1 Peter 3:15-16 (NIV)
But in your hearts revere 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. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
The Apostle Peter is writing to believers who are facing suffering and persecution because of their beliefs. Most of us cannot relate to the context of this letter to those believers in Asia Minor, especially those of us who are free to worship as we choose. While Peter was writing to give encouragement to those experiencing persecution, his words are relevant to our lives as followers of Christ today.
The key to this passage for me is making an inner commitment in my heart to trust Christ. When we are fully able to do this, we will begin to respond in a different way to those whom we encounter, who do not believe. It saddens me today to see many professing Christians responding to others in a hateful and demeaning way. That is not the example that Christ gave us. Jesus had compassion upon everyone that he encountered. He even prayed for those who were crucifying him. Jesus didn’t call upon his followers to use condemning words to answer those who did not believe. Instead, he showed us that we are to love everyone. Jesus taught us that we should not attempt to tear down people. We should build them up through love and respect – that’s how we show everyone the way to Christ. This is also how Christians should treat each other – with love and respect. Sadly, we often fail at this central teaching of Jesus.
Peter was close to Jesus during his three years of ministry on earth. He knew the teachings of Jesus. Peter eventually learned that it was better to respond to unbelief and insults with gentleness and respect rather than with harsh, condemning words. Yes, this was the same Peter who cut off the ear of the servant Malchus in John 18:10. It took Peter a while to fully comprehend the true meaning of Jesus’ teaching, but he eventually understood. Peter tells us that by responding with “gentleness” and “respect” we are saying to unbelievers that Christ loves them and cares about them. We are also letting them know that we love them and care about them as well. That’s how we answer those who do not believe and that’s how we show them the way to Christ.