But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. – 1 Peter 3:14-16
When Peter gave this charge, it was not in the context of an evangelism seminar; it was in the context of a letter written to encourage saints who have experienced great suffering. Peter’s audience was suffering because they were Christians, and he exhorts them not to be afraid of their persecutors. Rather, they are to honor Christ the Lord as holy. In other words, Jesus is the only one to be feared, and as they do so, they should expect opportunities to make a defense to anyone who asks [them] for a reason for the hope that is in [them].
People want hope. Suffering is a universal issue. The longer we live, the more acquainted we become with the unwanted visitor of pain. How does one endure suffering? Is it possible to pass through suffering with joy? With peace? As followers of Jesus Christ, we have an unshakable hope in the one who is Lord of all. He is the sovereign ruler over all creation. And because he does all things for his glory and for our good, he is trustworthy. Of course, the tricky thing about trust is, we usually have to exercise it when we don’t know what the outcome is going to be.
Sadly, too often as Christians we are ashamed of this message of hope. Not wanting to offend, or not wanting to appear simple-minded or simplistic, we try to offer some kind of hybrid hope; a strange mixture of worldly wisdom with a dash of Scripture, which somehow we think will make it taste like godly counsel, but not be too strong for the palate of our non-Christian friend.
In so doing, we lose the actual message we were entrusted with, the only message that gives true and lasting hope. Should we then be surprised when the world rejects godly council because they feel like they’ve tried it and were left wanting? Strong medicine is effective, but it often tastes bitter and is unpleasant until it accomplishes its designed result.
In the book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul David Tripp puts it this way:
As sinners, we have a natural bent to turn away from the Creator to serve the creation. We turn away from hope in a Person to hope in systems, ideas, people, or possessions. Real Hope stares us in the face, but we do not see him. Instead, we dig into the mound of human ideas to extract a tiny shard of insight. We tell ourselves that we have finally found the key, the thing that will make a difference. We act on the insight and embrace the delusion of lasting personal change. But before long, disappointment returns. The change was temporary and cosmetic, failing to penetrate the heart of the problem. So, we go back to the mound again, determined this time to dig in the right place. Eureka! We find another shard of insight, seemingly more profound than before. We take it home, study it, and put it into practice. But we always end up in the same place.
The good news confronts us with the reality that heart-changing help will never be found in the mound. It will only be found in the Man, Christ Jesus. We must not offer people a system of redemption, a set of insights and principles. We offer people a Redeemer. In his power, we find the hope and help we need to defeat the most powerful enemies. Hope rests in the grace of the Redeemer, the only real means of lasting change.
Jesus is our hope, and the only hope for a lost world.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. – Romans 1:16