When I was at university years ago, I did a first-year course in Greek and Roman civilisation. And one of the first pieces of work we had to do as part of that course was to read and write an essay on Socrates’ Apology. Socrates was an ancient Greek philosopher and we had to read his apology. And the first thing we had to learn was the meaning of the word ‘apology’. You and I, when we talk about an apology, are talking about saying sorry to someone for something: we apologise for doing something wrong; or we apologise for some mistake we have made. When we apologise, we say ‘I’m sorry’. However, in the world of literature, an apology is a defence; it’s an explanation. So, in university we were reading Socrates’ defence or his explanation for his life and for the things he taught. So, in his apology, he wasn’t saying sorry for his life; he was defending his life.
In today’s passage, the Apostle Peter uses the Greek word for apology in verse 15. In verse 15, he says that we’re to be prepared to give an apology — a defence, an explanation, or ‘an answer’ as the NIV puts it — to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. And this verse has become the classic text for showing believers the importance of what is known in theology as apologetics. Apologetics is about how we’re to defend the faith in the face of scepticism. So, when we meet someone who raises objections to the Christian faith, we should be ready to defend the faith and to answer their objections and to persuade them of the truth of Christianity. This has become the classic text to show believers the importance of learning how to do apologetics. And certainly, that’s a legitimate application of this verse; and we should be ready to defend the faith when asked to.
However, it’s interesting to note the context in which this verse appears, because this verse appears in a passage which is about suffering for the faith. And you see, Peter is saying to his readers — and therefore he’s saying to us — that suffering for the faith will create these opportunities for defending the faith before those who don’t believe. An unbelieving world will see how we respond to suffering with hope; and they’ll want to know where this hope comes from. Why do believers face suffering with hope and not with hopelessness and despair like everyone else? People will want to know: ‘What’s the reason for the hope you have?’
So, let’s see what Peter has to say about these things. And really what he says can be summarised by three points: firstly, if you suffer as a believer, remember the blessing of God; secondly, if you suffer as a believer, remember how to defend the faith; and thirdly, if you suffer as a believer, remember that it’s always better to suffer for doing good rather than for doing evil. And we’ll look at those three points now.
Verses 13 and 14a
So, let’s take the first point first which is that if you suffer as a believer, remember the blessing of God. And I’m looking at verses 13 and 14. And in verse 13, Peter asks a question:
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?
Now, from verse 13 of chapter 2 to verse 12 of chapter 3, Peter’s been writing to us about how to live a good life. Remember? Even though we’re aliens and strangers in the world — and we’re aliens and strangers in the world because we really belong in heaven with Jesus Christ — nevertheless we’re to be the best citizens we can possibly be, submitting to every human authority for the Lord’s sake; and we’re to be the best workers we can possibly be, submitting to our employers with all respect; and we’re to be the best spouses we can possibly be, with wives being submissive to their husbands and husbands living with their wives in an understanding and considerate way. And then we’re to live in harmony with one another; and we’re to be sympathetic towards one another; and we’re to love one another with brotherly love; and we’re to be compassionate towards one another; and we’re to be humble towards one another; and instead of repaying evil with evil and insult with insult, we’re to repay evil and insult with a blessing; and we’re to keep our tongue from evil and from deceitful speech; and we’re to turn from evil and do good; and we’re to seek peace and pursue it. That’s how we’re to live our lives each day. And so, if we try to live like this — which means if we’re eager to do good every day to the people we meet — then who is going to harm us? Why would anyone want to harm us if we only want to do good to others?
However, however, Peter goes on in verse 14 to acknowledge that, although it might make no sense to us, nevertheless believers can suffer for doing what’s right. It might seem strange — because why would anyone want to harm us when we only want to do what’s good? — nevertheless, the fact is that believers can suffer for what is right.
And so Peter explains: even if you should suffer for doing what is right, remember this: You are blessed. What does Peter mean? Well, no doubt he’s thinking about the words of the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Remember? He began:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
And so on. And he finished with:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; in order words, blessed are those who suffer for what is right. And they’re blessed because they belong to God’s heavenly kingdom. And that’s what Peter has been talking about: we’re aliens and strangers in the world because we now belong with Christ in his heavenly kingdom. And so, even though we might suffer in this life and in this world, nevertheless we know that we’re blessed by God because we’ve become citizens of his heavenly kingdom.
And you see, it’s important for Peter to make the point that those who suffer for what’s right are blessed like this, because when we suffer, often our first thought is that God must be punishing me. Now, we were thinking about this briefly on Wednesday evening and about how God — when necessary, and for our own good — can send trouble into the lives of his people in order to discipline us for our sins. Just as a human father may discipline his children when they’re disobedient, so our Heavenly Father may discipline his children when we’re disobedient. And so, when we suffer, we need to ask ourselves whether we have sinned against the Lord and whether he might be disciplining us.
But Peter isn’t referring to that; he’s talking about suffering for what’s right; he’s talking about suffering for doing what’s good. And when that happens, he doesn’t want believers being worried and anxious that God has turned against them and now hates them. No, he wants to remind God’s suffering people that God is pleased with them. He’s pleased with them for doing what’s right and for living a good life even in the face of suffering and persecution.
So, if you suffer as a believer if you have to suffer for what’s right, remember the blessing of God. Don’t get confused and think the Lord is angry with you; and don’t listen to the accusations of the Devil who always wants to upset us; instead remember and believe that doing what’s right always pleasing our Father in heaven.
Verses 14b to 16
So, that’s the first point. The second is this: If you suffer as a believer, remember how to defend the faith. And I’m looking now at the second half of verse 14 and verses 15 and 16.
In the second half of verse 14, Peter says:
Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.
Well, he’s quoting from Isaiah 8. And the background to Isaiah 8 was a time in the history of the Lord’s people who lived in the kingdom of Judah when two kings joined forced to attack them. And the king of Judah and his people were terrified because of this threat. We’re told that they were shaken as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind. In other words, they were shaking with fear. But the Lord spoke to Isaiah to re-assure him. He said to Isaiah:
do not fear what they [the people] fear and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary.
Well, Peter takes the words which the Lord spoke to Isaiah and he applies them to what the Lord’s suffering people were going through in his own day. And so, he was saying to his readers: If you suffer for what’s right, don’t be afraid of those who are harming you and don’t be frightened of them. Instead, the Lord Jesus Christ is the one you are to set apart in your heart as holy. And you’re to trust in him, because he will be a sanctuary to you, just as he was a sanctuary and a source of help and protection to his people in the days of Isaiah. So, don’t be afraid.
So, how are we to defend the faith? Well, first of all, by not being afraid, because we can trust in the Lord Jesus Christ to help us.
But then, we’re to defend the faith by always being ready. Now, the picture we often have in our mind and the thing we often tell one another is that we always have to look for an opening and an opportunity to tell others about the Lord. Someone is talking to us about the weather, and we need to turn the conversation around and talk about the Lord. But Peter is thinking of something entirely different. He’s imagining the situation when unbelievers come to believers and ask us questions about the faith. It’s not so much believers going to unbelievers and asking them: ‘Can I tell you about the Lord?’ No, it’s unbelievers coming to believers and saying to them: ‘Tell me the reason for the hope you have! And when that happens, we need to be ready to explain the reason for the hope we have.’
What is our hope? Well, it’s the hope of the resurrection, isn’t it? It’s the hope of the resurrection and everlasting life in the presence of God. It’s a hope which is based on the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, because we believe that since he died and was raised, so all who trust in him will also be raised from the dead to live for ever in that fullness of joy and in those pleasures forevermore which the Lord has promised his people.
And since that is our hope, since that is what we’re looking forward to, then we’re able to put up with all the sorrow and sadness of this troubled life, because we know that our Saviour has something far, far, far better in store for us in the life to come.
How did the Apostle Paul put it? Do you remember? He said in Romans 8: ‘I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.’ And, of course, the Apostle Paul knew what it was like to suffer, didn’t he? In 2 Corinthians 11 he describes his own experience of suffering. He wrote:
24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Paul knew what it was like to suffer in this life. But he was able to say that the sufferings of this present life are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us in the life to come.
That’s our great hope. And because we have that great hope of better things to come in the life to come, we can endure all things now, because we know that the sorrow of this trouble life is only for the time being; it’s only for a while; and if we persevere and remain faithful, then one day we’ll enter into that perfect peace and rest which the Lord has prepared for us.
And Peter imagines unbelievers seeing us, and seeing how we endure all things in this life, and how we’re able to cope with all the sorrow and sadness of this life, and they come to us and say to us: ‘Tell us the secret! Tell us the secret! Give us the reason for the hope you have!’
So, imagine how we might suffer because of some decision the government has made which makes life difficult for believers. Or imagine how we might suffer because our boss is difficult and demanding. Or imagine how we might suffer because our spouse doesn’t love us the way we ought to be loved. Or imagine how we might suffer generally because an unbelieving world hates us for what we believe. Or think of all the other ways people suffer in this life: there’s trouble at home with the children; or they’re worried about elderly parents; or they’re anxious about how to make ends meet; or they’re anxious about the results of that medical examination they had; or they’re under pressure because those exams are coming up. There are so many ways for people to suffer; and there are so many things that cause us trouble in this life. And whereas the unbeliever is anxious and afraid and is full of despair because of these things, the believer is able to face it all and endure it all with a calmness, because we know we can trust in the Lord Jesus Christ to help us; and we know that he has something far, far, far better in store for us in the life to come.
You see, if this life is all there is, then we have to make the most of it. That’s the unbeliever’s attitude: we’d better eat and drink and be merry now, for tomorrow we die and that’s it. But the believer knows that there’s this life and there’s the life to come. And though we deserve to spend the life to come suffering eternal punishment in hell because of our sins, the Lord is gracious and merciful and he has promised to give us, for the sake of Christ who died for us, everlasting peace and rest and joy in his presence.
That’s our hope. And when an unbelieving world sees the hope we have, and how this hope enables us to endure all things, then they’ll come and ask us to explain the reason for the hope we have.
So, we’re to defend the faith by not being afraid, because we can trust in the Lord Jesus Christ to help us. And we’re to defend the faith by always being ready to explain the reason for our hope. And then, we’re to defend the faith with gentleness and respect. Do you see that at the end of verse 15? Or perhaps, ‘gentleness and reverence’ is a better translation of Peter’s words. He says ‘with gentleness’, because we’re to emulate the lamb-like gentleness of our Saviour. When people are against us, it’s easy to be aggressive. When people hurt us, it’s easy to want to hurt them back. But no, we’re to be gentle. And he says ‘with reverence’, because we’re to do all things with reverence for the Lord. The way we defend the faith and explain the reason for the hope we have should be done in a manner which is pleasing to the Lord.
And then Peter adds in verse 16 that we’re to keep a clear conscience. How do you avoid a guilty conscience and keep a clear conscience? Well, it’s simple really: you avoid a guilty conscience and you keep a clear conscience by always doing what’s right. I feel guilty whenever I am guilty and after I’ve done something wrong. And so, the way to keep a clear conscience is by doing what’s right. And if we keep a clear conscience by always doing what is right, then those who speak maliciously against us will — according to Peter in verse 16 — be ashamed of their slander. Perhaps Peter is thinking about what will happen on the day of judgment, when it will become clear to them what they have done and how they have wronged those they slandered. Or perhaps Peter is hopeful that even in this life those unbelievers who have slandered believers for no good reason will be filled with shame for what they have done and will repent of their sins. In either case, we’re to keep a clear conscience by always doing what is right.
So, if you suffer as a believer, remember how to defend the faith. We’re to defend it by not being afraid, because we can trust in the Lord Jesus Christ to help us. And we’re to defend it, by always being ready to explain the reason for the hope we have. And we’re to defend it by being gentle and reverent and by keeping a clear conscience. That’s how to defend the faith.
And so, we come to the third and final point today: if you suffer as a believer, remember that it’s always better to suffer for doing good rather than for doing evil. Now, the commentators aren’t sure what to do with this verse, because it seems so obvious, doesn’t it? Of course it’s better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. Of course it is. Peter doesn’t need to tell us that. So, why does he tell us? And so, some of the commentators think that, when he mentions suffering for doing evil, he’s thinking about how unbelievers will have to suffer God’s punishment in the life to come because of their sins in this life.
But I think the reason he says it’s better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil is because he’s thinking of what he’s about to write in the next verse. And if you look at verse 18 you’ll see he refers to the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ. He says:
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteousness for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
The Lord Jesus Christ is someone who suffered for doing good: he suffered for doing good, because he suffered and died in order to pay for our sins and in order to make peace between God and us. And when we suffer for doing good — and notice that whether we suffer or not depends on the will of God for us — when we suffer for doing good, we’re following the example the Lord Jesus left us. And that’s good; it’s always good that we follow the Lord’s example.
And, of course, who knows? Who knows? If we suffer for what’s good, and unbelievers come to us and ask us to explain the hope we have, then they too might come to believe as well, because they’ve been persuaded of the truth of Christianity and they now want to have the same hope they see in us. And that’s a good thing to happen.
Well, our time is up. And we’ll say more about how Christ died for our sins the next time.