Important Things (3) “Being An Effective Witness”
1 Peter 3:13-17
Last Monday I attended a conference run by Family First. One of the speakers was a young American researcher & writer on marriage & religious freedom, Dr Ryan Anderson. Two years ago Dr Anderson was involved in a lively discussion about marriage on CNN’s Piers Morgan Live programme. Over 214,000 people have watched this exchange on Youtube. Dr Anderson is a Christian & holds to the traditional & biblical view of marriage as being a covenantal relationship between one man & one woman. The CNN host Piers Morgan asked Anderson several hostile questions – all of which Anderson answered calmly, politely & eloquently. Morgan’s guest on the show, a lesbian lady, got very angry with Anderson & called him ignorant & “uneducated.” Again, Anderson, who was seated among the in-studio audience, did not get upset nor did he give-in under the intense pressure. Despite being ridiculed & attacked by Morgan & his lesbian guest & by many in the audience, Anderson was able to communicate what he believed with conviction & grace.
Today we are looking at a few verses in chapter 3 of 1 Peter, a letter written by the apostle to believers facing growing pressure & even persecution. Peter gives them good advice about how to be effective witnesses for the Lord Jesus in a hostile world.
Christians in the first century faced a lot of pressure. When the Church first started most believers were Jewish but they faced opposition from fellow Jews who did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. Just think of Saul of Tarsus. Before he himself became a follower of Jesus, Saul attacked believers & had them thrown into prison. Later, of course, Saul the persecutor of the Church became Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles.
As more & more Gentiles became believers, the situation became more complicated. If, for example, Christians refused to worship the Emperor or join the army, or if there were disturbances involving Christians, then the authorities would arrest & punish them. In the book of Acts, for example, we read of how, in Philippi, Paul & Silas were falsely accused, arrested, beaten & thrown into prison. Another example we looked at some months ago was how in Thessalonica believers faced persecution from their idol-worshipping neighbours & friends.
Things really got bad for Christians in the last few years of the reign of the Emperor Nero (AD 54-68). Especially after about AD 64, thousands were killed. However even before the persecutions under Nero, believers faced all kinds of social & economic pressure. Many faced opposition from their families. Christians were misunderstood. They faced harassment & even physical attack.
In his letter, Peter is addressing believers facing such pressures. He wants to encourage them & help them in their Christian life & witness. And what he says is relevant for us today as well.
We know that many believers today live in countries with governments that are strongly anti-Christian. And as we see with the example I gave of Dr Ryan Anderson, who stood up for his beliefs about marriage, even in so-called Christian nations like America, believers face misunderstanding, ridicule, & even harassment. When we take a stand for what we believe, for principles taught in the Bible, we are sometimes called bigots or narrow-minded religious extremists. This opposition may come from unbelieving colleagues, from employers or even from family members & sometimes from government agencies.
How should we live & witness in such a society? How can we be effective in sharing the Good News of Jesus with people who don’t really want to hear? How can we get past the prejudice & pre-conceived ideas of people in our increasingly secular & often anti-Christian western society? The apostle Peter gives us some good advice.
First of all, to be effective witnesses for Jesus we need to be:
1. Willing To Suffer For What Is Right (vrs 13 & 14)
Peter writes, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’” (1 Peter 3:13 & 14)
As we think about the question, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” – I believe the apostle Peter is not simply saying that to avoid getting into trouble we should not break the law. Of course if we do break the law, we deserve to get into trouble. No, I think rather that Peter is reminding us that, generally speaking, if we are eager to do what is good & if we seek to live godly lives, then we are far less likely to face opposition & persecution from others.
I am reminded of a great passage in Galatians where the apostle Paul writes, “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22 & 23) Some Christians, sadly, do not show the fruit of the Spirit in their lives & not surprisingly, their non-Christian family members or colleagues, find plenty to criticise. If we do not “practice what we preach” (i.e. do not live according to the truth ourselves), how can non-believers take what we say seriously?
Peter goes on, however, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’” (v.14) Yes, sometimes, despite their godly example & despite showing all the beautiful fruit of the Spirit in their lives, Christians are misunderstood, maligned, threatened & even attacked. Sometimes Christians suffer for doing what is right. Sometimes the guys doing bad things get away with it. They may even get praised, while the ones doing what is good get laughed at or demoted or even lose their jobs.
My dad was an experienced high school science teacher. When a new headmaster came to his school, he tried to get rid of all the older teachers, including my dad. Several of my dad’s colleagues asked for transfers. They could not take the new headmaster. My dad however chose to remain, even though the new head made life really difficult for my dad, even blocking a salary increase which was due to my father. He also made fun of my dad’s Christian faith. It was not easy for my dad but he did not fight back or get angry & upset. He committed everything to the Lord & prayed for the unreasonable & unkind headmaster.
Let us take encouragement from what Peter says to these scattered & persecuted believers. When suffering for what is right Peter says, “…you are blessed.” And he goes on to encourage them not to be afraid or frightened by threats or opposition. Indeed, if the Lord is with us, of whom shall we be afraid? No one! So then, being an effective witness for Jesus we should be willing to stand up for Him & even to suffer for Him.
Secondly, in being an effective witness we need:
2. A Surrendered Heart & A Prepared Mind (v.15)
Peter goes on, “…in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” I love this verse. It is powerfully practical & true. First of all notice, we are to have a surrendered heart. We are to “set apart Christ as Lord.” We can never be an effective witness for Jesus unless we have surrendered ourselves to His Lordship.
There is a phrase “If He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.” Christianity is all about a change of ownership. No longer are we in charge but instead, Jesus is in charge. We do not give the orders, Jesus does. We simply obey. If you call yourself a Christian, let me ask: have your set apart Christ as Lord? Have you invited Him to sit upon the throne of your heart? Or do you still sit on the throne? Yes, to be a Christian we must trust in Jesus as our Saviour. However Jesus also wants to be our Lord. He is the Master. He is the Boss. Dear brothers & sisters, let us surrender our plans, our possessions, our talents, our loved ones – all we own & all we love – let us surrender everything into His mighty hands. Making Jesus Lord is essential if we are going to be effective, winsome witnesses for Him.
In Colossians 3:17 Paul says, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Doing “all in the Name of the Lord Jesus” involves making Jesus Lord in our lives. Only then will we bring honour to Him wherever we go & whatever we do or say. A few verses further on in Colossians 3:23 Paul says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” In our every-day work, we should give of our best, as working for the Lord. By honouring Him in the way we work & by the way we relate to others, we are being a witness – to our family, to our earthly boss, our colleagues, clients, customers, etc.
So to come back to what Peter says, not only must we set apart Christ as Lord, we must, “…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Some people like to think that Christians should keep their faith to themselves. They say it is something for private, not for forcing onto others.
I remember some years ago I was meeting with a top official in the State Administration for Foreign Expert Affairs in Beijing. This lady said SAFEA was very happy about the excellent teachers we were sending to China. She knew of course that we only sent Christians & told me while that is OK, “…they must not get involved in religious activities, and” putting her hands up as if trying to choke someone, she continued, “nor must they force others to believe.” I replied, “Of course, I would want everyone to believe, including Deng Xiao-ping (the supreme leader at the time) but certainly we do not believe in forcing anyone.”
Yes, our faith is not something that we force on others, nor is it something we selfishly keep to ourselves. It is worth sharing. However, when we do share our faith, we should never be obnoxious or pushy. If we are, we will only drive people away. People will be put off. However, as Peter says, when we are asked about our faith we should be ready to give an answer. When people ask us why we believe, or why we have certain values, or when they ask us our opinion about some issue – we must be ready to respond wisely. We must not feel embarrassed or ashamed to confess Christ.
When others see something different in us, this is when very often they ask us “why?” or “how come?” When they see the hope & the joy that we have, even in tough times, they want to know where we get such hope & joy. When people ask us such questions, let us rejoice for we are being given a natural opportunity to tell them about Jesus.
When you do get such an opportunity I hope you are ready to speak up. I hope you don’t get all tongue-tied or embarrassed. We must be ready to give a logical, reasonable answer. We must be unashamed to tell others what Jesus has done for us. We may not be able to answer all the questions that people ask, but we should do our best to be prepared. This is why reading good books & thinking through what we believe & why we believe is so important. Of course giving our own personal testimony, our own story, can also be very helpful. However, when people have genuine questions about the Christian faith or about what the Bible teaches, we need to have done our homework. We must be ready to give a reasoned & sensible answer.
To recap then – to be an effective witness for Jesus we need to be willing to suffer for what is right. And secondly, we need to have a surrendered heart & a prepared mind.
Now finally, we also need to have:
3. A Gracious Demeanour & A Clear Conscience (v 15b & v16)
As we give witness, Peter continues in v.15 & v.16, we should “…do this with gentleness & respect, 16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” Yes, some people may say nasty things about us. They may call us bigots, spoil-sports or religious nuts. By the way, saying such things shows how prejudiced & ignorant some people can be. We however must always speak to others with gentleness & respect. Speaking in this way helps soften antagonism & breaks down prejudice.
I mentioned Dr Ryan Anderson when we began. He courageously spoke up in defence of marriage as a covenantal relationship between one man & one woman. He was maligned & attacked, but this is what he says in his new book “Truth Overruled”, “We have to bear witness to the truth in a winsome & compelling way.” Yes, in our witnessing we can be both winsome & compelling. When we are rude, aggressive, unreasonable, pushy or defensive, we only stir up more antagonism & ridicule. To win the hearts & minds of others we must be gentle & respectful in demeanour.
And we also need to have a clear conscience. Why is this important? Having a clear conscience is important because people very quickly smell hypocrisy. There is an old Gospel song that goes:
“What you are speaks so loud that the world can’t hear what you say.
They’re looking at your walk, not listening to your talk.
They’re judging from your actions every day.”
People can usually tell if we are sincere & genuine. It is not good enough to impress people with our knowledge or our arguments. We also need to back up our words by living a godly life. We need a clear conscience before God & before others, otherwise sooner or later, our testimony will sound hallow. We are to witness truthfully, honestly, & with integrity.
When we keep “a clear conscience”, Peter says, “…those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ” will be “…ashamed of their slander.” We may not be able to stop people from saying nasty things about us, but we can avoid giving them more ammunition. As long as our conscience is clear & we have nothing to hide & nothing to be ashamed of, the attacks of others will do little damage. By God’s grace we might win their respect & the Holy Spirit might begin to soften their hearts.
I am sure each one of us who knows & loves Jesus wants to be an effective witness for Him. He has done so much for us – surely we want to tell others about Him. As we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us day by day, He will produce in our lives the beautiful fruit of the Spirit. He will use us to point others to the Lord Jesus. Like Dr Ryan Anderson, even when facing people who are hostile to what we believe, the Lord will help us to be a winsome & compelling witness. We will be able to stand up for the Lord with grace & dignity. And some of those who attack us or make fun of us today may one day thank us for introducing them to Jesus.
One final word for those of you who are not yet Christians – I encourage you not to be like the person who said, “Don’t confuse me with the facts – my mind is made up already.” Be open & willing to examine the evidence. And then, I also encourage you not to let the imperfect witness or the un-Christian behaviour of some Christians put you off. Don’t let our weaknesses & failings become an excuse. Look at Jesus. Focus on Him for even if Christians disappoint you, Jesus never will.