Sunday, May 10, 2015

Defending Hope in Suffering (1 Peter 3:13-17)

This paragraph contains one of the most well-known and oft-quoted lines in Peter’s writing:
“…being ready always to give an answer to everyone that asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” 
We are told that we should be at the ready to defend the hope that is in us. What is usually taught with this passage is that you need to have your gospel presentation prepared and ready. The two things that are all too often overlooked here are: the prompting and the context.

The prompting, that which triggers the defense that we are supposed to be mounting, is a question. We are usually taught to approach people with the Gospel, unrequited as it were. That is certainly not a bad thing. We should be ready to tell people of our faith and the hope that we have in Christ. But, Peter is expecting people to demand an explanation from us. Why are we so full of hope?

Our question today is: why are we not asked this more often? It may lie in the other overlooked aspect of this passage.

Peter has composed a tightly structured paragraph around this sentence. We would do well to look at everything he said, not just one little fragment. The structure appears somewhat chiastic, and it all serves to highlight that Peter expects the questions regarding our hope to come out of the context of the persecution and suffering we are enduring for our faith.

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

Western Christianity today would not seem to fit into this passage very well. We may suffer at times for doing good, but our response is not mirrored here in 1 Peter.

Today’s “Christian” response is to defend ourselves, not our hope. Be it with legal, political, or even an armed response. And when we defend ourselves, we do not elicit the questioning response we should desire.

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