"Prepared to Proclaim"
1 Peter 3:13-17
(Delivered Sunday, October 5, 2003 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)
Dear brother or sister in Christ; God is at work all around you. At your job, in your neighborhood, in your school; at the stores where you shop, at the restaurants where you eat, at the gas station where you fill your car - everywhere you go, there are people whom God has prepared - in unseen and unique ways - to hear the good news of the gospel of His love through Jesus Christ. And it's God's good pleasure to use you to tell them the good news that He has prepared them to hear!
Now, it may seem like a daunting task to tell those around you about a message that will lead them to eternal life. And it is a daunting task indeed - one, in fact, that you could not fulfill by your own abilities and resources. But stop and think of the wonderful support you have in doing it. First, you have the support of God the Father Himself; who sovereignly chooses whosoever He wills to appoint for salvation, and then providentially ensures that those He has chosen will indeed come to Him. Jesus made the promise that "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out" (John 6:37). That is not a mere 'hope', but rather a divine 'certainty'! You and I cannot 'choose' someone for salvation; and even if we could, we certainly could not ensure the salvation of those we choose. But the Father can - and does! And so, you have the sovereign Father's support in this task that He has called you to; and His support cannot fail.
You also have the ministry of Jesus Himself. He speaks of those that the Father has chosen for salvation as "My sheep" - even before they have trusted Him for their salvation. And He says, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand" (John 10:27-29). Jesus, who died on the cross to save all those the Father gives Him, will never allow a single one of His sheep to slip away from Him. He who, in love, gave His very life for their salvation, would move heaven and earth in order to secure them to Himself forever. So, you have the Son's support in this task of sharing the Gospel with others; and His support also cannot fail.
In addition, you have a wonderful friend and ever-present ally in the Holy Spirit - the third divine Person of the triune Godhead. He not only indwells you and strengthens you for this great task; and He not only guides you in this work and lovingly remains at your side in all of it; but He Himself graciously and secretly works in the hearts of the people you encounter. Just think; if it were up to us to reason with people, and to convict them on our own that they are sinners in need of salvation, we would miserably fail in our task. We'd do a terrible job of convicting people of their sin. We'd only end up insulting people and driving them away. We'd never be able to do it right. But just before Jesus departed from this world, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit; saying, "And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment ..." (John 14:8). And so, we can rest assured that, all around us, there are people that He is already at work in - wisely and patiently bringing them to the conviction of their sin, and reaching down to the very core of their being with the desperateness of their situation. You don't ever have to be afraid that you are left to your own efforts and devices in convincing people that they need the forgiveness Jesus offers - because the Holy Spirit Himself is already at work in the hearts of those around you that God has appointed for salvation. He supports you in this work by imparting saving faith to all those God has chosen for salvation through His Son; and the Spirit's support also cannot fail.
You are not only well-supported in this work, but you are also well supplied. You have a wonderfully powerful resource in God's own word - the Holy Scriptures. You do not merely have words printed on the pages of a book that you must figure out how to use. The Scriptures are the very words of truth from the living God; and so they are living and powerful themselves. The writer of Hebrews says, "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). These words have, through the animating and illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit, the ability to bring about new life in those who hear them! As the apostle Peter said, we are born again "not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever" (1 Peter 1:23). You can be sure that the almighty God Himself stands behind every word He has spoken. He Himself has made this promise:
For as the rain comes down and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:10-11).
If you or I were to try to lead people to salvation by our own words of wisdom, what terrible disasters we would prove to be! People have often tried to do so - seeking to do the work of God while setting the word of God aside. After all, God's word is offensive to the people of this world who most need to hear it. It's just too straight-forward for the tastes of many. And so, many of God's own children foolishly think that they can win a better hearing for the message of Christ by not offending people with God's own words. They seek to simply "reason" with folks instead. But God has never promised to endorse our arguments! He has only promised to stand behind His own word; and we will always fail whenever we set God's word aside in favor of our own! We completely lose our authority when we do that. We can have confidence, however - because God gives us assurance of it in the Scriptures themselves - that unlimited, unrestrained, life-changing, soul-saving power is unleashed whenever we simply proclaim what God Himself has authoritatively said in the Bible! Whatever else people may say about the Bible, we find it to be the most relevant book in the world - whenever we faithfully declare what it says! What a great resource we have in the Scriptures for doing this great work!
Very much connected to that, we also have a great resource in the preaching of the gospel. The "gospel", very simply, is the good news of what God has done through Jesus Christ - as it is told to us in the Scriptures. Paul said,
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you - unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preached and so you believed (1 Cor. 15:1-11).
That's the message of the gospel! And when it is faithfully proclaimed - in the power and enabling of the Holy Spirit, and in a way that's faithful to God's own word - lives are changed and people are saved! Those whom God has chosen for Himself hear it, come to Christ by faith through it, and believe on Him unto eternal life! That's why Paul was able to say, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith'" (Rom. 1:16-17). The gospel itself is "the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes"; and what a great resource the preaching of it is in the work God has called us to!
And of course, we can't forget the great resource we have in prayer! Many opportunities to share the message of the gospel with lost people are made possible by the fact that God hears our prayers. Doors that the devil shuts tightly against the gospel burst open when God's people pray. Paul - the greatest evangelist and missionary the church has ever had - was utterly reliant upon the power of prayer for the success of his ministry. He urged his friends, "Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak" (Col. 4:2-4). He told them to be "praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints - and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak" (Eph. 6:18-20). This is why our church sets the last Sunday evening a month aside for a gathering of prayer, so we can pray for the people God has placed in our lives that need to know His love through Christ. There is great power in prayer! We cannot reach into people's hearts and change them; but God can - and we talk to Him in our prayers. We do not naturally have the boldness to proclaim Christ when the opportunity comes; but God can give that boldness to us - and He does when we ask! Prayer is the greatest power God has ever placed in the hands of frail men and women! What a wonderful resource prayer is for the fulfilling of our task!
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When I review all these things, it greatly excites me. Doesn't it excite you? We so often muddle-up and complicate our task with so many unnecessary things. But the authority and resources of our task are really very basic; and our task succeeds when we get back to those basic things - when we trust in the sovereign power of the Father, the preserving power of the Son, and the convicting power of the Holy Spirit; and in the life changing power of the word of God, the saving power of the gospel, and the door-opening power of prayer. It was through these that the church of Jesus Christ turned the world upside-down two-thousand years ago.
And that leads us to this morning's passage. We can have all the great support that God Himself already provides, and all the great resources He Himself already makes available to us, and yet ourselves be the thing that most stands in the way of all He seeks to accomplish through us - because we ourselves are not properly prepared. And this morning's passage teaches us how we can be prepared to share the gospel with those God Himself has already prepared to hear it.
We're told about this preparation in 1 Peter. Peter wrote this particular letter because he wanted to encourage his brothers and sisters who were suffering persecution for their faith. He wrote to tell them of the sure and certain hope of glory that is theirs in Christ, and to urge them not to give up hope but to keep on faithfully serving and living for Christ in the midst of an ungodly world. And assuming all the things that we've already talked about this morning, he told them;
And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you are blessed. "And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled." But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:13-17).
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God is telling us in these words, dear brother or sister, how to be prepared to proclaim the gospel to those God sovereignly prepares to hear it. He is telling us about four basic heart-preparations that we must make - heart-preparations that ensure that we ourselves are prepared for this great task He has called us to.
First, Peter tells us ...
1. FEAR NO OPPOSITION (vv. 13-14).
Peter was writing this letter to a group of Christians who were suffering dreadful opposition for their faith. He starts it off by addressing his letter "To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia ..." (1:1). "The pilgrims of the Dispersion" speaks of Jewish Christians who had been scattered from the regions of Judea and Samaria, and into the far reaches of the Greek world because of persecution. The New American Standard translation calls them "those who reside as aliens scattered"; and the New International Version calls them "God's elect, scattered". They are like the recipients of James letter: "the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" (James 1:1).
And we also see hints of the severity of the persecution in the things Peter wrote to them in this letter. He told them of the things that they can greatly rejoice in, "though now, for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials" (1:6). He urged them to be tender-hearted and courteous; "not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing" (3:9). Perhaps one of the clearest statements of what they endured is found in 4:12-19;
You see; at the beginning of our passage this morning, Peter asks his readers, "And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?" (3:13). As followers of Jesus in this world, we are to be doers of good; and ordinarily, we would expect that the people of the world would find it an agreeable thing to live alongside those who would do good. But we are called to be doers of good in the midst of a very evil and ungodly world. And apparently there were those - just as there are those today - who feel the conviction and condemnation of sin when they behold those who do good in the name of Christ, and who hate them as a result. There were those - just as there are those today - who would harm those who do good.
But Peter says, "But even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you are blessed" (v. 14). In the original language, the feel of Peter's words is, 'But though you would ordinarily expect people to find it a good thing to live near you if you do good; even if they would do you harm instead, what of it? So what? Even if this should happen, you are blessed!' I suspect that Peter was thinking here of the promise of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In an ultimate sense, we have absolutely nothing to fear from persecution for our faith in Christ. In fact, if it falls upon us - painful and grievous as it may be for a time - Jesus commands us to rejoice and leap for joy! We are, as Peter says, "blessed"! Great is our reward in heaven, in such a case; and as Peter tells us in the first few words of this letter, it is an "inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1:4-5). If they should make us suffer for Christ's sake, then our reward is great! And even if they should take our lives, then they simply send us to our Savior and to the great reward He has for us! We cannot but be blessed either way! We ultimately cannot lose!
That's why Peter can call us to this first matter of heart preparation. He quotes from Isaiah 8:12; and he says, "And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled". Literally, he says, "The 'fear' of them fear not!"
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Now, stop and think of what this means with respect to the task that God has given us. If someone was swimming on the beach with a shark a few feet away, we'd think that the life-guard was irresponsible - and in fact evil - if he sat in his seat and said nothing because of a desire "not to offend" or "to make the swimmer mad". But when it comes to those around us who are abiding under the wrath of God for sin, and who are doomed to eternal judgment if they don't repent and believe on Jesus, we're often so afraid of offending them that we do not tell them the only message that will save them!
Face it: if we tell them that, apart from Jesus, they're lost; and that their sins are so bad that the only way they could have been saved is by the sinless Son of God coming to this earth and dying in their place - well, how in the world would that NOT offend them?!! The message of the cross is, in fact, a deeply offensive message! We don't have to be offensive in the way we tell it - it's offensive all on its own! But offensive or not, it's also the truth; and it has been entrusted to us to be declared!!
And so we're not to allow the fear of others to prevent us from telling them the message that will save them. When God called the prophet Jeremiah, He told him, "... You shall go to all whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you ..." (Jer. 1:7-8). When He called the prophet Ezekiel, He told him, "And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you dwell among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words or dismayed by their looks, though they are a rebellious house. You shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or whether they refuse ..." (Ezek. 2:6-7). Proverbs 29:25 tells us, "The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe."
In fulfilling this great task God has given us, one of the most important and primary heart-preparations we can make is to get over our fear of man. In telling people the truth of the gospel, we must love them more than they hate us for telling it to them. If we tell them the message of God's love from the Scriptures in the power of the Holy Spirit, then they're not hating us; they're hating the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit ministered through us.
May God help us to be prepared in our hearts, and to fear no opposition!
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I love how these different principles are connected to one another. We really could not have the power to make that first heart-preparation if it were not for the second heart-preparation we are called upon to make. Peter goes on to say ...
2. SANCTIFY CHRIST AS LORD IN YOUR HEART (v. 15).
You might notice that there's a difference in translations at this part of the passage. If you read it from the King James Bible, or the New King James Bible, you'll find that it says, "But sanctify the LORD God in your hearts ..." If you read from a different translation, however, you'll find that it reads, "... but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts ..." (as it does in the New American Standard Version). This is because there are slight differences in the different Greek texts from which these different translations were made. The greater weight of textual authority appears to be on the reading "Sanctify Christ as Lord"; but in the long run, I don't think it makes a great deal of difference. After all, we cannot sanctify God in our hearts at all unless it is through Christ; and if Christ is truly sanctified as Lord in our hearts, then all the triune Godhead is sanctified there with Him.
What does it mean to "sanctify" Christ as Lord in our hearts? The Greek word being used basically means to "set apart as holy"; and so, in the New International Version it reads, "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord ..." Now of course, Jesus is already set apart as Holy. He is the only begotten Son of the Father, the King of kings and Lord of lords. We could never make Him holier, or set Him apart as more distinct, than He already is. Nor could we make Him more of a King than heaven itself already recognizes Him to be. So Peter is not calling upon us to do something that adds anything to Jesus' holiness or authority in any way. Peter is not so much dealing with the act of sanctifying Christ, as with the place in which that "sanctifying" is to be done. What Peter is urging us to do is to sanctify Him as Lord "in our hearts". He is urging us to personally esteem Him in our own hearts for what He, in actual fact, already is. He is urging us to personally "sanctify" Jesus in a way that affects us from deep within, and that changes us from the inside out.
What would it mean in practice to "sanctify" Jesus as Lord "in our hearts"? First, I believe it would mean that we would personally and sincerely bow in our hearts to the truth about Him. It would mean that we whole-heartedly believe the truth about Him, and trust Him as the eternal Son of God who came to this earth in human flesh to die for our sins. It would mean that we whole-heartedly believe that He has been raised from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of the Father; and that He is coming again one day to rule the earth in power and great glory. Basically, it would mean that we believe the truth about Him as it's told to us in the Scriptures, and bow to that truth from the heart and worship Him as He truly is.
But second, I believe it would mean that we surrender our lives to Him from the heart, and allow Him the exclusive right to all we are and have - inside and out. It would mean that we give ourselves over to Him and allow Him to live through us. I believe a good picture of what it would mean to sanctify Christ in our hearts is given to us in His own words to us in John 15; "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5). It would mean "abiding" on Him, and so drawing our live and strength from Him that His own life flows out from us. Certainly, setting Christ apart as Lord in our hearts would mean that we actually give ourselves over to Him as our Lord and allow Him to live His life through us!
I believe that sanctifying Christ in our hearts would also mean our own personal sanctification. We could not "sanctify" Christ as Lord in our hearts, and still hold on to our sins at the same time! It would require that we turn away from the sins that He died to save us from. It would mean that we ourselves consistently seek to live a sanctified - or "set apart" - life under His lordship by walking in a manner that is consistent with His own holiness. It would mean putting aside our old manner of life - with our old sinful habits and practices - and seeking instead to live, in an increasing manner, like He lived.
Finally, I suggest that sanctifying Christ in our hearts would mean that we walk in daily fellowship with Him. It would mean that we talk to Him about our concerns in prayer. It would mean that we turn our problems over to Him and seek His guidance. It would mean that we invite Him into every decision we make, every activity we engage in, every area of our lives. It would mean that we embrace Him and own Him as the dearest and best Friend we have, and that we relish the love He delights to shower on us. This, I believe, is also involved in the idea of sanctifying Christ in our hearts as Lord.
And let me ask you now; do you sanctify Jesus in your heart in this way? So many people say that they claim Him as their Savior; but any relationship they have with Him is more on the abstract level than anything else. In actual practice, they don't bow humbly before the truth about Him and worship Him. They don't surrender themselves to Him as their Lord in the area of their choices and decisions. They don't seek to turn away from the sins that He died to save them from, nor seek to live more like He lived. They don't turn to Him and lean on Him in the troubles and trials of life; nor do they love Him as their deeply beloved Friend. When it comes right down to it, they don't actually have much to do with Him.
But God's call to us, as we hear Him speak through His servant Peter, is that we sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts. May God help us to do so more and more; because we will not be prepared to share His message of salvation with others unless we give Jesus His proper place as Lord over our hearts.
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Once Jesus is set apart as Lord in our hearts as He should be, it follows that we will be living radically distinct lives. People will begin to see a difference in us. They will see, lived out in us, the truth of what Paul said: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved Me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). We will exhibit the Spirit's fruit of "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23). We will be living a life that defies human explanation!
And when people begin to see that, they'll want to know what's different about us. They will want to know why we have such joyful hope, and why we live so differently. That leads us to the third heart-preparation Peter urges us to make ...
3. BE READY TO EXPLAIN YOUR HOPE (v. 15).
He writes, "But sanctify the Lord God [or Christ as Lord] in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear ..." Isn't that wonderful way to share Christ with others? Just sanctify Christ as Lord in your heart, and be ready to explain what it is that people see in you.
Do you see how this relies on some of the other things we've talked about? It assumes that God the Holy Spirit is already at work in those who are all around us. He is helping them to see that there is something missing in them - that something is not right within them. And when you begin to live before them in such a way as to display the very One to them that the Holy Spirit whispers that they need to know, they long to find out what you have. And it is then your privilege - by the enabling power of the same Holy Spirit, and with the courage and clarity that He gives - to tell them about Him who is your wonderful Savior, your precious Lord and Master, your great Example, and your dearest Friend.
Now notice what the main command is in all this. It's that you are to "always be ready". It's your duty, dear brother or sister, to study the truth of the gospel, as it's explained in the Scriptures, and know what it is that Jesus has done for you. This doesn't mean that you have to be an expert in theology, of course. But it does require some effort on your part. It means that you should put in the effort to understand what Jesus has done for you, and know what the Bible says about it; and that you keep yourself constantly prepared to tell someone about it if they ask.
I suggest that one of the greatest things you could ever do in preparing for this is to sit down and prayerfully write out your story. Revisit the details of your own spiritual story in Christ. Write out what you were like before you trusted Jesus. Write out how you came to the place in your life where you consciously trusted Him as your Savior. Write out how He has saved you, and what a difference He has made in your life since you've trusted Him. And be sure to support your story with the facts of Scripture; and commit those verses of Scripture to memory. Then, practice sharing your story with another mature believer - someone who can help you tell it clearly. It takes a little work to do this; but then, you'll "always be ready" to give an answer to whoever asks you for the hope you have. And what's more, reviewing the story will fill your heart with fresh gratitude to the Savior!
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A significant part of our preparation is to know the story behind our hope and the biblical facts that support it. But proper preparation also involves the manner in which we share that information. Many people are prepared to share the information of the gospel. They do their homework with respect to that part of their duty. But they don't give equal attention to the manner in which they share it, and are thus unprepared as they should be. Peter says that we're to give an answer for the hope that is within us "with meekness and fear".
Now, you might be saying to yourself, "Wait a minute. Earlier, Peter told us not to be afraid of people; but why is he now telling us to give an explanation of the hope within us with meekness and fear? Which is it? Are we to be afraid or not?"
I believe that it's important to remember that "meekness" is not the same thing as "weakness". We often mistakenly think that it is. But to be meek is really a way of describing strength brought under control To be "meek" in the sense Peter is referring to is to be so unimpressed with our own importance that we speak to others with humbleness, courtesy, and gentleness. It would be tempting to lash out in our own defense - particularly at a time when we're suffering opposition for our faith. It would be tempting to try to come across as intellectually astute. But that would not be consistent with someone who has truly sanctified Christ as Lord in their hearts, and who truly has hope in Him. To speak with meekness would mean that our answer is not rude or harsh or pretentious; and that we do not seek to humiliate our opponent and "put them in their place". Rather, it means that we speak to them in a courteous, kind, gracious, respectful and humble manner.
"Meekness" speaks on a horizontal level, with respect to our manner toward other people. But "fear" speaks on a vertical level, with respect to our manner before God. It's important to remember that the word "fear" also has the meaning of "reverence". This would mean that, when we give an answer for our hope, we do so in such a way as to recognize that we're speaking of to people about eternal matters - the most lofty and worthy matters about which we could ever speak. It means that we recognize that we are speaking to someone in whom the Holy Spirit - even right then - may well be at work bringing about new life. It means that we recognize we are telling someone about our precious Savior, who is worthy of the greatest respect and who should be shared in a manner befitting His holiness and majesty. It means, I believe, that we avoid getting into arguments that are petty and unworthy.
In short, I believe that giving an answer with "meekness and fear" means we give an answer with the sort of attitude Paul spoke of when he wrote, "But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And the servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses, and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will" (2 Tim. 2:23-26).
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This leads us to a final and very important heart-preparation we must make in this great task God has given us; and that is to ...
4. MAINTAIN A GOOD CONSCIENCE (v. 16-17).
Peter wrote that we are to do all this, "having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil."
I'll speak frankly; many of us who call ourselves Christians are actually our own worst enemies when it comes to doing the work God has given us to do. We often rob ourselves of the opportunity to be used by God to share the good news, or find ourselves unprepared when the opportunity comes, because we did not maintain a good conscience. We allow practices and habits to creep into our lives that undermine our reputation as a follower of Jesus Christ.
To live in such a way as to give validity to our claim to be a follower of Jesus is a crucial part of our heart-preparation. It's a part of living the kind of life that requires an explanation. It's a matter of doing what the apostle Paul said - to live in such a way as to "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things" (Titus 2:10).
Now thankfully, I have found that this doesn't mean that we must live perfect lives. Praise God for that! Even the most faithful follower of Jesus is still a fallen man or woman; and we are sent to bear the message of salvation to other fallen men and women. We cannot be perfect; and that's good, because the ones we're called upon to speak to can't relate to perfect people anyway. Rather, we want to show them that we are fallen sinners just like they are, but who have found Someone who has loved us sacrificially, who has washed the guilt of our sins away, who has promised to take us to heaven, and who is now daily helping us to live holier lives.
What I believe is involved in maintaining a good conscience before the watching world is that we seek increasingly, by the enabling and sanctifying ministry of the Holy Spirit in us, to turn away from the sins of the past and to live more like Jesus every day. That's why Peter said that we should live in such a way that others can see our "good conduct". But what I also believe is involved is that, when we blow it (which we most certainly will), we own up to it before the watching world, admit the truth of our sin, confess it, ask the forgiveness of those we've harmed, seek to make things right again with them; and then, get up and joyfully trust the indwelling Christ to help us do better. When we do that - and genuinely mean it from a "meek and reverent" heart - people around us take notice. They wont be attracted to your "perfection". Instead, they notice your integrity before God. That's what it means to maintain "a good conscience".
Peter speaks often in his letter of how crucial "a good conscience" is to our witness to the world. He said that we are to "abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles [that is, unbelieving people], that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation" (2:11-12). He said, "For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men" (2:15). He said that a follower of Jesus
... no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles - when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you (4:2-4).
When you no longer run around with the old crowd, doing the same old sins you used to do with them, they'll think it strange and will speak evil of you. But as Peter said, "For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." "Therefore," he says, "let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator" (4:19). The watching world will see that we keep "a good conscience" before God - even when we suffer for it; and some, whose hearts God has already prepared, will take careful note of it and seek Him.
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So then, all around us are people that God is at work in even right now. He is preparing them to hear the message of eternal life - and wants them to hear it from us. May God help us, dear brother or sister, to be prepared in our hearts to share with them the message He is preparing them to hear!
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