says in the King James Version that you must sanctify the Lord your God in your hearts, and in the English Standard Version that you must regard Christ the Lord as holy. The same word is used in the Lord's Prayer: "Hallowed be your name." When you hallow God's name then you treat it as holy. Then you dedicate yourself to that name. For the Lord our God is holy. It means that he is set apart from all that is sinful. He is unique. There's no one like him. He is Almighty. Setting him apart in your heart means that you are dedicated to him. And when you do that, then you do not have to be afraid of the things the world is afraid of.

Please note that Peter refers here to the heart of a person. In referring to the heart he makes it something personal. We're not dealing with something abstract here. No, this applies to each and every one of us. Each one of us has to be trained not to give into our fears but to give things over to the Lord. If you give in to your worldly fears then you are bound to make wrong decisions. Then you are shortsighted. Then you won't have the big picture in mind. And then you do not put God in the picture either. When your heart is dedicated to the Lord then you are not afraid of anything for He is the one who directs your path. He is the one who protects you.

But we have difficulty doing that, don't we? We are often afraid of the same kinds of things that the world is afraid of. But now think about the apostle Peter, the author of our text. We know what he was like. He was often afraid. Remember how he almost drowned when he no longer trusted in the Lord Jesus who enabled him to walk on the water? He was afraid and started to sink. The Lord Jesus said to him at that time, "Oh you man of little faith." And remember how afraid he was when he was about to be exposed as one of the followers of the Lord Jesus. Although he had sworn to the Lord Jesus that he would stand by him, even to the point of death, he denied that he knew him. He denied him three times. He was not any different than a worldly person at that time. He was afraid for his own neck.

Peter fell. But what did the Lord Jesus do? He forgave him. He continued to minister to him and to restore his relationship with him. The Lord Jesus continued to teach him to trust in him. Over time Peter learned that more and more.

That is the way it is for all of us. We do not need to be spiritually perfect in our dedication to the Lord. We have to continue to grow in our faith. That's what Peter did. He grew in his faith. That was evident the time that Peter was brought before the Sanhedrin and they threatened him if he continued to teach in the name of the Lord Jesus. What did Peter say? He said, as we read in Acts 5:29, that“We must obey God rather than men!" When Peter gave his answer to the Sanhedrin he knew that this could cost him his freedom, even his life. That ultimately didn't matter to him. Knowing the Lord Jesus was much more important. He knew that God is mightier than the whole Sanhedrin together, and mightier than the whole Roman army. That's true brothers and sisters. The 16th century reformer John Knox used to say, "With God on his side, man is always in the majority." That is also how Peter felt. Peter was not afraid. He knew that men could hurt him, but that they could not harm him. He trusted in the Lord to protect him and to bless him. He had set Christ apart in his heart.

And so he had his answer ready: I will obey the Lord rather than men. Now here in his letter he tells his readers to be ready to give their answer as well. He says, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." We come to the second point.

2. When Christ lives in your heart, then you also have a ready answer. Whatever the heart is full of will overflow from the mouth. Peter was totally dedicated to the Lord Jesus. He could not help but to proclaim him. He could not help but to tell everyone else about the wonderful news concerning the Lord Jesus Christ: That he rose from the dead and that he gives life to everyone who believes in him. How could he keep his mouth shut? There was that great hope in his heart.

Peter, however, also knew what he believed. He knew the Scriptures. He was able to quote readily from God's word. He had prepared himself all his life. And that is the only way you too will be able to witness. We have to be able to give an answer to those who have questions. Our English word "apology" comes from the Greek word translated as "answer" in the text. But to give an apology does not mean to say that you are sorry. Rather it means that you must give a defense. You must defend your faith. For that, knowledge is necessary.

We're about to enter a new study season. Although there are some people who rarely, if ever, do attend, in the past the study clubs have been well attended. And that's good for if you do not study God's Word how can you be prepared to give an answer to those who want to know about the hope that is within you? But, how much do you learn in those study societies? Does your attendance increase your knowledge? How do you prepare for those meetings? Note well that Peter did not just study the Scriptures but that he also committed Scriptures to memory. You may say Peter was an exception. He was an apostle. He was an educated man. Please remember, however, that Peter was actually an ordinary working man. He was not an academic. He learned how to fish, not how to write a doctoral thesis. He was an ordinary man like you and me. Because of the great hope that lived in him, because of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, he wanted to know everything about him from the Scriptures.

But Peter did not just study the Scriptures for himself; he also had his audience in mind. He understood that he had to make his defense among the Jews who had been expecting the Messiah. They claimed the Old Testament Scriptures for their authority and did not see how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled them. For that reason Peter studied the Old Testament scriptures carefully in order to see how those scriptures pointed to Christ.

We have to keep that principle in mind as well. Today we are dealing within a totally different cultural context and with a different audience. Today we are dealing with people who have heard about Christianity in one way or another however they have all kinds of misconceptions about it. And so we have to ask ourselves the question, how do we make a defense to them? What are they saying about Christians and about Christianity and about the Bible and the church? Where are they coming from? Where do the misconceptions come in? What are their misconceptions?

We should be prepared for the questions. We should study the Scriptures to see how we can defend the faith. A good place to prepare yourself is in the study societies. Brainstorm together and anticipate the questions and the attitudes of your neighbours and fellow workers and think about how you should give an answer.

What, for example, are they saying about the Bible as such? There are those who want to ban the Bible because they say it is full of hatred; for example, hatred against homosexuals. How do you defend against such a charge? Do you know how?

They also bring the charge that the Bible promotes war and bloodshed. Look, for example, at the Old Testament where God tells Israel to go out to destroy other nations. They also say that in the Bible there is a bias against women – that they are treated as inferior to men. How do you defend against such things? Can you? Do you know how?

There also misconceptions about the church. They say that the church is full of hypocrites. The members say one thing and then they do another. And they will give examples of well-known fallen evangelists who speak out strongly against all kinds of immorality and then themselves are caught in some horrible sins.

Whereas in the past Christians were respected members of the community, now they are viewed with suspicion. The morality of the world now considers Christian virtues immoral. Christians are considered to be immoral and intolerant because they are in favour of the death penalty, because they are against abortion, and because they are against same-sex marriages. How do you refute those charges? Do you know how?

How are you a defender of the faith within that cultural context? You have to be prepared. You have to learn how to defend yourself from the Scriptures. You have to ask yourself the same questions that the world asks, and face those questions head on. In order to defend the faith, you have to make your faith your own. By searching the Scriptures, God will give you the answer to all of these things.

 

3. But when you give defense you have to do that with the right kind of attitude. That brings us to the third point: we must be nonjudgmental in our witness in the world for Christ. You will have no affect on others if you are aloof and come across as self-righteous; if you preach to others without understanding where the other person is coming from. James says that you must be quick to listen and slow to speak. Evangelism involves listening and learning about the person you are speaking with. You may come with all kinds of biblical truths, but you will have no impact whatsoever if it does not resonate with the person. Research done in England indicates that someone needs to hear the message of the Gospel at least 30 times before it really takes hold of them. And so, when you talk to a person you have to know at what stage he or she is. Is this the first time they heard the gospel? What do they know about Christianity? If they have heard the gospel 10 or more times they will be at a different stage and they will have different questions. At each stage different questions will come up. Some will be angry at Christians and they may have good reasons for their anger. How do you approach them?

You must approach people in a nonjudgmental way. You have to start by dealing with them in their situation. Think about how the Lord Jesus did that when he talked with the Samaritan woman at the well. Samaritans only believed in the five books of Moses. They did not receive the prophets or the other writings as authority. They also had a mixture of heathen practices and beliefs. The Jews despised them. The Lord Jesus knew all about that. But then he meets that Samaritan woman at the well and he begins by asking her to give him something to drink. Jews normally did not talk to Samaritans. They did not associate with them. The Lord Jesus knew that and he also knew that this woman had had many husbands and that therefore she was somewhat of a loose woman. He knew that she was not well respected. All these things created a great opportunity for him. For now he deliberately went out of his way to talk to her. That totally surprised her. She did not expect that. He asked her nicely for some water. In this way he broke the ice. He started to establish a relationship with her.

That's the first lesson we must learn as well. For example, when you're dealing with a known homosexual, or prostitute, or drug addict, they do not expect you, as a Christian, to come up and be kind to them or nice to them. They will think that we as Christians consider ourselves too good for them. Nothing, however, is farther from the truth. They have a wrong conception of who the true Christian is. That Samaritan woman at the well also had the wrong conception of the Lord Jesus Christ. She thought that he was a legalistic and arrogant Jew. Instead she found a kind and compassionate person.

Then the Lord Jesus also tied in to the situation at hand. That's another lesson we can learn from Him. The Samaritan woman was at the well. She needed water. And so the Lord makes the connection of that physical water to the living water which only he, as the Messiah, could give. And then, step-by-step he leads her to that insight. He spoke to her within the context of the situation that she was in. He did not start talking to her out of the blue. He didn't hand her a pamphlet. No, he led the conversation naturally from one thing to the next.

Brothers and sisters, we too must look for opportunities to connect with those with whom we come in contact. For example, when somebody uses the name of the Lord Jesus in vain in your presence you have an opportunity to witness. You may say, “I hear that you take the name of the Lord Jesus on your lips. Do you know who he is and what he stands for?” And then you can explain.

There are all kinds of opportunities to witness. You have an opportunity when someone is in a crisis and there is no way out. You always have an opportunity to reach out to others to be kind to them and to show the mercy of God. You have an opportunity to explain to your coworkers why you will not do business on a Sunday. The list can go on and on. All kinds of opportunities present themselves to you every day and you may not waste them. You also have to know how to take advantage of them. You have to be prepared at all times to give an answer.

Let me ask you, do the people around you know that you are a Christian? No doubt they do. But do they know what you stand for? Do they know what that means? For if you never talk about your Christianity in a meaningful way then you will not win them for Christ. You will not win them for Christ even though you work with them every day and you go out for lunch with your fellow workers, and attend some of the office parties, and perhaps also attend some of their family functions.

Let me tell you the story about two men, John and James. John was a Christian, James was not. Every Saturday they played tennis together. They did that for years. Afterwards they would go and have coffee together. They would talk to each other about all kinds of things, about their families and their work, about politics and about sports.

But then one day James became sick. The doctors couldn't do anything for him any longer. And then John came to visit him. He tried to give him some hope from the Bible. He said it was important that he speak to him about Christ before he would die. How do you think James reacted? In his heart James said to himself, “That's all very nice. But why is he putting in all that effort? If Christ was really all that important John would've told me about that a long time ago.”

Is it any wonder that he thought this way? Of course not.

Let me ask you, how do you witness about your faith to your friends? Do they know about the wonderful hope that lives inside of you? Do you talk about it? Does it live in your heart?

 

4. Words, however, without deeds make little impact. You have to choose your words carefully and be gentle. We come to the fourth and final point. The text of this morning comes after the section dealing with the way we use our tongues. Peter says in verse 8 and following that if you love life and want to see good days that then you must keep your tongue from evil; that you should not repay evil with evil or insult with insult; that instead you must seek peace and pursue it. He urges the readers to be sympathetic, to love as brothers, and to be compassionate and humble.

Oh, our tongues. How difficult it is for us to use our tongues in the right manner. There are some people who can talk and talk and talk. They will talk to you about church matters and about how wonderful God is all day long. But often those who talk the most do the least. Often their actions are not in accordance with their words. They are boastful and self-serving and come across as having all the answers. They are also not truthful and honest in their dealings. They are not wise with their tongues.

James says in chapter 3:6 of his letter, "The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell."

People of the world will also attack you with their tongues. Then it is so hard for us as Christians to show a different side. In the midst of a verbal barrage it is hard for us to be gentle and to respect others. For the one that is more difficult than another. However, the Lord God teaches us to be gentle and respectful. Even when others ridicule you or belittle you or misrepresent your position, you have to remain kind and gentle. That is the only way you will win others over for Christ.

Look at how the Lord Jesus conducted himself. He was always gentle and kind and respectful. He did not make personal attacks but he dealt with the issues. He rarely became angry. He would become angry only once it was clear that he was dealing with unrepentant people who wanted nothing to do with God, when they deliberately blasphemed God. For that reason he spoke very harshly against the Pharisees. But for the rest, he was gentle and kind.

For you and for me, however, it is hard to look into the hearts of people. And therefore, we cannot do what the Lord Jesus did. Therefore we always have to be cautious. We must not be harsh but gentle. That's hard at times. And if you slip up, then you'd better be willing to own up to it and to ask for forgiveness. And then the Lord will also bless you and make you an effective instrument in his hand to win others. For also in this way you can show that you are a child of the Lord.

Peter says in verse 13 that nobody is going to harm you if you are eager to do good. But, he says in verse 14, even if you do that perfectly that doesn't necessarily mean that you will not suffer. Your conduct may be impeccable, but you will nevertheless still be attacked. Satan is always out to do his destructive work. He wants to destroy you. He wants to destroy relationships.

We, however, are called to restore relationships: to restore our relationship with God in heaven; to restore relationships between man and man. We should never tire of doing that.

You may say that is difficult to do especially when you're dealing with people who are hostile to you and arrogant and aggressive. Well, as was said at the beginning of this sermon, we can only make an impact on others if we have a relationship with our neighbours. For the Lord God also established a relationship with us. Do you know when he did that? He did that while we were still his enemies; while we were still in our sin. In spite of our hostility and arrogance and sin, God nevertheless comes to us with the message of salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. And time and again he breaks through our thick-headedness and our arrogance, and claims us for his own. He continues to work in us. He does not give up on us.

Therefore we may not give up on others either. Oh sure, there will be a point where you will say that someone absolutely does not want to listen. But that comes at the end of a very long road. And then you go on. But you have to allow a certain process to take place.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord God has put you in the midst of this sinful world. He wants to hasten his coming and make the number of the elect complete. And he wants to use you and me to bring that about. Through God's help you can. Amen




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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