For the Love of God, Volume 2/May 16
From Gospel Translations
Numbers 25; Psalm 68; Isaiah 15; 1 Peter 3
ONE OF THE STRIKING THINGS ABOUT 1 Peter is how Christian conduct is tied to winning a hearing for the Gospel. We saw that theme in yesterday’s meditation. Christians are to live in such a way that even the pagans will be forced to glorify God (1 Pet. 2:12). It is God’s will “that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men” (2:15). The same theme is developed in chapter 3. Wives with unbelieving husbands should so adorn themselves with a gentle and quiet spirit that their husbands “may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of [their] lives” (3:2).
Similarly in 1 Peter 3:8-22. This passage includes one of the most difficult texts in the New Testament (3:18b-21), one I cannot hope to broach here. But it also once again connects Christian conduct with Christian suffering and therefore with Christian witness. This does not mean that Christian conduct has a merely utilitarian function. Christians are not to act in godly ways simply because it increases their credibility for propagandistic purposes. There are many reasons for doing good. We were “called” to it (3:9); doing good is constitutive of our very identity. Moreover, such behavior inherits blessing from God (3:9-12). Apart from the horrible exceptions that arise out of corrupt regimes and renegades (all too many of them), a citizen doing good does not have to fear oppression from those in charge of criminal justice systems (3:13). We ourselves ought to keep a clear conscience before the living God (3:16). Above all there is the example of Jesus Christ (3:17-18).
But in addition to all these reasons for living godly lives, Peter again connects conduct with witness. Even if we suffer unjustly, we will not live our lives in fear, as pagans must (3:13). Rather, in our tears we will “set apart Christ as Lord” (3:15); we will “sanctify” or “consecrate” Christ as Lord. And in this context, we will hear the apostolic injunction: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (3:15). This is similar to Paul’s “be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). Of course such readiness presupposes a heart attitude eager to bear witness and a commitment to grow in apologetic competence. As in so many other areas of life, we learn best how to do it by doing it. But Peter’s immediate point is that as we bear witness, we must do so “with gentleness and respect . . . so that those who speak maliciously . . . may be ashamed of their slander” (3:15, 16).