Throughout this section on hopeful intentionality, Peter has emphasised the need to “abstain from the passions of the flesh” and to “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable” (2:11–12). “The passions of the flesh” teach us to respond to opposition in kind, whereas “honourable” conduct is modelled by Christ’s non-retaliation when he was afflicted. Peter urges his readers time and again to not respond with retaliation—whether to godless government (2:13–17), godless employers (2:18–25), godless spouses (3:1–7), or, in the present case, godless enemies (3:8–17).
As he draws his exhortation on hopeful intentionality toward enemies (3:8–17) to a close, he begins with a truism: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” (v. 13). While not an absolute law, it is frequently true that quiet, gentle, humble behaviour will help you avoid more conflict than it will invite. It makes no sense to respond to opposition in an in-your-face way because it will generally make things worse.
At the same time, Peter recognises that gentleness is not a sure-fire way to avoid suffering, because sometimes God’s people do “suffer for righteousness’ sake” (v. 14). Doing what is right sometimes invites suffering, not usually because the opponents hate your righteous behaviour in and of itself but because your righteousness negatively affects their wickedness. The apostles preached freely in Ephesus until their preaching impacted the local economy (Acts 19). When righteousness touched on the financial interests of the Ephesian citizenry, Paul began to “suffer for righteousness’ sake.”
The question before Peter’s readers was, how do we respond with hope when we suffer for what is righteous? His answer is simple: Focus on the gospel. “But in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence 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 behaviour in Christ may be put to shame” (vv. 15–16).
While these verses are frequently (and rightly) used in the context of evangelism and apologetics, we may miss their profound personal impact. The action here begins “in your heart” as you are “being prepared” to answer those who ask about your hope. As a Christian, your hope lies squarely in the gospel, and it is the message of the gospel that you must preach when people ask you about your hope. But you will only be able to give that answer of hope to the degree that you have internalised it yourself. If you do not prepare your heart with the beauty of the gospel when things are going well, you will likely fall apart when opposition strikes. But how do you prepare to give an answer of hope? We find several pieces of advice in our text.
First, recognise that everything—including your suffering—is under the lordship of Christ. “In your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy.” Nothing happens outside of his control. If you suffer, you suffer under his lordship. Remembering that will enable your hope.
Second, know the gospel. “Always [be] prepared.” Do you know the gospel message? Given sixty seconds in an elevator with a stranger, could you explain the gospel? If someone asked you, “What must I do to be saved?” could you give them an answer? Are you always prepared with the good news of what God has done for believing sinners in Jesus Christ?
Third, have the answers for why you do what you do. “Make a defence” and “give a reason.” Do you think carefully through your response to certain situations? If you respond to suffering with gentleness and humility, can you explain whyyou do so?
Fourth, focus on the future. “The hope that is in you” is a hope that stretches beyond this life. The ultimate Christian hope is eternity. It is the resurrected state. You can endure suffering in this life because there is a better life to come, free from all suffering and wrongdoing. Allow the hope of the resurrection to empower your present faith.
Fifth, back your words with actions. Give your answer “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your behaviour may be put to shame.” Make sure that the gospel truths you proclaim are supported by a gospel-centred life and attitude.
As you meditate this morning on 1 Peter 3:8–17, ask the Lord to help you be prepared to live with hope in suffering and to give a persuasive answer of hope to any who ask questions about your response to suffering.