But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 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 Pet 3:14-16
Any good Bible-believing evangelical or Reformed person knows that one of the most important ways we follow Christ as individuals and the church is sharing our faith evangelistically. How many times have we been urged to “go and make disciples” or “be a witness?” (Mt 28:19, Acts 1:8) Yet the interesting thing about most of us is that we either have an irregular or even non-existent practice of evangelism with our unbelieving Christian friends and family. There seems to be a disconnect in what we know and what we do.
No doubt, it is uncomfortable enough to share your faith when you know that the gospel is an offense. (Gal. 5:11) Add to that cultural shifts and the occasional passive-aggressive comments about Christian beliefs from commentators or co-workers and suddenly discomfort turns into a sense of danger talking about sin, hell or even the cross. What bold soul will put themselves out there for Christ under these conditions?
Christians in the New Testament church certainly struggled with the same thing as they encountered the pushback about Christ from their “people” (the Jews) and from the Roman authorities. Sharing the gospel then had such a sense of danger that martyrdom became a part of the conversation for first century Christians – especially after public executions like Stephen’s. (Acts 7) Yet, the gospel went out. Individuals were changed. Families were transformed. Churches were planted. Entire communities shifted so that hostile cultural commentators of that time would say of Paul and other believers “these men have turned the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6) We cannot help but wonder – what gives between their courage to share the faith and our struggle to do the same?
We don’t live with the threat of violent persecution in American culture – unlike Christians in the middle-east or other oppressive nations. Thank the Lord. Our threats are more subtle. We fear contempt. We hate disrespect. We shudder at marginalization. Evangelism, then, becomes much more of a relational minefield for us. In the past, we did it with the confidence of a presentational method knowing that Christianity was in the ascendancy. Today, evangelism feels really risky as polls reveal America is growing quickly into a place of the “nones” – no religious affiliation. Who feels like engaging people with a gospel when you might get a blank face or dismissiveness? But here’s the thing – evangelism felt risky to the first century Christians too. They were dismissed and they turned the world upside down.
What can we learn from the early Christians about evangelism? Our text in 1 Peter 3 above gives us a few hints and exhortations on sharing our faith. The apostle Peter who knew what it meant to endure suffering for the gospel and so tells us from godliness and experience what it looks like to do evangelism – even when we don’t feel like it.
- You will be blessed. Here is a promise reminiscent of Christ’s promise in Matthew 5 that encountering persecution, reviling and false accusations for faithful witness to Christ results in blessing. Yours is the kingdom, Jesus says. Any venture in evangelism should begin with the end in mind. That end is personal procurement of God’s kingdom – a reward. Note that the reward isn’t for leading a person to Christ like a salesman receives a commission for selling something. The reward, as 1 Corinthians 4 teaches, is for faithful stewardship of the gospel – speaking up for Christ. Oh, we want people to come to Christ and pray to that end. But the reward for which we labor is related to faithfulness, not evangelistic results. Just be faithful and the Lord will take care of the rest. You will be blessed.
- Not fear, nor trouble but honor Christ as holy. The angst we often feel in evangelism is the fear of man – what they will think of us, how the relationship will change. Who likes putting a relationship at risk by injecting Jesus into it? But here’s the thing – Jesus wants to so be Lord of our lives that we will – with love and wisdom – willingly insert Him into the relational dynamic with friends and family. This brings honor to Him. This certainly changes the relationship. But it also highlights what difference Christ has made above all earthly powers in our life. Furthermore, injecting Christ into a relationship with an unbeliever is an act of love. Love wants to see someone rescued from sure death. Love looks out for someone’s eternal future. Love in evangelism does unto others as we would have someone do unto us. Love is how we honor Christ. Speaking for Christ inherently exalts him as our one true God and King. Evangelism is an act of love that properly honors the Lord and men according to the Great Commandment.
- Be prepared. This exhortation is more than a knockoff of the Scout oath. It is a call to be ready to talk about the gospel. Of course, ALL of us – including this evangelistic pastor – feel the load of such a statement. We can easily think it’s all on us to deliver the goods of the gospel in an articulate argument in one setting. I would like to suggest that, in our time, we should think of gospel sharing as normally happening over a series of conversations – not one shot. Moreover, instead of feeling the load of having to deliver some extraordinary soliloquy of the gospel or waxing glorious a la Charles Spurgeon, we would be wise to do a whole lot more listening with questions than making our gospel presentation. The best way to reach non-Christians who have a latent disregard or even hostility to Christianity is simply to listen and clarify what “they” think about Christ long before you get to talking about Christ. I like to tell people that evangelism today is a little like woodworking – measure twice, cut once. With the gospel, we listen twice and speak once with our unbelieving friends and family. If you listen carefully – not defensively – you’ll find that most non-Christians have mistaken assumptions that can be clarified over time with a simple reading of Scripture. “Be prepared” is a call to listening and sharing over the long haul – not just the one-shot presentation. It is a call to defending Christ without being defensive.
- Do it with gentleness and respect. Finally, Peter highlights the proper attitude in sharing the faith. The great danger for Christians is to take critiques of Christianity so personally that we get defensive, sarcastic or even dismissive. Peter says, take the critiques in stride and honor the person involved. Of course, we don’t honor false views of Christ or bad logic or the dismissive comments of Christianity. We can even cry relational fouls with those who play dirty. However, we respond with the same holiness that Christ modeled in his debates with unbelieving Jews and Gentiles. To honor Christ as holy with evangelism means we do it with holiness. We argue differently than the world. We don’t try to win the argument – even if the revilers are trying to. We know that God has to change the heart and mind in the end. In a way, this attitude of the heart will attract unbelievers as much as the content of the gospel we share. We live in a world that absolutely demonizes any individual or people group they disagree with. We, however, engage the people who are different than us with love and respect – hoping to win them to Christ even as enemies of Christ with the very thing that saved us – grace.
You know how I know that. Christ did that for me. Christ did that for you. He won us when we were his enemies. He endured unheard of suffering as the Son of God so we could have life. Now, we follow him into a life of loving our neighbor by daring to speak His Name. What we will find is that the Great Commission is actually a great step of new faith and holiness in Him.
Author: Rev. Dean Faulkner