“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” I Peter 3:15.
As Christians, we often think we’re pretty good at this. We have our answers, our “reasons for hope”. We’re more or less prepared to give those whenever anyone asks. But they never do, for which we’re both disappointed and relieved.
Or we’re prepared to give them whether anyone is asking or not. Blam! Another drive-by witnessing.
But on coming to this verse in my regular Bible reading, I was struck by how the context isn’t quite what I had thought it ought to be based on the spin I’d normally heard given to this verse.
The wider context is about social relationships. Slaves and masters, husbands and wives, how to relate to society at large. The particulars may vary, but the general message is to be eager to do good in order to show to the world that those who want to portray Christianity as harmful do not have a leg to stand on.
In the contemporary master/slave relationship, that meant masters being considerate and good to their slaves, and slaves being eager to obey even a harsh unbeliever. It’s not a justification of slavery, but advice on how to live like a Christian in an anti-God social system.
In the contemporary patriarchal family structure, it meant husbands behaving considerately towards their wives, and wives behaving submissively towards their husbands. Again, not a justification of patriarchy but advice on how to live like a Christian in it.
In the wider social context it meant being eager to do good. And by doing good to silence those who viewed Christians as opposed to the social order, kin to terrorists, Bad People.
The immediate context is about suffering for doing good. The bridge is “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for doing what is right, it is commendable”.
Because there are people out there who are going to persecute and oppose, even if Christians are doing good. The point is to show those who are less inherently opposed and more open to reason that followers of Jesus are people who do good. In other words, to do what Gandhi did to the British Empire: yank the moral high ground right out from underneath.
Into this context comes the instruction to “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord“. To not let persecution and opposition drive you away from your relationship with God in Jesus the Messiah. And only then follows “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have”.
In this context, it makes sense of something that’s always puzzled me: why do so few ask?
But in the context of a church being persecuted, harmed and killed, that responds by doing good…
Yeah. I can see how that would provoke people to ask why.
“But do this with gentleness and respect”, the verse finishes. The bit we often leave out when we quote. There should be no place in our faith for behaving like gits when we tell the truth and stand up for the Gospel. Consideration, gentleness and respect, not demonising our opponents or making gratuitous personal attacks.
Showing grace by the way we tell the truth, in other words.