Previously I wrote about how 1 Peter 3:15 “call to apologetics” should be read in context of its immediate passage to inform us about what apologetics is. In a passage that anticipates persecution from without, making a defense is seen as a holy necessity that must be done with gentleness and reverence.
I decided to read through the entire letter of 1 Peter, trying to imagine myself as his audience, and allowing the entirety of the letter to inform my understanding of “defending the faith.”
Peter introduces himself as an “eyewitness of the sufferings of Christ,” an apologetic statement and a revealing of the main theme of the letter. Likely writing from Rome, Peter’s audience was a broad scattering of Churches across Roman provinces, most of whom must have been formerly pagan. Many scholars say it was written during the reign of Nero, whom Tacitus described as torturing Christians after blaming for a fire in AD 64. Regardless of who was emperor, various local persecutions occurred all throughout the Roman empire in the first century.
As Peter reminds the churches throughout that they are born in a living Hope, he says many things that can inform our understanding of what it means to defend the faith. I found ten such statements in the letter:
- Prepare your minds for action [and] fix your hope fully on grace.
Because of our inheritance, we should be sober to engage our minds in the faith, and focus on the future reward given to us by grace. We must live rightly with the Word dwelling in us to anticipate the full coming of that grace. This in itself is its own apologetic, its own evangelism.
- In obedience to the truth, having purified your souls for a sincere love of your brothers, fervently love one another from the heart.
Truth is not just something we argue for, but obey ourselves. When we’re reborn, we’re cleansed, and a fierce love governs our lives. Truth obeyed shows the world what truth is, and love shows the world who we belong to.
- Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander[…]if you have indeed tasted the kindness of the Lord.
No matter what our motivation or excuse, when we engage in apologetics, no matter who we are engaged with, we cannot have malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, or slander. If we use those tactics to defend belief in our Lord, have we indeed tasted of his kindness?
- Honor All People.
That’s one of the toughest things to do. We may come face-to-face with people who call us all kinds of names, or want to do all kinds of malicious things to us, because of what we believe. They all deserve our love and respect. It is possible to treat a person with high regard and completely disregard their opinions. But it isn’t always easy, and showing it can be even harder. As long as they are alive and capable of being returned to God, we must not despise anyone so as to push them away from belief. Our defense is not for God’s sake, but for theirs and ours. We put to silence foolish men not by slandering them, but by honoring their and our being made in the image of God. Foolish men slander themselves.
- Christ had no deceit found in his mouth, and did not revile in return.
Christ gives us the example of one who entrusts himself to the one who judges justly. Peter reminds us that we are not the overseer of the souls of the unrighteous, but God is. We are held responsible for what comes out of our mouth, and it is never to be in retaliation. This is why apologetics is the art of testimony, not offense. In the court of apologetics, we are to be the defendant.
- Arm yourselves with the same way of thinking as Christ.
Arming oneself implies a weapon, but the wording here is ironic. We are to arm ourselves not to prevent suffering, but to suffer. In any apologetic activity we engage in, we must be inspired primarily by the suffering of Christ, the lamb who opened not his mouth during his trial. If we are willing to suffer for defending our faith, we are less likely to sin. But if we intend to dominate others, our own efforts are likely to become sinful.
- Above all, be fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.
Above our responsibility to defend faith against attacks even within the brotherhood, our defense of true faith must be fervent in love. When others sin by false teaching and slandering the faith, when we come to them it must be motivated by love for them.
- Clothe yourself in humility.
Those against us should see this visibly. The humility of Christ is what we “wear” on our souls.
- If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed.
Being insulted for our beliefs is nothing to complain about. When someone insults us for our faith, we are to not take it personally and carry a grudge. We are to thank God for the blessing of sharing in the suffering of Christ and entrust ourselves to him that he will vindicate us.
- Your adversary is the devil.
Peel back the spiritual curtain. Our adversary is not the atheist, the Muslim, the Scientologist, the false prophet. Our enemies are not flesh and blood, not in the great spiritual battle. We are to treat those against us as souls made in God’s image who are under the enemy’s lure. Treat them as souls needing rescue from the enemy’s grasp. Free their minds from the enemy’s lies.
Peter, eyewitness to the suffering of Christ, was among the first of the disciples to always stand up for Christ. There was a time when he told Jesus he would die with him. But when that suffering came, he backed down. His zeal was cowed by the persecution of his Lord. This, his greatest defeat, taught him what it truly means to defend the faith.
There is no standing up for Jesus without being willing to suffer for the kingdom.
So Peter wrote a letter to churches exiled by an empire, praising God who made them born again, urging them to embrace suffering for righteousness as a purifying fire.
Suffering is a witness to the very cross of Jesus, which we proclaim. This is a kingdom where we serve our oppressors, wash the feet of others, liberate through love rather than rebellion. The spiritual evil of Satan is our one true enemy, and it is God who will vindicate us in the end. We persevere through hope, and live to love.
It is in the middle of this triumphant letter that Peter tells us to “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” We are spiritual exiles in a world ruled by our adversary, and this is why we must always be prepared to give a testimony of the Hope within us.
While I had a zeal for apologetics from a young age, I wish I had payed attention to what Peter was telling the exiled churches. I would have taken a much more humble route of proclaiming and giving a testimony of my faith from an earlier age. It is something I still must strive for.
In the final post, I examine some examples from my past in which I could have used a better application of 1 Peter 3:15.