One of the key passages that comes up when talking about a biblical view of apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15-16. I recently got to read a rather bad “exegesis” of the passage by a rather well known (at least on the internet) apologist who basically dismissed that 1 Peter 3:15-16 essentially taught the idea of “what you say matters as much as how you say it”. This was my response to him:
1 Peter 2:1 1 Peter 2:13 begins an extended passage on submission to “Every authority”, which includes those in work (2:18-24), the home (3:1-7) and the world (3:8-22). The main thrust of the extended passage is on the necessity of holy living; that one’s life should be properly representing God.
In the workplace (i.e. in the slave & master relationship), “it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” (2:15) and you should “not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil” (2:16).
In the home, wives should “be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” (3:1-2) and they should focus on beauty of character, not clothing (3:4-5). Husbands should “be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (3:7).
In the world, Peter writes “all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” (3:8)
Is this meant to be a directive of behavior only between Christians?
Well, Peter writes “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (3:9) It’s possible that Christians can treat other Christians in an evil way, but there’s no “between believers” specificity in the text.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is how we should respond to non-Christians, right A testimony from silence is not an admonition to anything at all…
What if they’re the ones that treat us with evil and insults?
Peter clarifies by quoting Psalm 34:12-16. There are only two people in that Psalm; the righteous and the wicked. “The Righteous one” must keep (i.e. to guard as a watchmen, to blockade – נצר) his tongue from evil (רע) and keep his lips from deceitful speech (“words of treachery”).
“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (3:12)
Either one is acting in accord with “the righteous” or “the wicked”. One the Lord is for, and one the Lord is against, and they’re known by their words and the qualities of their speech.
Then Peter asks the rhetorical question “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” (3:13) The obvious answer is “nobody”, but Peter still recognizes that Christians will not be free from harm if they do good. He writes “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (3:14) and quotes Isaiah 8:12 to justify his point, saying “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.”
The Christian doesn’t fear physical harm from those who hate him, since the Christian does not fear the grave. Nothing that anyone can do to a believer need be feared. (The fear of the grave is something that marks the lives of the unregenerate though [Hebrews 2:15] and the necessity of the reorientation of fear is taught by Christ in Luke 12:4-5.)
Instead, “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” (3:15). Instead of cowering under the fear of death (and losing the things we treasure on earth), we need to submit ourselves to Christ.
As well as re-orienting our fears from death to the Lord, Christians need to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” We give reason for our hope (in death) to everyone who asks. But there is an caution:
“But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience,” (3:15-16)… Why?
“so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (3:16) When you set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts, you do so by giving Christ preeminence in your mind, even above your fear of death. You bear witness to your hope by explaining it and you conduct your explanation in a way that is marked by gentleness and respect, and does not violate your conscience.
Christians do not repay evil for evil, insult for insult, and Christians do not have lips marked by evil or deceitful speech. Instead, their words are marked by gentleness and respect. To do otherwise places one in opposition and disobedience to scripture.
And always let your apologetic efforts be guided according to 2 Timothy 2:14-26:
“Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.
Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”
Defend the faith, but make sure it’s the Christian faith you’re defending, in the biblical way.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “The Armchair Theologian” Unger