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TEXT: I Peter 3:8-17
SUBJECT: I Peter #9: How to Break the Ice
For most people, the hardest part of a conversation is starting it. I well remember sitting by the rotary telephone, back in the 1970's, trembling in fear at the prospect of calling a girl. Once she said, 'Hello', I was fine, but getting to 'Hello' was another thing altogether. For me, the hardest part of a conversation is starting it. And I'm not alone. Many people feel this way, in fact, most people.
If it's hard to start any kind of conversation, it's even harder to start the kind Peter has in mind in our text. In v.15, he tells us to speak up for Christ, to tell our neighbors what the Lord has done for us, and what He'll do for them. Repeating the command he himself received from Jesus, Peter wants us to be His witnesses.
No part of witnessing is easy, but for many of us, the hardest part is starting. How do we do this?
How do we do this? When I was in college, I remember a young man wearing a harness and carrying a twelve foot pole, on the top of which was a flag saying, 'Jesus saves'. Believe me, that was a conversation starter, and I still admire the man's boldness.
Even back then I knew this kind of witnessing was not for me! I'm not against such things, but I don't think it's the normal--or the best--way of reaching the lost for Christ.
But, as the old saying goes, 'You can't beat something with nothing'. And this, I think, is a problem area with me, the church, and Reformed Baptists in general. We're very sharp on saying what's wrong with other people's Evangelistic Campaigns, but, instead of improving upon their ideas, we do nothing at all (or, to be fair, 'not much').
Most of us know that (1) we ought to witness, and (2) what we ought to say when we do, but how do we get the ball rolling? How do we get people interested enough in the Gospel to hear it?
This is largely what Peter tells us in 3:8-17, with the key verse being, v.15--
But sanctify the lord God in your hearts, and be always ready to give a reason to everyone who asks you about the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.
This is what we ought to be doing! Not some of us, all of us! Not just at church, but at work, in the neighborhood, even on the Internet! In a despairing world, God's people ought to be giving a reason for the hope that is in us, the only hope there is, the hope we have in our Lord Jesus Christ!
On this point, we all agree, and some of us feel very guilty for not witnessing more--and better--than we do.
But how do we start the Conversation? Is my friend's twelve foot pole the answer? Tracts under windshield wipers? Soapboxes at the county fair? Talking to people in line at the supermarket? Inviting people to church. There's a place for all of these things, and if you're called to do them, do them without apologizing to people who'd rather criticize than evangelize! Be creative in your witnessing; be bold; worry more about doing nothing than doing something wrong!
Still, the question remains: Where do we start? How do we wake up a sleeping world for Christ?
THE ASSUMPTION, V.15
Peter assumes we're going to have that chance, that our neighbors are going to wonder what we've got that they don't, and they're going to ask about it.
When they do, he wants us to have an answer. He wants us to know what the hope of the Gospel is and to tell our neighbors that the hope is for everyone who puts his faith in Christ. Whether he's a Jew, a pagan, an Atheist, a nominal Christian, whatever he is, the promise remains--
Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
WHY THEY WILL ASK
'They're going to ask'--this is Peter's assumption--but we wonder why he was so sure they would.
Were people more religious in those days, more open-minded? Was Christianity 'cool'? Did it have friends in high places? Was it a way of moving up in the world?
To all of the above, the answer is no. The centerpiece of our religion is the Cross, and, in the 1st Century, like now, it made most people laugh and some people really, really angry.
This being the case, why were Pagans and Jews and secular people always asking their Christian neighbors about their faith?
The answer is simple: Christians lived differently than everyone else in the world. No, they weren't like the Amish, keeping to themselves and adopting old-fashioned ways. Or like the doomsday cults, fortifying themselves in a bunker waiting for the Day of Judgment.
In most ways, they lived pretty much like everyone else: they wore the same clothes, worked the same jobs, enjoyed the same hobbies, and so on.
It was their moral lives that stood out in society. They enjoyed sex, but they kept it in the bounds of marriage. They weren't against drinking, but they stopped before they had too much. The Christian could tell a joke as well as the Pagan, but his jokes were innocent.
The Pagans had moral codes, often very strict ones, but they couldn't keep them. And neither could the Jews who had the very Law of God! But, unlike the others, Christians not only talked morality, they lived it, both in their churches and in the world.
This is what got people's attention! This is why the Pagan asked the Christian about his hope. And this, it seems to me, is the place to start witnessing. Godly living opens our neighbors up to the Gospel.
GODLINESS IN THE CHURCH
There are no sacred places today; no temples where we have to be good, while relaxing our morals elsewhere. We're to live godly in Christ Jesus everywhere--including the church. This is where Peter starts, vv.8-9--
Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.
In the 1st Century, Christians spent a lot of time together, and not all of it was at church. This means that unbelievers saw how they related to another. They had heard about this 'religion of brotherly love' and they wanted to know if there was anything to it. Did the disciples of Christ love each other--
In word and tongue only?
Or in deed and in truth?
Peter wants his people to remember that, other than loving God, their number one priority is to love one another! And this love for each other has to be practical and visible to the watching world. What does it look like? Peter tells us:
In the first place, it looks like unity, v.8--
Finally, all of you be of one mind.
Some think this means 'one mind doctrinally', and this is a duty and a good we ought to strive for. But here, it stands for something else, what we might call 'a team spirit', with each member knowing and supporting every other. It is very much like what Paul commands in Philippians 2:3-4--
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out, not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Pagans esteem themselves! They look out for their own interests! But Peter, Paul--and Jesus Christ--want us show the Pagans something they haven't seen before, to see Jews and Gentiles, slaves and masters, geniuses and half-wits, living in unity and mutual respect.
Godliness in the church also looks like compassion and tenderheartedness.
This is more than 'knowing and taking care of each other'; it means 'feeling for each other', being sensitive to the pain and sorrow each of us carries. It was compassion that Jesus felt for people in need; He was a practical man, of course. He fed hungry people, but before He multiplied the fish and loaves, he felt compassion for them.
This is what Paul means in Romans 12:15--
Rejoice with those who rejoice,
and weep with those who weep.
We're also to love as brothers, and to my way of thinking, this adds two things to the discussion. Firstly, it means permanence. Brothers are not brothers until they get mad at each other: they're brothers for life. Secondly, it means equality. At work, you may be the president and I may work in the mailroom. But there are no gentlemen or flunkies in the family--or in the church!
We're to be courteous (as some Bible say following one manuscript), or, for those following another, humble.
Scholars differ on which is the right word, and I'm not qualified to judge, but I don't need to! Both are true.
When Christians are discourteous--uppity, short, resentful, quarrelsome, and noisy with others, people stop asking the reason for the hope that is in us.
The same this is true when we give off a holier than thou vibe.
Peter has already given us a pretty challenging list of 'things to be and do' in order to win the attention of the world, but then he adds one more item, that's even harder to do, vv.9-12--
Not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing...
Peter assumes that not everyone in the church is going to always live up to these high standards. When they don't, when others are hard-hearted, discourteous, and proud, we're to end the conflict with humility and kindness!
Rather than being snotty to snotty people, we're to love them in spite of their snottiness, and be good to them--even when they don't deserve it!
Being kind to unkind people is not Peter's own idea, but is embedded in the Old Testament Scriptures, which he quotes at length.
Put yourself in the Pagan's place. You live in the Roman Empire, a society inspired by the high ideal of Greek philosophy. Everybody you know admires the four cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, and self-control.
But everywhere you look, all you see is folly, cowardice, injustice, and excess. The educated few live this way, and so do the masses; the Greeks live this way, and so do the Barbarians; the Jews claim to live better lives than the Gentiles, but they don't.
The only people living in love and wisdom and justice are...the Christians. They're not perfect, but they're different than everyone else. And this is why you walk over to your Christian's neighbor's house and ask--
The reason for the hope that is in him.
This is not hypothetical; not the way it might be. It is the way things were. Tertullian (b.160) said the Pagans made up all kinds of slander against the Church, from cannibalism to incest, you name it and they said it. But, for all their evil suspicions, they had to admit--
See the Christians! How they love one another!
IN THE WORLD
A community of love. This was the first difference between Christians in Peter's world and all others. But Christians didn't live in compounds, sealed off from the rest of the world. They lived in integrated neighborhoods, worked at secular jobs, stood before the same magistrates, and so on.
In the secular world, they also did good. They were helpful neighbors; they were hard-working servants and obedient citizens.
Sometimes, their good conduct paid off and won them a promotion at work or the good will of their neighbors. And, sometimes, it didn't. Some neighbors or bosses or judges mistreated them--not because they were bad, but because they were Christians.
How did they respond to the abuse?
They accepted it with humility and dignity, and kept on doing what they were doing. If the old lady next door cursed them for their religion, they still helped her in with the groceries. If the boss beat them for their faith, they still put in a good day's work for him. If the rulers persecuted them for Christ's sake--
They came away rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name's sake.
At first, their conduct only aggravated the Pagans, but it time, it won their respect, and a great many Pagans and Jews came to faith in Christ, having seen the Christians' way of life and concluding with Pharaoh's magicians--
This is the finger of God.
Are you a good witness for Christ? Are you out beating the bushes for the Lord? I wish I could say I am, but, the fact is, I'm not. I do witness to people from time to time, but I also miss many opportunities, and the ones I don't miss, I often flub because I'm in a hurry and don't want to invest myself in another person. If I'm the only one here like this, I thank God!
But I don't believe I am: I suspect many of you are the same. You believe in witnessing, but you don't do it very well or very much of it.
We ought to do it! And if we would only remember what the Gospel is and what it's done for us, we would do it. The Gospel is the announcement of what God has done in Christ for sinners. We're no better or worthier than anyone else, but the Gospel has announced to us that our sins are all known to God and have been taken off of us and put onto the Sinless Son of God who bore them in His own body on the tree! This means the guilty have been forgiven; the prodigals have been welcomed with open arms; and the hellbound are going to Heaven instead.
If we but believed these wonders, and meditated on them, we wouldn't have to be whipped into witnessing by guilt. It would be natural to us, what we'd want to do.
And so I urge you to meditate on the Gospel, to ponder the depth and height and breadth of Christ's love, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.
When you are, you'll witness to the world. Both in word and in deed. God fill us, for Christ's sake. Amen.
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