|The Fifth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| July 1, 2018| 1 Peter 3:8-15|
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. For he who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil. And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. 1 Peter 3:8-15
Years ago, my cousin Idella was visited by a door to door evangelist at her home in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Idella is Minnesota nice, so she was kind enough to let the young man talk for a while. He talked about himself. He displayed an air of arrogance. He wanted to tell her how God had changed his life! Idella told me that she was tempted to say to the young man, “Well, if God did that to you, I don’t want him doing it to me!”
How often evangelism, witnessing, sharing the faith – whatever you want to call it – is more about the one doing the talking than it is about Jesus. The reason for the hope that is in us is not our changed life. It is the gospel. The gospel tells us that God forgives us all our sins, receives us into his favor, and promises us eternal life, not because of our changed lives, but because of his great love in Christ our Savior who has redeemed us with his blood. This gospel is ours through faith alone. Through faith in Christ we have hope.
Be ready to defend this gospel! Be ready to confess it! Don’t be afraid. How can we not confess what we believe? But before we go any further in talking about making this confession, let’s talk about how we can gain or lose the opportunity to do so.
I have gone door to door. When I attended Concordia Lutheran Junior College in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a number of us students traveled to Arlington Heights, Illinois, and, with other Lutheran college students, underwent a couple of hours of training on how to make door to door visits. We were taught how to share the gospel. We would introduce ourselves and ask them if we could ask them a couple of questions. The first question was: “If you were to die tonight, would you go to heaven?” The second question was: “If you died and met Jesus and he asked you why he should let you into his heaven, what would you say?” The questions were designed to ascertain what the people we were visiting believed. They did a pretty good job of smoking out the worksrighteous, that is, people who believe that they become righteous before God by their own works. When we said that we could know with a certainty that we were indeed going to heaven, many people would become angry, thinking that we were boasting of how good we were. In fact, we were confessing how gracious God is.
As I look back at those visits some forty five years later, it occurs to me than the negative reaction we sometimes received was not on account of what we said. It was on account of who we were to say it. Who were we? A bunch of know-it-all religious college kids who didn’t even live in Arlington Heights. They didn’t ask us for a reason for the hope within us. They didn’t even know us!
Don’t misunderstand. I am not criticizing making cold calls. It can bear good fruit. Some folks are very good at it. Most are not. But when St. Peter tells us in our text always to be ready to give a defense of the hope within us, he’s not telling us to make cold calls. He’s not telling us to do door to door evangelism. He’s talking about answering questions. But who is going to ask questions about the hope we have if we give no indication that we have any hope?
There is much confusion about what it means to share the gospel or confess the faith. Perhaps you have heard the saying, “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” This is falsely attributed to St. Francis of Assisi who said no such thing. Whoever came up with it was wrong. Words are necessary to preach the gospel. Words are necessary to confess the gospel. Words are necessary to give a defense to anyone who asks us a reason for the hope we have.
This is because the gospel is not our good deeds. It is not our life. It is God’s good deeds. It is God’s life. The gospel isn’t a law given us to obey. It is a message that is spoken with words. We cannot give a reason for the hope we have without saying something.
But who is going to ask? Who is going to listen? Nobody is going to ask a Christian about the hope he has unless the Christian gives evidence that he has hope. That evidence is the life of faith that we live with one another. Jesus said that the world would know we are his disciples – we are Christians – if we love one another. The life of love is grounded in the truth.
St. Peter writes that we should all be of one mind. This doesn’t mean being of the same opinion on every subject. It does mean being united in God’s truth. We confess the same thing. St. Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 1:10,
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
We cannot be of the same mind and judgment if we are not receiving the same spiritual nurture. This is why the foundation of our Christian lives is laid in church. If you want to learn and to put into practice the virtues that St. Peter lists here in our text – and you do, because you’re a Christian – you must know that you cannot do so without receiving from God his saving truth. The pure doctrine of God’s word unites us. It makes us of the same mind. God joins us together as one. We are reconciled to him and through him to one another. The truth that unites us is not just propositions to be parroted, but the forgiveness of our sins by the grace of God and the blood of Jesus.
No Christian is any better than any other Christian. He or she may have gifts others don’t have, but the idea that this Christian should be elevated above that Christian is the source of endless friction and conflict. If you think you’re better than others or others are better than you, answer me this: is your baptism better? Is your gospel better? Is the Lord’s Supper of which you partake better than that of your brothers and sisters? The unity we enjoy – being of one mind – comes out of what we have received from God.
What follows from this is compassion, brotherly love, tenderheartedness, courtesy, and a life of blessing those who do us wrong. All of these wonderful virtues don’t arise in our hearts simply because we want them to. They are the fruit of the pure gospel that we have received together.
The gospel is a message of God’s undeserved kindness. It produces the fruit of kindness. When your heart is kind, you don’t look for a fight. You don’t seek out the opportunity to stick it to the one who’s done you wrong. The love that marks our lives does not practice deceit. We aren’t afraid of what people can do to us because God’s ears are open to our prayers and he opposes those who do evil. Christians fear God. They don’t fear what men can do. As Isaiah the prophet writes:
[Do not be] afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.
The LORD of hosts, Him you shall hallow;
Let Him be your fear,
And let Him be your dread. Isaiah 8:12b-13
When your treasures are in heaven, no early power can steal them from you. That is the hope we have. When people ask us a reason for it, we defend it. St. Peter says we should always be ready to defend it. We make ourselves ready by sanctifying God in our hearts. To be holy is to be sinless and separated from sin. God is holy. We can’t make him holy. What we do is acknowledge his holiness and set him apart from all other things.
You will not be able to give a defense of your Christian convictions unless your Christian convictions are more important to you than the praise or acceptance of others. If you are worried about how others will perceive you, you cannot confess anything at all. St. Peter says to say what you say with meekness and fear. Be humble and respectful. But be clear and direct. Shillyshallying is no good defense of anything. Christians confess! They assert!
In one of the most important religious debates in history, between Erasmus from Rotterdam and Martin Luther on the freedom of the will (with Luther taking the biblical position that we are by nature spiritually bound as slaves to the lies of the devil and are powerless to set ourselves free), Erasmus chided Luther for being so assertive. Here is how Luther replied:
For it is not the mark of a Christian mind to take no delight in assertions; on the contrary, a man must delight in assertions or he will be no Christian. And by assertion—in order that we may not be misled by words—I mean a constant adhering, affirming, confessing, maintaining, and an invincible persevering . . . I am speaking . . . about the assertion of those things which have been divinely transmitted to us in the sacred writings . . . Let Skeptics and Academics keep well away from us Christians, but let there be among us “assertors” twice as unyielding as the Stoics themselves. How often, I ask you, does the apostle Paul demand that . . . most sure and unyielding assertion of conscience? In Romans 10[:10] he calls it “confession,” saying, “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” And Christ says: “Everyone who confesses me before men, I also will confess before my Father” [Matt. 10:32]. Peter bids us give a reason for the hope that is in us [I Peter 3:15]. What need is there to dwell on this? Nothing is better known or more common among Christians than assertion. Take away assertions and you take away Christianity.
Our Christian hope is grounded in the promises of God. He who overcame sin and death on Calvary and rose from the dead with the devil crushed under his feet has won eternal life for us and given it to you. Our hope is not a feeble wish, but a confidence God himself has given us. So we confess, we assert, we defend our Christian hope, and leave the rest up to God.