COMMENTARY ON FIRST PETER
" 3:15 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; 16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." (1 Pet 3:15-17, NKJV)
When men make religion convenient, they do a great disservice to the sons of men. In so doing, they disarm the soul, giving a greater accent to life in this world than to spiritual life, which is in conflict with this world. Convenience, in this respect, is nothing more than dulling the edge of the Gospel-hiding from men that there is a sharp conflict between life in Christ and the spirit of the present age. Our text is built upon the premise that an unavoidable clash exists between those who are regenerated and those who are not. That conflict has been caused by the introduction of the very life of Christ, with whom believers have been crucified, buried, and risen. It is so sharp, that those who are not in Christ refuse to acknowledge harmlessness and benefit in the saints, even causing them to suffer for righteousness sake. The Holy Spirit is showing us how to conduct ourselves in this temporary situation, assuring us the eye of the Lord is upon us, and will protect us.
SANCTIFY THE LORD IN YOUR HEART
" 3:15ABut sanctify the Lord God in your hearts . . . " NKJV The Spirit is in the midst of instructing us concerning suffering for righteousness' sake. He does so because of the inevitability of suffering. It is never a question of whether or not the saints will incur opposition for their faith. It only a question of the nature and degree of that opposition. Now we are urged to develop, or culture, our relationship to God in the midst of our suffering. While we are enduring opposition, often very grievous to both heart and body, careful heed is to be given to our connection with the Lord. We are not to allow our eyes to be turned to our suffering. Rather, it is to be viewed as a confirmation that God is in us "of a truth" (1 Cor 14:25). It is also to become the occasion for spiritual advancement.
Sanctify the Lord. Normally, the saints themselves are said to be sanctified by God (1 Cor 1:2; 6:11; 2 Tim 2:21; Heb 2:11; Jude 1). But here, God is said to be "sanctified" by the saints. The word "sanctify" means to hallow, or make holy. It involves acknowledging that God is holy and separate from any defiling associations. In our text, it means to acknowledge God as Lord in every aspect of our lives-to cease to live any part of life without recognizing He is Lord over it. Other versions accentuate this. "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord."NIV "But in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord."RSV "But give honor to Christ in your hearts as your Lord."BBE The idea is that Christ is really Lord, but must be acknowledged by us as such if we are to benefit from it. The difference in the translations, with some referring to Christ, should not be confusing to us. Our only access to God is through Christ. It is therefore understood that any association with God is by Him.
The matter of perceiving Christ as Lord and living in view of that reality is central in Scripture. Jesus is God's "Christ," but He is OUR "Lord." Thomas confessed Him to be "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28). That is the type of recognition to which our text refers. Repeatedly Jesus is referred to as "our Lord" (Rom 1:3; 4:24; 5:1; 6:11; 1 Pet 1:3). The truth of the matter is that He cannot be received in any other capacity. Perhaps you have heard people refer to Jesus being received as a Savior, but not as Lord. This is a human notion, and has no support in God's Word. The idea of being reconciled to God and living in His favor without acknowledging Jesus as Lord is a most dangerous one. We do not belong to ourselves, but have been bought with a price (1 Cor 6:19). To live as though that were not the case is a sin of tremendous magnitude. Because in suffering saints will be tempted to abandon this truth, they are not urged to set Jesus apart in their hearts as Lord, not allowing the opposition of men to move them from allegiance to Him.
In your hearts. While we serve the Law of the Lord with our minds (Rom 7:25), we sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts. This is not a mere acknowledgment that Christ is "Lord of all" (Acts 10:36), but a heartfelt commitment to His rule. A deep and personal commitment to the Lord is imperative to being accepted by God. This is a refusal to give ourselves to anyone else, or serve any other purpose. It is giving Jesus the throne of our heart, being made "willing in the day of His power" (Psa 110:3). Sanctifying the Lord God in our heart results in a refusal to yield to any opposing influence. Because the heart is superior to the mind, all of life, including our thoughts, is brought into accord with the will of God when He is sanctified in our hearts.
This is another way of saying we live and die "unto the Lord" (Rom 14:8). Whether it is our words or our deeds, we "do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him" (Col 3:17). In so doing, we expand our fellowship with Christ, into which we have been called (1 Cor 1:9). Both the Father and the Son will thus dwell more fully within us, making Themselves known to us (John 14:21,23). It is the Lord's manner to remain only where He is wanted. This was revealed in His reaction to Cleopas and his companion who desired His presence (Lk 24:29). It was also seen in His reaction to the people of Gadara, who did NOT want His presence (Matt 8:34-9:1). Sanctifying the Lord God in our hearts is making Him welcome, imploring Him to abide with us, teach us, and lead us. It is an attitude of the heart more than words from the mouth. It reflects a deep desire to live in the light of His presence and blessing, always being keenly aware of Him.
ALWAYS BE READY TO GIVE AN ANSWER
" 15b . . . 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." NKJV The KJV reads, "give an answer," which means to frame a defense, or provide an explanation. Notice, this readiness is obtained by sanctifying the Lord God in our hearts. The Spirit does not say to prepare an answer, but to be ready to give one. The idea is that fellowship with Christ, or sanctifying the Lord in our hearts, will yield the ability to persuasively present a defense for the faith embraced. On one occasion, Paul gave such a strong defense Agrippa was "almost persuaded" to become a Christian (Acts 26:28). On another occasion when he "reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come," Felix "trembled," asking that Paul go his way and come at a more convenient time (Acts 24:25). When Stephen stood before the Jewish council, he gave a most eloquent defense of the faith (Acts 7:2-53). In each of these cases, the men were asked for an explanation of their faith.
Here is a form of spreading the Gospel that is rarely emphasized in a day, when religious institutionalism reigns. It presumes there is such a contrast between the lives of believers and unbelievers that it provokes inquiry. We are living in a time, however, when that kind of contrast has nearly been obliterated in Western culture. Little difference is perceived between believers and unbelievers, and thus little inquiry is being made.
To "give a defense," or "give an answer," does not mean to present proofs that the Bible is true, or that Jesus really lived and died. Nor does it intimate that believers are to be resolved to answer every question posed by their opponents. There may very well be people with unusual wisdom and insight who can "refute those who contradict" the truth of the Gospel, thereby stopping their mouths (Tit 1:11). There is a place for such noble warriors. However, that is not the point of this admonition. Here is an exhortation for all believers, everywhere, and for all time. They are all to be ready to give an answer.
The answer to be given regards a "reason for the hope" that is resident in the believer. What causes them to live so differently? It is obvious they do not cling to this world. What do they expect, and why do they expect it? Why are they diligent about purifying themselves, even as Christ is pure (1 John 3:3)? Why does it not bother them that they do not fit into the passing fashions of this world? Why do the things of God dominate their minds, and His Word hold such a prominent position in their thoughts? This, and more, is involved in giving an answer, or defense, for the hope that is "in" us.
This is not a call to defend theological positions, however sound they may be. It is not a request to explain why our church believes a certain way, or why our families have traditionally embraced a certain line of religious thought. It involves answering WHY we believe rather than WHAT we believe. The exhortation assumes that WHAT we believe has resulted in a life that is in sharp conflict with that of the world.
The answer is to be given "to every man that asks a reason for the hope" that is obviously possessed. But notice how it is to be given: "with meekness and fear." Meekness is a deliberate effort to avoid contention, yet still tell the truth. Here, "meekness" is the opposite of being prideful and arrogant. It acknowledges that we are what we are by the grace of God (1 Cor 15:10). Answering with "meekness" is answering with a mild disposition and a gentle spirit. Like God, the believer is desirous that "all men be saved, and come to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim 2:4).
The answer is also to be given "with fear." This is not fear of the one asking for the reason, for the Spirit has already said, "who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?" This is a reverence for God that refuses to subject His holy name to shame and reproach. It is a fear that constrains a person to be more concerned about being rejected by God than harmed by his enemies (Matt 10:28). His great salvation is so revered, the believer will make no attempt to conceal it, or falsely present it. This fear allows no shame for being identified with the Lord or embracing His great salvation. "Meekness and fear" will bring great power to the "answer" of the believer, enabling God to work in it.
MAINTAINING A GOOD CONSCIENCE
" 3:16 Having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." NKJV It is apparent in this text that God makes no allowance for hypocrisy or a lack of commitment to the Lord-none at all! The endless bantering that goes on between Christian sects has yielded more damage to the cause of Christ than any person dares to imagine. In all such cases, Christ has NOT been sanctified as Lord in the heart, men are NOT ready to give an answer for the hope that is in them, and meekness and fear are NOT present. Here an additional matter is brought to our attention: "a good conscience."
Paul affirmed that his entire life was lived with this most cherished possession. "I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day" (Acts 23:1). Prior to being in Christ, his conscience was flawed because of his understanding, but he refused to violate it until he had more light. Paul wrote to Timothy that the objective of his teaching was threefold: "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith"NASB (1 Tim 1:5). Where these are missing, the teaching has not yielded satisfactory results. I would further observe that this triad is not highly revered in the average "church." We are further told that faith and a "good conscience" will keep us from making "shipwreck of the faith"-they protect us (1 Tim 1:19). In Hebrews 13:18, the writer refers to his own possession of "a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly."
A "good conscience" is one that does not condemn us-one that has the witness of the Spirit as a confirmation to its truth (Rom 9:1). It is a conscience that is "pure," and can "keep hold of the deep truths of faith"NIV (1 Tim 3:9). It is one that has been "purged from dead works to serve the living God" (Heb 9:14). The conscience is an inward sentinel, or watchman, that monitors our words and conduct, either condemning or commending them. It is essential that we have a "good conscience" that does not plague us because of what we have said and done. Without it, we will not be able to give an answer to those who ask a reason or the hope that is in us. If our heart or conscience condemns us, we will have no confidence before God or man. That will eventually lead to our fall.
When our "answer," or "defense" is accompanied with the readiness produced by sanctifying the Lord in our hearts, and when it is characterized by meekness, fear, and a good conscience, it will tend to make our enemies ashamed. Working through our "answer," the Lord can convince them they are wrong in charging us with being evildoers, and falsely accusing us. Even Pilate, as wicked as he was, had to admit three times he could "find no fault" in Jesus (John 18:38; 19:4,6). Lives that are lived unto the Lord are good lives, and are properly called "good conversation" or "behavior."
When believers are faced with suffering, they must ever remember, "it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." Even then, our suffering is seen as an "IF." Our enemies do not have control of us, able to do what they will whenever they want. If we suffer, it is according "to the will of God." Many times, such suffering is in order that you "may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer" (2 Thess 1:5). Suffering unjustly is not by chance! When we do well, living by faith and in a good conscience, and affliction results from it, the working of God is being made known to us. He is showing us the conflict between this world and the one of which we are citizens. In such suffering, we are being better suited for the glory that awaits us. We are also being loosed from the hold of this world. There is also a richness of fellowship in suffering for doing good that cannot be realized any other way: "the fellowship of His sufferings" (Phil 3:10). That is what makes suffering for doing good "better" that suffering "for doing evil."
The marvelous truth unveiled in this text will be best understood in contemplation and meditation. It is not something that can be learned like a mathematical table or a mechanical routine. The richness of its truth will be unfolded as you muse upon it. In your musing, the Lord will correlate what He has declared with what you have experienced.