Have you ever considered why hope is so important to us?
Hope is a major theme of the New Testament. God is the God of hope (Rom 15:13) and believers are the partakers of hope (1 Cor 9:10). We are commanded not to move away from the hope of the gospel (Col 1:23); our hope in in the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Tim 1:1). The Bible also teaches that we should hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering (Heb 10:23). This leads me to ask the question, “Why do we need this hope?” What is the cause of this need and how does our hope help sustain us in the Christian life?
Why do we need hope?
I once heard Dr. Paul Nyquist, President of Moody Bible Institute, say that “hostile happens.” One thing that is true of our society is that people easily become hostile with one another. Hostility may be in the form of anger, aggression, or even persecution.
Our responses to this hostility may differ. I know when I feel someone being hostile toward me, I tend to respond with anger or I aggressive against the person. Others may respond with fear while others may simply retreat from the threat. The point, that Christians are as vulnerable to hostile actions against them as anyone else.
Hostility toward us—as people—often occurs because we are out of step with society. This can happen in a couple of ways. First, we can be out of step with society because society has changed. No society is without change. If we are around long enough and hold to our Biblical morals and behavior, the society will—because of its fallen nature—move further and further away. As a result, the believer becomes the odd one of society who can longer support the actions of the society.
The second way we can become out of step with society is because I’ve changed. Perhaps you used to agree with the direction of society, but Jesus has transformed your thinking so that you are no longer in step with society. You don’t think the way you used to think; you don’t act the way you used to act; you don’t value what you used to value.
Either way, you are not in step with society; the result is that hostile happens. Society finds a way to punish those who do not follow the trend. As I posted a couple of weeks ago, society will ostracize those out of step, society will marginalize them, and society will become hostile against them. If you are a Bible following Christian in our society today, eventually you will face hostility.
How should we respond to such hostility?
Peter has provided instruction throughout his brief epistle regarding how Christians should respond to a very hostile environment. The audience to whom Peter wrote consisted of new believers who had been dispersed throughout the region. Nero was the emperor of Rome and soon there would be a full assault on the Church. Peter was preparing the people in much the same way Jesus prepared His disciples (Matt 10:22-23).
Specifically, let’s consider 1 Peter 3:13-17:
“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; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:13–17, NKJV)
This passage breaks into two components—(1) The Reality of Hostility and (2) The Response to Hostility.
1. The reality of hostility (1 Pet 3:13-14a)
Peter opens with a rhetorical question, “who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?” Followers of Christ must determine how they will face hostility in an antagonistic culture. Governments should certainly not harm those who do good—neither should anyone else. This is because God has placed in mankind a moral code that teaches all people what is right and what is wrong. Those who do what is good should not face hostility; rather, such people should be held up as examples for others to follow. This is true, however, only in an ideal world. This premise does not hold in a fallen world.
Peter recognizes that hostility will arise toward the Godly, but even so, we need to understand that we are blessed. Though hostility toward the Godly shouldn’t happen, it can happen. The time is coming when governments could force us to accept cultural norms or face loss. If we don’t subscribe to the societies demands, churches could lose their tax-exemption status and individuals within these churches could lose their individual freedoms.
In times when this does happen, we shouldn’t be surprised. Peter makes this clear later in the letter when he writes, “…do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you…” (1 Pet 4:12). Christians will be the target of fiery trials, but we shouldn’t be surprised—thinking them strange. If you are zealous for God, hostile happens.
In ideal world no one harms someone for doing what is good; this is not true in a fallen world. In a fallen world, good reveals wrong; righteousness reveals unrighteousness. Those who are doing wrong don’t want to be discovered so they attack those doing what God wants them to do. Thus, you will a spin on the truth. Society will recast antiabortionists as those who want to restrict women regarding their reproductive issues. They will recast those who teach what the Bible says regarding homosexuality as hate speakers. And the list goes on and on and on…
The problem is that we don’t do “hostile” well. We get angry; we fight back; we withdraw—each of us implements our own coping mechanism. Often we do not cope in a Godly manner.
2. The response to hostility (1 Pet 3:14b-17)
Peter three appropriate coping mechanisms for dealing with hostility.
Don’t be afraid of them—remember who your Lord is. Peter is literally saying, “Don’t be afraid of their fear.” When we are attacked for living a Godly life (even if the spin is that we are not adequately following God) we should not be intimidated. We should, instead, “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts…” Sanctify means to set apart for a special use. We need to remember who the sovereign Lord is. When we face hostility we need to know who we follow—it is not the society and its norms; rather, it is the living God.
Specifically, we need to be ready to give a defense for the hope we have, i.e. we need to give an answer to those who ask us to explain the hope that we have. Notice the use of the inclusive language—always, everyone. We don’t need to initiate the conversation. People who are watching us serve God will come to us and ask us about our hope.
In this context, hope seems to be very similar to faith. So, others will see our behavior and as us why we do what we do. They will do this either because they are curious or furious. If they are furious, they most likely will not listen to our response. But if they are curious, they want to know. This becomes an outstanding opportunity to explain our faith to them.
Therefore, we need to be ready to give a clear explanation of our belief—e.g. what makes me have the hope that I have? So, often we want to respond with “Christianeze.” Christian jargon, such as “I have been saved by the blood in a glorious transformation for eternal salvation—Hallelujah—do you want to be baptized, should remain in church. We need to use language they will understand. If you aren’t prepared to share your faith (hope) in this manner, you should seek training so you can be prepared.
Peter then explains that we need to approach the unsaved world with gentleness and reverence (one form of fear). We are to be meek—strength under control—so we do not lash back and counter attack (Jesus is our example, 1 Pet 2:21). We also need to approach those of the world in reverence, i.e. respect. Perhaps we cannot respect the actions of a person, but we must respect that even this person was created in the image of God.
Finally, Peter calls on those facing hostility to maintain a good conscience. That means that we always need to do what is good and right in the eyes of God. If we are to suffer, we need to suffer for doing what is good. Our conscience is our internal witness. It condemns wrong and confirms right. You must know you are innocent when the society attacks you. Then you can have confidence that those doing the attacking (through slander or persecution, etc.) of your good conduct will be brought to shame. Eventually, their attack will be proven to be unjustified. Of course we want this to be an immediate outcome, but Peter doesn’t even imply that.
Have you faced hostility because of your faith in Christ? If so, how did you respond?
The day will come when someone will approach you and ask why you are so different. Are you prepared to give them a clear answer for the hope that you have?