“…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 3:15-16
Social media can be an unforgiving place. Watch any conversation online and people’s opinions come out with great force. Disagree, and quickly people attack the other person. Many people try to share their faith online only to find themselves embroiled in an argument and one where the conversation turns into personal attacks.
When Christians encounter a world that does not believe the gospel and we are challenged concerning our faith, the temptation to respond harshly only grows. What begins as “defending the faith” can quickly change to “attacking our opponents.”
Peter, a brash, bold, and direct man, writes to his fellow believers and commends to them the way of Christ, who was gentle and lowly in heart (Matt. 11:29). What came out of Christ when he was reviled was not a reviling response (1 Pe. 2:23), but a tenderness and gentleness that called people to repentance and faith. Christ knew that harsh words would stir up anger, but a gentle answer would turn away wrath (cf. Prov. 15:1). And while Christ made pointed comments, he sought the heart of the person. The message of repentance and faith was what offended, not his persona. In the same way, our approach ought to be full of humility and gentleness.
And while we ought to have respect for people, Peter’s use of “respect” is better translated as “reverence” (see the New Revised Standard Version). Peter’s aim is that our attitude before God is to act with a clear conscience (see 3:16) so that the offense is the gospel message, not our approach. We revere God. We consider him holy. We want to represent him faithfully and accurately. Because our Father is one who comes with mercy and grace (see Exod. 34:6-7), our response should be characterized by his heart for sinners. For just as Christ looked upon the crowds with compassion, seeing sheep without a shepherd (Mk. 6:34), we should also have a heart of compassion for those who do not yet know Christ.
At one time you and I were lost and without Christ. And God, in his grace, looked upon us with compassion. He loved us, called us, and brought us to repentance by his kindness. What if we modeled this same heart of God for sinners in our approach to those around us?
The good news is offensive – it calls sinners to die to themselves and live for God. So let’s not add to the offense of the good news by being brash, harsh, and argumentative!
Seeking the heart of God,
Missional Action Prayer: Lord, help me to see your gentle heart for me so that I might be a person who shares the good news with gentleness and has a reverence for Christ. Amen.