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God is with you - Part 25

1 Peter 3v15b-17

Always be ready

22nd September 2017

While writing about persecution, Peter says:

1 Peter 3v15b
Always be prepared to give an answer (or a defence) to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

It's interesting that Peter talks here about "the hope that you have". He could have said "the faith that you have", or "the joy that you have", or "the fellowship that you have", or "the doctrine that you have". But he says "the hope that you have" because when you're going through a hard time, the most precious thing you have is the certain hope that this suffering isn't for ever, that even if it's only after death, things are going to be a lot better than this fairly soon, for all eternity.

The North Korean prisoners I mentioned last time can't have much hope of release, or a decent meal, or medical care, but they have a certain hope that for all eternity they will dwell on high with Jesus.

Sometimes, our hope of what comes after death is the only thing that keeps us going before death, but it's enough. I don't know how tested you or I will be before the end, but I pray we will know that our hope is certain, and we will keep going, no matter how much we're suffering.

The other interesting word in this sentence is "always" - always be prepared - always be ready. Now and again, someone asks me to explain the gospel to them. Being ready then is fairly easy, but when they drag you up before the courts, when they corner you down a dark alley somewhere, when your husband is giving you real emotional pain because you believe and he doesn't, when your workmates laugh at you for believing in God, it's not easy. When you're well it's easy. When you're sick, or depressed, or stressed, it's difficult. When you've got some time on your hands it's easy, when you're frantically busy, it's difficult, but be willing to put your plans aside to tell someone about Jesus. Always be prepared.

What is it to be prepared, to be ready?

Firstly, of course, it's good to practise. Whatever you need to do, the best way is to practice. If you're going to bake a cake, the best way to prepare is to bake thirty other cakes and get good at it. So practise explaining the hope that is within you.

A lot of people will write down the story of how they became a Christian, and how it's changed them, and get it fixed in their mind, so the next time someone asks, "why do you believe?" they have an answer ready. When someone, no matter how positive or negative they're being, gives you an opportunity to tell them about Jesus, you can at least tell them your story. You can tell them what suffering you've known, and how Jesus brought you through it.

The second way to be ready is to have some doctrine. Study scripture. Know what you believe. To the degree that you can, get to know your Bible so you can explain what it teaches.

If someone asks, "So Jesus died on the cross, and that means you go to heaven. How does that work?" get the doctrine into your mind so that you know the answer. Or is someone asks, "If Adolf Hitler had repented on his deathbed he would have been forgiven. Really?" - have an answer. Or "Why is there so much suffering in the world?" - have an answer. Read your Bible so that you know enough to have an answer.

Thirdly, worship Jesus. Meet regularly with your brothers and sisters to sing songs of worship to God. Sometimes when we worship we feel really close to God. In that moment, it's not just a wonderful experience; we're learning about God. We learn just as much about God from worship as we do from studying doctrine. We experience God in worship.

Fourthly, repent. it's essential. Get your heart right before God. Whatever the Bible or the Holy Spirit tells you to stop doing, stop doing it. Whatever they tell you to start doing, start doing it. Guard your heart:

Proverbs 4v23
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

Repent so that even when you're depressed, or being bullied, or up before the magistrate, or in jail, or being mistreated, your love for Jesus shines through.

Repent so that you become as much like Jesus as possible as quickly as possible, so that when you're giving a defence for the hope that is within you, it will have some credibility. If you're filled with anger, or bitterness, or greed, or lust, your testimony carries far less weight. People think, "If that's a Christian, I don't want to know". But if you're Christ-like, full of love, mercy, kindness, gentleness and godliness then, even if you're not the most eloquent person in the world, your Christ-likeness will shine.

Peter says Always be prepared to give a defence... for the hope that you have but he insists that we must do this with gentleness and respect.

I would say do everything with gentleness and respect. Christ is gentle, Christ is respectful, even to those who unjustly tried Him and judicially murdered Him. If you find a moment when you're not being gentle, or not being respectful to the other person, no matter how unreasonable they're being, then go home and repent, and try again tomorrow. Do this not only because it's the right thing to do and the Christ-like thing to do, but also because nobody ever came to faith because you were disrespectful towards them. No-one was ever argued into the kingdom of God.

When someone says to me, "Your Christian beliefs are just silly", I'm sometimes tempted to respond by saying, "Well atheist beliefs are pretty crazy, too. You really believe the universe came out of nothing? You really believe life started for no reason? You really believe fish crawled out of the sea and decided to become monkeys? I doubt it!". But no-one gets saved that way. They get saved because you love them, not because you're smarter than them. They get saved because they see love, kindness, compassion, generosity and forgiveness in you. It's not an intellectual exercise - it's a spiritual need.

1 Peter 3v16
keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

Whatever you need to change, change it. You know you'll be happier after you've done it. You know you're rediscover the peace of God after you've done it. You know you'll be a better ambassador for Christ after you've done it, so just do it. Whatever it is, give it up for Jesus and you'll be a happier and a better person.

I've known many occasions when people who used to slag me off, for whatever reason, eventually came to say, "He's not a bad bloke really. Maybe what he had to say has some merit". And they begin to turn because, in the face of all their hostility, we manage to continue to be nice.

I know it's tempting to criticise the man who's criticising you, insult the man who's insulting you, ridicule the man who's ridiculing you. But it's not Christ-like, and it won't being anyone to faith.

1 Peter 3v17
For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

This must be right, because doing good must be better than doing evil, and also because if you suffer for doing right, at least you can go home to bed that night, physically or emotionally bruised, but with a clear conscience. One of the most precious gifts a Christian has is a clear conscience. Keep it at all costs. Sin wars against your soul. Live holy, and at least you'll sleep soundly, because Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.

Christ endured unimaginable suffering to bring us to God. Is it too much to ask that we should endure suffering so that others might be brought to God?