The Ambassador’s Godly Witness in an Ungodly World (1 Peter 3:13-17)
If you can remember back that far, when we introduced the theme of ambassadors, we said an ambassador has three primary roles. He 1) represents his own government, 2) makes his temporary residence in a country other than his own, and 3) speaks only what the authorities from his home country tell him to speak. In other words, he is a representative, a sojourner and a mouthpiece. Paul calls us an ambassador of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). We are his representative. This world is not our home, we are sojourners and until we get home, we are called to be His mouthpiece, a microphone in His hand for Him to proclaim the Good News through us.
But to be honest, most of us are ambassadors who love living and hanging out at the embassy with other ambassadors. As someone has aptly put, we are keepers of the aquarium instead of being fishers of men. And sometimes we are not good with living with other ambassadors either as we saw last week, when we fight with other ambassadors. And if we are not hanging out at the embassy, then we are building a little hut for ourselves in this world. Wait, aren’t we supposed be sojourners? Aren’t we supposed to be out representing Christ to others and aren’t we supposed to be speaking for Him? Yet as much as we have failed in being a good ambassador for the Lord, He still has decided to use us.
But if you are like me, it is easy to fall into the comfort zone at the embassy and forget that we have been called out to be salt and light in a polluted and dark world to be his ambassadors. So today I want to look at how to be a godly witness in a ungodly world. One of the reasons why I thought we should focus on other religions and apologetics this year was really this passage in 1 Peter. One of my passions is for us to start becoming more outward focused as we are growing together. Listen to this quote by the late theologian Leslie Newbigin:
If the gospel is to challenge the public life of our society…It will only be by movements that begin with the local congregation in which the reality of the new creation is present, known, and experienced, and from which men and women will go into every sector of public life to claim it for Christ, to unmask the illusions which have remained hidden and to expose all areas of public life to the illumination of the gospel. But that will only happen as and when local congregations renounce an introverted concern for their own life, and recognize that they exist for the sake of those who are not members, as sign, instrument, and foretaste of God’s redeeming grace for the whole life of society (italics mine).
I especially like the line “they exist for the sake of those who are not members.” Did you know that? Living Hope exists for those who are not here! Are we fulfilling the purpose of our existence? Jesus left and told His disciples to go and make disciples (literally, as you are going, make disciples) in Matt. 28:18. He didn’t say sit. He said go! The Great Commission has become the Great Omission. Most of us feel inadequate, afraid or uninterested in sharing our faith. Let’s be clear. I am not talking about going door-to-door or walk around the street and start sharing the gospel with people. I am talking about even when we are given opportunities to share in the day-to-day experiences of life, we are paralyzed. I can think of so many times in my own life where I could have said something or should have said something, but did not. We think evangelism and mission is really for pastors, evangelists or those particularly gifted, but not the “average” Christian. This is a wrong way of thinking.
What does it mean to be a godly witness for the Lord in an ungodly society? Four things from the text:
I. Fearing the Lord over the fear of man (1 Pet. 3:13-14)
Peter addresses our fear source first. It is when we fear man and not God that we fail as a witness. When we fear man’s approval or rejection of us, we are paralyzed from being His witness. Peter wants us to channel that fear to the right source. Be more worried about hurting the heart of God than people hurting you.
Here Peter talks about physical harm that people can do to the believer, but we can apply to general fear we have. He shares what it means to fear God in the context of witnessing.
a) Fearing the Lord means having proper perspective
Peter begins with a rhetorical question: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” Either he is saying it is unusual for the worst of unbelievers to be harming you if you are passionately living lives that are full of integrity and good morality. Or he is saying ultimately, no one can harm you for suffering for the Lord, because they though they can touch the body, they cannot touch the soul (Matt. 10:28). I would tend to go with the latter interpretation, since they have already been suffering for doing good, whether it be the unjust government, cruel masters or harsh husbands.
They have been hurt for their good behavior. But God’s eyes are upon them and His ears are (as the Greek implies) into their prayers. God’s right in the middle of it all. He is the one holding your soul. He is the one holding your inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4). Who is ultimately going to harm you? What is the worst they can do to you? Kill you? But that brings us right into the presence of God. Peter says, “Don’t fear them!” During World War II a Christian boy of twelve refused to join a certain movement in Europe. “Don’t you know that we have power to kill you?” they said. “Don’t you know,” he replied quietly, “that I have power to die for Christ!” He had the conviction that no one was able to harm him.
When we think about being a witness, our perspective is about us. We think about what people think of us or how they might “hurt” us by rejecting us or how stupid we might look. We are the focus and our fear of man is what drives us. But Peter wants us to shift our thinking from what people think to how our idolatry of man’s approval and opinions hurts God. Make God the focus. He’s got you. Trust Him. God says, “Go and share the good news. I will equip you and will help you!” But we say, “No I don’t trust you. I am not adequate. I will fail. I will look stupid, etc.” That is not the fear of God. That is the fear of man.
So the next time you have the opportunity to share the gospel, know the fear of man from our flesh will come and tell you to shut up. But think first, “Who is there to harm me?” Shift the focus to God. God, how can I please you here? What am I worried about that I do not want to share anything right now?” Don’t think too long because the opportunity might leave you! Have the right perspective. Secondly,
b) Fearing the Lord brings blessing
Notice he says suffering for righteousness sake brings blessing. Suffering is not God’s punishment, but God’s blessing! Surely the suffering itself is not a blessing, but the reward at the end of it and knowing Christ more deeply as a result, is a blessing. No matter what you suffer, you still have the most cherished possession of all—Jesus Christ! And maybe someone got to think about God more because of what you said! And that is a blessing!
One of the early church fathers, Polycarp, supposedly a disciple of John, was about to be martyred for his faith. When promised release if he would blaspheme Christ, Polycarp said,
“Eighty six years I have served Christ and He has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior? When the proconsul threatened to expose him to the wild beasts, he replied, “It is well for me to be speedily released from this life of misery.” Finally the ruler threatened to burn him alive. Polycarp said, I fear not the fire that burns for a moment: You do not know that which burns forever and ever.” Talk about someone living out 1 Pet. 3:13-14, 17! He feared God above man.
Sometimes we act like someone is going to burn us at the stake if we share our faith. Really, what is the worst thing that can happen to us? If they reject us, they are rejecting God and that’s on their head. If we don’t know the answer to a question, we tell them we will go home and study and come back. Paul says that he did not come to people with lofty speech or wisdom. He says he was in weakness and in fear and much trembling, but it was a perfect opportunity for God to speak through him! (1 Cor. 2:1-5). If the initial description sounds like how you feel about witnessing, take heart, because Paul felt like that! But he did not let his fear paralyze him, but allowed it for God to speak through him! Are you a servant of people’s opinions or a servant of God? Do not fear man, beloved. We miss the blessing and lose perspective when we do.
II. Lifting up Christ as Lord in our hearts (1 Pet. 3:15a)
It is not enough to not fear man, but “in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy.” This is a fantastic phrase. The idea here is to acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ in your life. Put Jesus on the throne instead of being a slave to fear. Notice “in your hearts.” When you have the fear of man and you are not witnessing or sharing your faith, it reveals the fact that Jesus is not completely Lord of your life. We are the Lord in our life because we are worried about us more than what the Lord thinks.
Are we under the lordship of fear or the lordship of Christ? The word “regard” here means “to set apart.” It is used in the Lord’s prayer where we read, “Hallowed be your name.” Peter Davids notes, “To ‘hallow’ the name means, not only to reverence and honor God, but also to glorify him by obedience to his commands, and thus prepare the coming of the Kingdom.” Peter, then, asserts that Jesus is to be honored, reverenced, and obeyed as Lord.” Not Nero, not any person including yourself, but Jesus Christ as Lord.
When I am setting apart the Lord and give Him the throne of my heart, I am asking Him to control me. John Macarthur says, this phrase is to “affirm their submission to His control, instruction, and guidance.” I am submitting to His leadership. So witnessing is not just knowing all the answers, but coming into a situation where you are being controlled by Christ to share the gospel. It means having His eyes for a person. It means having His compassion for people and not seeing them as just lost people, but people God loves so much, especially bringing them into my life right now to tell them that.
But you know what else lifting Jesus on the throne of your heart means? It means you love him more than fear, because perfect love casts out fear. Tony Evans says, “When a building is on fire and your kid is on the inside, love casts out fear. Firemen have been known to have to hold back folks that had more love for someone in danger than fear of the danger of fire. The fire is real, but love even more so.”
I can tell you countless times I sounded like a fool in trying to share the gospel. I know of times I tried to know all the answers to win a debate with people, but felt so discouraged afterwards. But I also know of other times I simply trusted the Holy Spirit to use me. Once back in New York I was asked by one of the uncles in my church to go with him to visit a co-worker’s husband who had some sort of disease. I don’t remember the details anymore, but I remember one side of his mouth was enlarged and he was really sad. He was also an unbeliever.
I was a new believer, myself, probably 18 years old. The uncle wanted me to talk to him and pray for him, mostly because of the language barrier. I was so uncomfortable and did not know what to say. I was thinking, “What if he asks why there is evil in the world? Or why is there suffering?” Am I ready for that? So fear gripped me initially. We all sat there and we had so many awkward silences. It was difficult! Finally, I started praying (praying should not be the last resort, but the first, middle and last!). I remember at one point, when he was talking and sharing his problems, I prayed to the Lord to give me the right word at the right time. And then I remember saying with my heart racing, “You know, I don’t know why this has happened, but I think God is interrupting your life to get you to know Him.” That is all I said and he started crying! And later he wanted to accept Christ! This has never happened again to me that quickly and I don’t think I had anything amazing to say, but I knew an amazing God and trusted Him to use me.
Lift up Christ as Lord in your heart when you witness. Peter is assuming you are doing that every day. Lifting Him up as Lord means before you get to work, you are not just praying strength to get through the day, but strength to be a good witness for Him. Pray for strength not to be a slave of fear and shame that we are believers. Pray for opportunities to show that Jesus is Lord of your life to others. Do you want to be a godly witness for the Lord? Learn to fear God and not man and surrender to the Lordship of Christ in our hearts.
III. Being ready to defend your faith in the Lord (1 Pet. 3:15b-16a)
Trusting the Holy Spirit to use you to witness to others does not exclude you from doing your part. So Peter says, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” This is the biblical premise for why we do apologetics. In fact, the word “defense” is where get the word apologetics from. Apologetics does not mean being sorry for being a Christian. It is the branch of theology that deals with the defense of the faith.
How often should you be prepared? Notice: ALWAYS. This makes me wonder if Peter is thinking about his own failure here when the servant girl asked him if he was with Jesus? (John 18:17). For the Christian learning not to fear man and lifting Christ up in his heart, he will start to see that one of the results of that is the courage will come from the Lord to defend Him. We have a hope that is real and non-Christians may ask you about it. Actually so many think Christianity is an irrational leap of faith, that you check your mind at the door to be a Christian. Christianity has satisfied the greatest minds of history!
Notice also that we are to answer about “the reason for the hope that is in you” (italics mine). Peter is not saying we should have an answer for every single question out there, but the fact that we should know enough about our own experience to be able to explain it.
Are you prepared? Some of us think we have to be Ravi Zacharias or C.S. Lewis to do this, but we have to just be a witness. This is another reason to know the Word. The Bible says, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Would you be able to walk someone through the basics of the gospel with verses? Were you convicted that we did not know our church history like Charles Fuller of the Bahai faith? Again, I am not saying everyone should go to seminary, but we should know some things. Why is the Bible reliable? Why should we trust it? What would you say?
We can study up more to defend our faith. We can probably spend a lifetime studying it, but do something intentional to study. Jesus said to love Him with our mind. Know something more each month. This is partly why we are studying other faiths and apologetics this year and will continue to do so. We need to be equipped to labor for the Lord in this area. The goal is not to know all the answers, but to fuel knowledge with God’s power to bring people to Jesus Christ. We need to have both knowledge and a dependence on God’s Spirit to defend our faith. We don’t want to just win an argument, but win lost people to Christ. I would rather lose an argument and win someone to Christ (although winning an argument feels nice!).
So the way we do it is also important, Peter says: “yet do it with gentleness and respect.” He mentioned “gentle,” when he talked about the wife’s character in 1 Pet. 3:4. It is translated “meekness,” which means “power under God’s control.” The idea is that we are not rude and obnoxious or dominant and overbearing. “Respect” here again translated as “fear,” which Peter adamantly refers to in this letter that believers should ultimately fear God. Here in this context, it means listening, asking questions, showing gratitude and loving people as you are defending the faith. Warren Wiersbe says, “We are witnesses, not prosecuting attorneys!”
It goes back to sanctifying Him as the Lord of our lives. When He is Lord and we acknowledge that, we will also have his attitude toward people. I think I almost lost it with Mr. Fuller last weekend! I know I failed being gentle and respectful toward the cult members that showed up at my door a few weeks ago. I decided to have fun with them by pretending to be an unbeliever, but I forgot that I had a sign on my porch that read, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” (probably not the best way to go about this). They were from a church that believes God is Father (who came to South Korea a few years ago and died), but there is also a God the Mother. Total rubbish. By the end, I was rude and disrespectful and I think next time I will just tell them to leave instead of debating with them and being all angry afterward. Then again, the apostles were not very kind to false teachers were they? Perhaps Peter is talking about seeking unbelievers here, not false teachers. But at the same time, we need to “honor everyone” as Peter says (1 Pet. 2:17).
I would like us to grow in apologetics. If we are going to be a church that exists for those who are not here, we need to be a church equipped in this area. We cannot be a godly witness for the Lord without being able to defend at all. Let’s talk more about this at the planning meeting.
IV. Maintaining a clean conscience to protect the name of the Lord (1 Pet. 3:16b-17)
Peter ends with making sure our lives are right before God. He says we are laboring to defend the Lord in a Christ-like fashion knowing that our lives can back up our words. The worst thing is to have a good argument but a bad lifestyle. Here Peter emphasizes the need for a clean conscience.
Notice: “good conscience.” What is your conscience? I like Warren Wiersbe describes it: “The conscience is that internal judge that witnesses to us…either approving our actions or accusing (see Rom. 2:14–15). Conscience may be compared to a window that lets in the light of God’s truth. If we persist in disobeying, the window gets dirtier and dirtier, until the light cannot enter.” This is what Titus calls a “defiled conscience” (Titus 1:15). You stop hearing from God. Paul also talks about “a seared conscience.” A “seared conscience” is one that has been so sinned against that it no longer is sensitive to what is right and wrong (1 Tim. 4:2). It is even possible for the conscience to be so poisoned that it approves things that are bad and accuses when the person does good! This is what the Bible calls “an evil conscience” (Heb. 10:22).
Our conscience needs to be shaped by God’s Word. This is the light that comes through the window. A good conscience is one where we are convicted quickly when we sin and we have a sense of blessing when we do right. It is hard to be lifting up Christ as Lord and not fearing man and laboring to defend the Lord when our conscience is accusing us. So to maintain this good conscience, i.e. to “keep the windows clean,” we regularly confess sin and live a lifestyle of repentance before God.
Peter says having a good conscience is a powerful tool in your witness, because it will provide credibility to your witnessing. Living with guilt and shame will hinder our witness. So even if we face verbal abuse like slander and reviling, which we cannot control, we can control the fact that our conscience is clean before God and before man.
Look lastly at 1 Pet. 3:17. In one sense, it is better to suffer for good in this life than to suffer for doing evil in the next life. Which one would you rather have? But Peter is also, like he told the slaves in 1 Pet. 2:20, making sure our godly lives are the reason for our suffering and not our bad conscience and bad lifestyles.
Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Matt. 9:37). The workers are few because they are hiding out in the embassy in fear. The results of a 2007 survey illustrate this point well. The number of un-churched people who are receptive to attending church if invited and escorted by a friend was 82%. Do you know the number of church-going Christians who invited someone to church that year? 21%. I know some of you have been great in doing invitational evangelism. But do we even pray in any given week for an opportunity to witness or even invite someone here to Living Hope.
And I think true incarnational ministry would be us going to where the people are. And God has placed us strategically where we are to be His ambassadors. The greatest joy for me is to know that I am not responsible for saving people! That is the Lord’s job. I am responsible to witness. And it is not so much as figuring out what the mission of our church is as it is to realize that God is looking a church to live out His mission in the world and for the world. We do not exist for merely ourselves to sit here, sing some songs, talk to a few people, eat some rice and go home. We exist for the people who are not here. What are we doing about this in our own lives?
Who has lordship over our lives? Fear or Jesus Christ? If it is fear, we need to confess that to the Lord. Also, let us dare to pray even this week God would make us usable in bringing someone a little closer to Christ, even praying we would even be the final link to someone to come to Christ? Would we even think of ways that we can be better equipped to defend the Lord? Lastly, do we live with a clean conscience? It is really hard to be a good witness if the windows of our heart are dirty and not able to bring the light of the Lord come in and shine through us His vessel, with our cracks and holes. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to meet us in these areas and help us be Jesus in skin to every soul we meet.
“A Call for Missionary Minded Churches,” from Tullian
Tchividjian’s blog. http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2010/08/13/a-call-for-
missionary-minded-churches/ accessed 19 August 2010.
MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1 Pet. 3:13).
Hurt, Bruce. “1 Pet. 3:13-17 Commentary,” http://preceptaustin.org/1peter_verse_by_verse__313-22.htm#3:13 accessed 21 August 2010.
Davids, P. H. (131).
MacArthur, J. (200).
Evans, T. (279).
Wiersbe, W. W. (1 Pet. 3:13).
White, Bill. As quoted in http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/search.html?query=1 peter 3:13-17&type=scripture&filter=&x=10&y=11&tone=&start=41 accessed 21 August 2010.