Making Your Case

| 1 Peter 3:15-17

Lesson Focus:  This lesson helps adults understand the value of knowing what they believe and being able to explain it with confidence in any circumstance.

Be Prepared: 1 Peter 3:15-17.

[15]  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, [16]  having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. [17]  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.  [ESV]

Peter here stated the second implication from verses 13-14a, continuing to allude to Isaiah 8. Negatively, believers are to refrain from fear. Positively, they are to honor Christ the Lord as holy in their hearts. Peter exhorted his readers to continue to treat Christ as the holy one, fearing Him instead of those who are harming them. Christ is already Lord in any case, but believers demonstrate and acknowledge His lordship in their lives by honoring His name. The place where Christ is to be set apart as Lord is in your hearts. We should not understand the heart as our inner and private lives, which are inaccessible to others. The heart is the origin of human behavior [see 1:22; 3:4], and from it flows everything people do. Hence, setting apart Christ as Lord in the heart is not merely a private reality but will be evident to all when believers suffer for their faith. The inner and outer life are inseparable, for what happens within will inevitably be displayed to all, especially when one suffers. The next part of verse 15 begins with the participle being prepared which connects to the main verb honor (or set apart). This indicates that what follows is one way that believers honor Christ as Lord. Believers are to be ready constantly to respond to those who ask about their faith. What Peter emphasized is that they were to be prepared to provide a defense to those who ask about the Christian faith. The word reason (or defense) comes from the Greek word from which we get our English word “apologetic.” In this context, Peter has in mind those informal circumstances when believers are asked spontaneously about their faith: to anyone who asks. The exhortation here is instructive, for Peter assumed that believers have solid intellectual grounds for believing the gospel. The truth of the gospel is a public truth that can be defended in the public arena. This means that every believer should grasp the essentials of the faith and should have the ability to explain to others why they think the Christian faith is true. Interestingly enough Peter used the word hope rather than “faith” here. Hope was a central word for Peter, focusing on the eschatological inheritance that awaits believers [see 1:3,13]. The implication is that unbelievers will recognize by the way believers respond to difficulties that their hope is in God rather than in pleasant earthly circumstances. The phrase the hope that is in you is parallel to in your hearts, focusing attention on the inner life from which outward actions flow. The New Testament does not separate the inner from the outer, the private from the public, for whatever is on the inside is manifested on the outside. Here the hope that animates believers will become so evident that unbelievers will ask for an explanation. Peter’s vision for how the Christian is to relate to even a hostile social situation is thought provoking. He does not advocate a withdrawal from society for safety’s sake or a hostile counterattack on society. Rather the Christian community is to live its life openly in the midst of the unbelieving world, and just as openly be prepared to explain the reasons for it. It is interesting that Peter finds it necessary in verse 16 to admonish believers that they must keep a clear conscience when testifying to the reason they hope in Christ. This speaks to at least two issues: walking the talk and talking rightly. First, an effective testimony requires a clear conscience regarding one’s personal integrity before the Lord. One cannot explain the hope we have in Christ while living in ways that contradict that hope. Second, even the best-intentioned testimony must be conducted in an appropriate manner. If offense is to be taken, it should be over the content of the gospel message, not because the message was offered in a manner that invalidates Christ’s love for seekers. The Christian testimony must reflect humility and respect for the hearer. With gentleness and respect qualifies the manner in which the explanation for Christian hope is to be offered. This refers to an attitude toward others that is rooted in one’s attitude toward God. The purpose of a respectful defense of Christianity when spoken against is so that those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. In modern society, shame most often refers to the emotion that is akin to embarrassment or guilt. But the Christian’s testimony is not intended to embarrass those to whom it is offered. In the Old Testament and Jewish writings, shame implies a social status, often in reference to utter defeat and disgrace in battle. Shame means “to be overthrown and left at the mercy of one’s enemies.” Scripture often promises that those who are faithful to God will not in the end be shamed, but their opponents will be. This does not refer to emotion but to standing before God. Rather than being intimidated by whatever opposition his readers encounter in their society, Peter wants them to respond with a positive and effective explanation of the gospel. Instead of allowing fear to drive them to use the same tactics of insult and malicious talk against their opponents, they are to respond in a way that is beyond reproach. The humble and respectful testimony of believing Christians defeats the malicious talk of those who would malign the faith. Even so, Peter is well aware that the Christian cannot expect to be exempt from suffering. And so Peter continues in 3:17, For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. Although the immediate outcome may be suffering, the Christian is called to live constantly by a higher ethical standard than quid pro quo (tit for tat). Being mistreated or maliciously slandered because one is a Christian does not give license for a response in kind. It is exactly at those moments when a believer may feel the least like responding with a gracious testimony of hope in Christ that it is most important to do so. The qualification, if that should be God’s will, refers to suffering for doing good and not simply suffering per se. The point is not that God wills suffering but that God wills doing what is right rather than doing what is wrong, even if and when this results in suffering. God wills for His people to live faithfully and to do what is right even if the response of an unbelieving world causes them to suffer. If suffering is within God’s will, it is also within God’s sovereign control. And thus Christian suffering is determined not by the will of one’s adversaries but by the will of one’s heavenly Father.

Know to Whom You are Talking:  Acts 21:40-22:3.

[40]  And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying: [22:1]  "Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you."

[2]  And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said: [3]  "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.  [ESV]

Paul’s claim to be a citizen of an important Hellenistic city impressed the commander enough to allow him to speak to the crowd. The address that follows is designed to explain and defend both his orthodoxy as a Jew and his divine calling to minister to Gentiles. When the crowd was silent, Paul spoke to them in Aramaic. In a few minutes, Paul has gone from being a passive body, seized by two different groups – almost killed by one, about to be punished by another – to appearing as the central agent in control of the situation. Paul’s defense before the Jerusalem crowd is the first of several speeches responding to the apparently intractable problem of Jewish resistance to his mission. For Luke, this is a problem that cannot be ignored, and so it features again and again in the final chapters of his work. An account of Paul’s calling is critical to his defense, both here and in 26:9-18. Paul’s address (brothers and fathers) shows proper respect to a gathering which will include his seniors as well as his contemporaries. Hear the defense does not introduce a formal trial, responding directly to the charges made in 21:28, but Paul does seek to persuade his audience that his mission is deeply rooted in the world of Judaism and is unquestionably the will of God. The word defense was a technical term used by Christians both formally and informally. Witnesses are mentioned who can confirm various aspects of Paul’s defense, and the Lord’s appearance is recorded in a form that would appeal to an audience used to hearing accounts of such divine encounters. A defense of his gospel about the risen Jesus is intimately connected with the defense of his mission. As in 21:39, Paul’s fundamental identity is expressed in the confession, I am a Jew. However, in this context he moves quickly from identifying Tarsus as the place of his birth to establishing his orthodox upbringing and education in Jerusalem. Such training made him as zealous for God as any of his current opponents. A specific proof of this was his former persecution of Christians, to which the high priest and all the Council could bear witness. He even obtained their written permission to bring Christians from Damascus to Jerusalem for punishment. This description of Paul’s former life and character is meant to highlight the transformation he goes on to describe. Paul is clearly seeking to persuade a Jerusalem audience here. First, he mentions his birth into a Jewish family. Seeking to prove his orthodoxy to this particular crowd, Paul mentions his place of birth only briefly and moves on to his early life in Jerusalem. His rabbinic education took place at the feet of Gamaliel, who was a Pharisaic teacher of the law and member of the Sanhedrin, respected by all the people. Indeed, Gamaliel was arguably the most significant and influential Pharisaic educator in the early first century. Paul compares his zeal for God and for the purity of Judaism with that of the crowd, who had gathered to oppose and attack him.

Share What you Know:  Acts 22:4-10.

[4]  I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women,

[5]  as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. [6]  "As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. [7]  And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’

[8]  And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ [9]  Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. [10]  And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’  [ESV]

Paul’s zeal for God was particularly demonstrated by the fact that he once persecuted the followers of the Way. Paul claims that the current high priest and the whole council of elders could testify about these matters. Paul was familiar with, and had access to, the highest levels of Jewish officialdom, probably being a member of the Sanhedrin himself, enjoying their confidence and securing their permission for his activities. With their authority, but on his own initiative, Paul went to Damascus. His zeal was such that he persecuted this Way wherever he could. What follows is an attempt to explain to his audience the radical change that he experienced on his way to Damascus, implicitly inviting his opponents to reevaluate Paul and Jesus, and thereby be changed themselves. At this point, at least, Paul has not given up trying to persuade his persecutors to accept the divine initiative behind his calling and the gospel about the glorified Messiah which he preached. This is the second account of Paul’s Damascus road experience [cf. 9:1-18; 26:13-18]. Such repetition in the narrative of Acts highlights the importance of the event for understanding the significance of the Pauline mission. The second and third accounts differ in detail and style from the first, especially in that they are told from Paul’s own point of view. Luke intends the effect of the three accounts to be cumulative. This account differs from the others by including two questions from Paul to Jesus rather than one. Paul first recalls what happened as he drew near to Damascus. Two unique features of this account highlight the objective nature of the encounter: it was at the brightest time of day (about noon) that he saw a great light from heaven, which supernaturally flashed more brightly than the sun. This was not simply a visionary experience since he was physically blinded for a time. Paul fell to the ground and then heard a voice saying: Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? Indicating that the Risen Lord viewed the persecution of His disciples as an attack on Himself, clearly identifying Himself with the church in its suffering. Paul then says, those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. At first glance, this appears to contradict 9:7. However, both narratives are stressing that Paul’s companions shared to some extent in the experience, while not enjoying the full revelation granted to Paul. They saw the light, but did not see the risen Jesus; they heard the sound, but did not understand what was being said. Paul’s companions were not chosen to see or to hear Christ personally as he did. Paul then asks the second question: What shall I do, Lord?, expressing his readiness to do whatever he is told. This question is not found in 9:7; however, the Lord’s words are closely paralleled in both accounts: Rise, and go into Damascus. So Paul’s companions lead him into Damascus. Paul here specifies what the account in 9:8-9 only implies, that he was blinded by the brightness of the light. Once again it should be noted that Paul’s companions were not affected in the same way that he was. All fell to the ground, but none of them were temporarily blinded by the light they saw.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         How does Peter instruct us to honor Christ?

2.         Peter instructs believers to always be prepared to give a reason or defense for their Christian hope. The word Peter uses for defense emphasizes an intelligent reason for the truth of the gospel. Can you defend or explain the truthfulness of the gospel? Peter also implies that unbelievers will only ask a believer for a reason of their hope if they are living a life that consistently reveals the difference the gospel makes in their life. Do people ask you about this difference in your life?

3.         Peter writes that our answers must be given with gentleness. One goal in answering questions from unbelievers is to make sure any offense taken by them is due to the content of the true gospel message and not because of the offensive way in which we presented the gospel. How can you be gentle in your answering without “watering down” the gospel?

4.         What do we learn from Paul’s approach in his defense before the Jews in Acts 22? How did Paul establish a “point of contact” with his Jewish listeners?


The Acts of the Apostles, David Peterson, Eerdmans.

1 Peter, Karen Jobes, ECNT, Baker Academic.