(1 Peter 3:13-22)
It’s the question asked to many a person as they sit by the bedside of a dying saint. Even more it is asked of the parent in the receiving line in the funeral home, the spouse surrounded by friends in a hushed living room after saying goodbye at the cemetery. They are words that have challenged the owner of a failed business who has just lost everything in a downward spiraling economy, the student packing up to move back home as their dream for an education that once promised a brighter future slips from their grasp. The question is not always posed, for often the response of those described above was as most expected it to be. Then there are who have faced the darkness of loneliness, uncertainty, or discouragement but do so in hope, peace, even joy. It is then the question is queried by those who just do not understand.
Darkness, hard times, this was the setting for the writing of 1 Peter, a letter penned by one of Jesus’ closest friends and most beloved apostles. He was writing to Christians living in the hard and uncertain days brought to them courtesy of the Roman Empire; a government that was beginning to move against the early Church. Peter was not long into his letter when he acknowledged Christians were suffering because of their faith in Christ. He wrote, “In this [hope in Christ] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1:6).
As we reach the middle of Peter’s letter, the apostle comes again to the theme of hope. The passage is 1 Peter 3:13-22. Take a moment and read his words. As you do, remember that his words are, in reality, God’s words to Christians both then and now. In these verses, Peter commended the saints for the lives they were living. As well, he challenged them to be ready for the question. Oh, the question. What is the question? We will discover that in a moment; first Peter’s commendation.
In the midst of their hardships, Peter writes, he extols those early Christians for the good things they were doing. He states this accolade in a question and a statement when he writes, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” (vv.13-14) It’s easy to do what is good when one is recognized, even more when praised for the good that is done. But Peter encourages the one who does not need a building named after him, a dinner given in her honor, or even a simple thank you to motivate them to do good.
It is clear that those receiving this letter were not being praised by the world around them for their good deeds; some were even suffering despite those deeds. Peter challenges these to be ready to answer the question. He encouraged those first Christians to keep Christ set firmly in their hearts and “always be prepared to give an answer to one who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have” (v.15).
Did you hear the question? One must have been asked, for those believers were to give an answer. You know what the question is. You’ve asked it; at times you have been asked. They are the words of the curious, concerned and confused. They are, “How in the world are you holding up in the midst of this tragedy [disappointment, loss, betrayal, or any of the countless dark times that come upon us]?”
Peter supplies the answer when he says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” (v.15) Each word of this verse explodes with meaning: “But” in the middle of all the bad; “your hearts” the center of the will, commitment, and devotion; “set apart” give to, dedicate to, be devoted to God for His use; “Christ” the Messiah, the anointed One, the saving One; “Lord” the owner, one who has control of the person, the master, the Sovereign, the King.
How can the Christian, in the middle of a catastrophe, have hope? In the paraphrased words of Peter, “In the middle of it all, keep your heart devoted to the One who owns it, the One who saved you, your Master and King.” In doing this the believer can rest assured that God is in control and all is well within them even when all is falling apart around them.
Peter also challenges Christians to answer with calm respect, even if the one asking is the one inflicting the pain (vv.15-16). In other words, don’t attack the attacker for that just gives them more reason to push (v.17).
The Apostle then reminds Christians of the profound truth of Jesus’ coming and mission: “For Christ died for sin once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (v.18) Though he goes on to say more about coming of Jesus, Peter reminded them that just as Jesus, who did not deserve to die, was willing to be falsely accused, beaten and die for all the unrighteous, they too must be willing to suffer for Christ. As they, as we do, all must be ready to give the reason why they will not lose hope in or hold of Christ.
Around the world, right now, many Christians are facing heavy, life-taking hostility. Yet as they suffer in prisons or at the hands of a mob, they quietly share the good news that brings them hope. Though we seldom such in our part of the world, Christians must still be ready to share with people living without direction, living in despair how they can have hope that will take them into tomorrow. Christians need to tell the questioning ones of the One who brings the believer through the hopeless times. We need to tell them of Jesus.