Defending the Hope We Have

photoBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Riverside Presbyterian Church, November 17, 2013

SERMON SERIES REMINDER

Good morning! It is good to see everyone again.

Today we finish up our sermon series on John Stott’s book, Basic Christianity.  For those of you who have not had time to read the book, I would encourage you to pick up a copy and take a look—it is well worth the time.

PRAYER OF INVOCATION

Let’s begin with a word of prayer:

Almighty Father, Beloved Son, Holy Spirit, we praise you for your compassionate love and presence in our lives.  Make your presence especially known to us this morning.  In the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire the words spoken and illuminate the words heard.  In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

SERMON TEXT

Our scripture reading today is taken from 1 Peter 3:13-17.  Hear the word of the Lord:

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV).

Here ends the reading.

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever had a close friend who was a seeker?  You know, someone who is obviously curious about God—seeking—but unable to take the step of faith.

I have—my friend’s name was Dave.  Dave and I used to get together for lunch perhaps once a month to shoot the breeze about politics, bank regulation, and religion—especially religion.  We read C.S. Lewis together, watched R.C. Sproul videos, talked about Billy Graham, and debated back and forth for years.  Dave was curious, but as a retired lawyer he was also skeptical.  He just could not accept the idea of the God of the bible.  At best, he would admit that the existence of God was logical, just not the God of the Bible.

In December 2006, we had lunch together as usual.  Two weeks later, Dave’s wife called me.  She told me that Dave had gotten pneumonia; was on a ventilator; and was not responding to treatment.  Should she turn off the ventilator?  She asked.

I was dumbfounded.  Dave was gone.  He had not accepted Christ.

I felt like I had failed Dave and failed God.  Above my bed hangs an original painting depicting the crucifixion of Christ given me by Dave’s widow.  It was a wedding gift which meant nothing to her but everything to me.  It is for me a reminder of the seriousness of our faith and the need to share it.

As the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 3:15) reminds us:  always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (2 X).

BACKGROUND

Our scripture lesson today comes from Peter’s first letter to the churches in what is now modern Turkey.  Peter probably wrote this letter from Rome [1] in the early AD 60s before he was martyred by Emperor Nero for the faith [2].

These churches were undergoing severe persecution [3] in the midst of a society that was both multi-cultural and poly-theistic.  Today we might describe their society as postmodern—that is, minus the illusion of modernity.

The hostility of the Roman empire to the Christian message arose primarily because Christians maintained the wild idea that only one God exists and we come to him only through Jesus Christ.  Multiple gods were no problem—they could be bought off with feast days and bribed with sacrifices. You see, the Romans considered themselves very tolerant of foreign gods—at least the tinnie-winnie variety.

TEXT
 
Three points in our scripture reading today have direct bearing our witness.  We are to:
  1. Be zealous for the good (v 13);
  2. Be prepared to offer a defense for our hope (v 15); and
  3. Speak with gentleness and respect (v 15).

Let me address each in turn.

The first point is:  Be zealous for the good. 

It is interesting that Peter sees the Christian lifestyle as our first and most important witness [4].  Listen to what Peter says in chapter 2:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11-12 ESV).

Do you catch the spirit of what Peter is saying?  We are to be holy, not only because God is holy, but because it is a witness to those who are not.  In other words, be a holy disease that will infect other people!

Be zealous for the good.

The second point is:  Offer a defense. 

The word used here is apologia (ἀπολογία) which means to offer a defense or to speak against [5].  Our word, apologetics, is derived from the same root at apologia, but is used more specifically to defend a particular doctrine or point of view.

What is interesting about Peter’s statement about apologetics is that his emphasis is on living the word, not speaking it [6].  Basically, Peter spends most of his letter, particularly chapter two, talking about righteous living and he devotes only about one sentence about offering a verbal defense.  In fact, in verse 16 after he mentions offering a verbal defense he returns to his emphasis on living the word:

having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (1 Peter 3:16 ESV).

Shame them! We are to shame our critics with our good works!  In some sense, for Peter offering a verbal defense is a matter more of spin control than vigorous argumentation.  The point is that while no one is argued into the kingdom of God, having been loved into the kingdom people need to know that Jesus is the source of that love and why it all makes sense.

Offer a defense.

The third point is:  Speak with gentleness and respect.

This third point follows from the first two.  If people notice that you are zealous for the good and can coherently articulate your faith, then you have their attention.  However, if your attitude is wrong then they will resist your message simply out of stubbornness.

Psychiatrist, Milton Erickson, worked with patients using hypnosis and succeeded with patients no one else could reach. What is interesting about Erickson’s approach is that he never gave his patients advice or asked them to do anything.  Instead, he would hypnotize his patients and tell them stories.  For example, instead of advising someone to take an aspirin for a headache, he would tell a story about a man who took an aspirin which cured his headache.  The point is that people’s resistance to advice and suggestions is so strong that even under hypnosis they refuse to listen! (Rosen 1991).

Speak with Gentleness and Respect.

APPLICATION

Let me offer a couple of points about how to share your faith from John Stott’s Basic Christianity.

Let me start by saying that you need to share your faith, not my faith or John Stott’s faith.  Your faith is the most important witness for two reasons.

First, you have the most credibility with the person that you are talking with.  How you came to faith matters more to them than anyone else’s journey of faith.  Tell them how and why you came to faith.

Second, the tough part in witnessing is not reading a book;  the tough part in witnessing is not the mechanics of witnessing; the tough part in witnessing is understanding your own faith walk (2X).  The best way to understand your own walk is to talk about it or, better yet, to write it out in the form of a spiritual autobiography.  If you need suggestions, Richard Peace has written a book called, Spiritual Autobiography.  Check my blog (http://bit.ly/19KoqU0) for a review of Peace’s book.

Stott summarizes his book making two points.  Stott’s first point is that the great privilege as children of God is relationship with God (2X); Stott’s second point is that our great responsibility as children of God is growing that relationship (2X).  Stott observes:  everyone loves children, but no one wants them to stay in the nursery (Stott 2008, 162).  It is the nature of relationships either to grow or to decline; relationships never stay in one place.  Stott sees our growth needing to occur in two dimensions:  understanding our faith and practicing holiness (163-166). Clearly, I could talk at great length on both issues, but let’s move on.

FINAL POINT

After my friend, Dave, passed away I felt like I had failed him and failed God in my witness.  However, that was not the end of the story.

Several months after Dave died, his widow spoke to my wife, Maryam, about our visits and she made the point—Dave was concerned about my Christian naiveté—he was hoping that he could convince me to give it up. Of course, he failed—I enrolled in seminary about two years later.

Our privilege as Christians is to share the Gospel but we must leave what happens after that to God.

CLOSING PRAYER

Will you pray with me?

Almighty father. We thank you for blessing us in a thousand ways—more ways than we can imagine.  Thank you especially for granting us faith.  Help us to live out our faith; to be willing to defend it; and to speak about it with gentleness and respect.  In power of your Holy Spirit, inspire the words we speak and illumine the words that people hear.  In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.


[1]Peter (1 Peter 5:13) refers to Rome as “Babylon” (Perkins 1998, 11) which parallels the Apostle John references in Revelations (e.g. Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast (Revelation 18:2 ESV)).

[2] Rome burned in AD 64.  Emperor Nero blamed the Christians and a great persecution began.  Peter was himself martyred by Nero during this period (McKnight 1996, 28-29). Nero’s reign ended in AD 68. Bartlett (1998, 230-236) reviews concerns of recent authors that the Apostle Peter was not the author of this epistle. The arguments against apostle authorship stems from an assumption that a Galilean fisherman probably would lack a sophisticated style, theology, and knowledge of Greek.  This assumption is never defended and stands in contrast with the picture of an articulate Peter speaking on Pentecost in Acts 2 who is able to convince 3,000 men to come to faith through a single speech.

[3]See, for example, 1 Peter 1:6-7 (Perkins 1995, 15-16).

[4]Bartlett (1998, 238-240) appears disappointed with lifestyle ministry, particularly as it affects the role of women.  He assumes lifestyle ministry is submissive and ineffective without demonstrating that a more assertive ministry is consistent with Gospel witness or, for that matter, effective in evangelism.

[5]BDAG (964, 2):  the act of making a defense, defense.  See also:  2 Corinthians 11 and Philippians 1:7.

[6]Bartlett (1998, 291) rightly observes that a defense could include legal proceedings, but the context here is more general.

REFERENCES

Bartlett, David L.  1998.  “The First Letter of Peter” pages 227-319 of New Interpreter’s Bible:  A Commentary in Twelve Volumes.  Vol. XII.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press.

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Ed. Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. <BibleWorks. v.9.>. 

BibleWorks.  Norfolk: BibleWorks, LLC., 2011. <BibleWorks v.9>.

McKnight, Scot.  1996.  The NIV Application Commentary:  1 Peter.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Peace, Richard.  1998.  Spiritual Autobiography:  Discovering and Sharing Your Spiritual Story.  Colorado Springs:  NavPress.

Perkins, Pheme. 1995.  Interpretations, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching:  First and Second Peter, James, and Jude.  Louisville:  John Knox Press.

Rosen, Sidney.  1991.  My Voice will Go with You:  The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson (Orig pub 1982). New York:  W.W. Norton & Company.

Stott, John.  2008.  Basic Christianity (Orig pub 1958).  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

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