The white candle is called the Christ Candle; it only lit during the service that represents His arrival—this may be a Christmas Eve candle light service or a Christmas Day service. The color white signifies the purity and holiness of the Christ child—the sinless Savior born of the Virgin Mary.
1 Peter 3:15 declares “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…”
As I’ve been meditating and reflecting on this verse over the past few weeks, a few things have stood out to me that I think are often missed. Before I get to that it is important to note that 1 Peter was written to Christians who were scattered because of persecution (1 Peter 1:2-3). He writes to address their hope in Christ as well as how they are to be holy and reflect the holiness of God to people as they witness for the Gospel (1 Peter 1:3-25). He instructs them in how they are a particular people and priests unto God (1 Peter 2:1-12). He then explains how they are a people under authority and how to live under that authority and honor God (1 Peter 2:13-25). He exhorts wives and husbands on how to live with one another (1 Peter 3:1-7). In the context surrounding 1Peter 3:15, Peter is instructing believers how to suffer and speak for the gospel (1 Peter 3:8-22), with I Peter 3:14 stating “but even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled…” Moreover, in the following chapter, Peter looks at how Christians are to be stewards of God’s grace (1 Peter 4:1-11), suffer as a Christian (1 Peter 4:12-19), how pastors are to shepherd the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1-11), concluding the book with greetings to several people (1 Peter 5:12-14).
This quick overview of 1 Peter gives us a sense of what the overall thrust of the book is about. Understanding the context of 1 Peter 3:15 will help Christians understand that 1 Peter 3:15 is not the only verse in the book. I often get the feeling that we are so focused on the task of Apologetics from this specific verse, that we miss out on the rest of what the great epistle of 1 Peter has to say to us. Peter is talking in 1 Peter 3:15 not only about how Christians must make a defense and give a reason for the hope they have, he is noting how their entire life must testify to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Remember that Peter is writing to “elect exiles” (1 Peter 1:2), a people who were in exile because of persecution. He was writing to encourage them in the hope they have in Christ (1 Peter 1:3-25). These were men and women were suffering for the sake of the Gospel in the fires of affliction. It was to these people that Peter spoke the words of 1Peter 3:15.
As I read books on Apologetics I get the sense that we are so focused on methodology that we have missed out on how Apologetics relates to the Christian life. The task of Apologetics can in no way be divorced from our Christian lives, but rather must testify of the fact we are Christians. By that I mean Peter emphasizes this by stating “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy” (1 Peter 3:15), a statement that goes back to what he said in 1 Peter 1:13, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Let me try to explain why this is important so you can see some of the weight of what Peter is saying here so we can begin to see that Apologetics is more than just a task Christians perform. Conversely, it is essential to the daily Christian life and ministry of the people of God.
My experience growing up in the Church as a child and in Bible college and seminary has taught me that Apologetics often emphasizes more on “how” we are to reach certain people. It is often assumed those engaging in the task have a biblical worldview when researchers at Lifeway Research Group among others teach us that we cannot assume people in the Church have a biblical worldview or even read their Bibles. Yet what Peter does in 1 Peter is set forth the Christian worldview, that of the hope believers have in God because of the finished work of Jesus and how that is to impact our ongoing growth in sanctification (1 Peter 1:3-25). Since Peter has said that his readers are to “prepare your minds for action” (1 Peter 1:13) that builds upon his premise in 1 Peter 3:15 that if we are to honor Christ the Lord as holy, we first must know the hope we have.
The biblical authors always build upon their thought in order to help their readers understand the topic. Peter is the same way as the rest of the Apostles in this regard. His argument then in 1 Peter 3:15 is that in order to defend and commend the Christian faith, we must understand that what is all important is Christians grounding their worldview in the Word of God and the Gospel of God. Only through that lens can our defense of the faith commend the faith, or in the words of Peter “honor Christ the Lord as holy”. The only reason any of us can do this is because the wrath of God no longer burns against our sin because we have been given a new heart, with new desires and affections for the person and work of Christ. This means the Christian life is a lifeview and our Apologetic efforts must spring from that lifeview. The formation of a biblical worldview begins with understanding the hope we have now in Christ by understanding how Christ has saved us and how He wants to grow His people in His grace. By understanding that foundational point, we will come to see that apologetics is more than just offering defenses and commending the Christian faith. Instead, we will understand that apologetics is a lifeview rooted in holding fast to the authority of the Word of God and declaring the excellencies of the Gospel.
As I’ve meditated on 1 Peter 3:15, what God is teaching me is a bigger vision than just giving an answer to why I believe what I believe. Apologetics is not only giving answers for the reason for my hope in Christ but also how my life testifies of Him. The New Testament has much to say about how we are to know, live, enjoy, and minister for God. When we take all that into account along with 1 Peter 3:15, I don’t know about you but I’m struck with wonder at the God who no longer calls me His enemy but rather calls me His friend. While I believe firmly in apologetics, I think we first need to be Christians, grounding our thinking and methodology in the Word of God. The outflow of that will be ministry to God and a defense of the Christian faith that is first and foremost concerned not with the latest apologetic approach, but rather with what God has said in His Word as the ultimate standard for life.
At the heart of Christian discipleship is the need to hear, heed, and obey what God has commanded. Apologetics is surely at the heart of that but first we must ground our hope in Christ and grow in Him. The outflow from that growth will be ministry that glories in the Gospel of grace and marvels that He calls His people to the task of commending and defending the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. Lastly, understanding apologetics in this way will enable us to heed Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:15 and hear them as he means then, namely, “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” (1 Peter 3:15).
I don’t know about you but understanding apologetics through the lens I’ve described is less burdensome and more joyful. It is also more hope-filled because it isn’t grounded in our methodology, but rather in the unchanging and inspired Word of God. God calls His people to be a people of His Word and to testify of its Truth. Let the people of God know and declare the excellencies of Jesus in gentleness and respect to the glory of God.
In my early twenties I was often asked to give my opinion on a variety of topics. Most of the time I, humbly submit, I had no idea what I was even talking about. From my teens till the present I’ve been a leader both in the church and outside the Church which has afforded me the opportunity to be asked many times about controversial topics and to offer my opinion and thoughts on them. It has also afforded me the opportunity to think through how to respond to those issues and perhaps equally important, how not to respond.
When I graduated high school, I got a letter from my dad that stated it was his prayer that I would be slow to speak and quick to listen. I took that advice to heart because not only is it sage advice, it is also biblical. That advice from my dad and the truth of God’s Word has often constrained me from speaking on a variety of issues, not because I don’t have thoughts on them, but rather because my thoughts would not be helpful or edifying regarding a variety of issues that arise.
Recent years have seen an explosion of controversy in the Church. It seems every time I go on social media or look at blogs there is some firestorm that rages. Meanwhile, I keep my head down and keep writing and working away. Many people gain notoriety because they make clear stands for certain issues. In the past, I would have likely been one of those people. I was outspoken, opinionated, stubborn, and knowledgeable about a lot of issues. As I’ve matured I’ve learned that it is the better course of valor to shut my mouth, remain silent, put my sin to death, and keep quiet. That isn’t to say I still don’t have thoughts on a variety of issues, but what it does mean is I’ve hopefully matured and gained a degree of wisdom by the grace of God.
What I see in the “blogosphere” today both concerns and saddens me. I get many people who ask what I think about this or that situation and how they should handle it. I typically tell them to read and obey what God says in the Bible. Rather than being fascinated with the latest controversy, a better approach is submitting to your pastor, becoming a member and getting involved in a local church, finding a hobby, hanging out with your family or reading a good godly book. There are a plethora of other things to do besides engaging in the constant cycle of controversy. With that said, a balance must be struck as there are important issues worthy of taking a stand for or against.
Recent years have seen attacks on Adam being a real person who lived in real history, along with renewed attacks on the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, hell as a place of unending and unrelenting conscious punishment, the evils of abortion and a host of other issues that touch at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. While many issues and controversies in the church do not touch on these issues, the one’s I just described should be focused on by Christians and written about on blogs, articles, magazines, and in all forms of media. In other words, when biblical truth is on the line, Christians must stand up for and defend the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, a task known as apologetics. Christians must know what they believe and why they believe it in order to properly engage these controversial type issues. If we have not read our Bibles and have not studied church history to learn how men and women from the early church to the present day have engaged in controversy, how will we be knowledgeable enough to handle such situations in a godly way and grow in the grace of God?
Controversy has provided the church moments of great clarity about what it believes and why it matters. One can think of the Council of Nicaea as an excellent example or the stand Athanasius took or the many, many saints who have offered up their lives as an offering to the Lord Jesus as martyrs. You don’t have to go very far in church history to learn that those saints were made of sturdier stuff than most believers today. They died for the faith and yet today, we want to argue and fight about everything. Every day it seems there is some new issue in the blogosphere that cries out for attention. People decry one another’s faults and foibles all the while proclaiming that they believe in the God of all grace and in the commands to “one another” each other as outlined in the New Testament. Furthermore, we wonder why many non-Christians scoff at Christians today and call us hypocrites? It is any surprise why they describe us that way when we can’t even take seriously what we believe or live according to what we say we believe? Yes there are some issues worth fighting for and worth speaking up clearly and loudly about. Then again, there are those issues that might as well just die and go away along with the voices perpetuating the fervor.
My opinion on a variety of matters doesn’t matter. What matters to me is God’s Word, the Gospel and building up of the body of Christ. Those are three things I’ve given my life to studying, writing, and speaking about and will till the day I die. I may not be “Mr. Popular” because I do that, but popularity is not the goal of the Christian life, faithfulness is. Everyone has foibles and sins. Rather than seeing a person’s picture on a screen and seeing them as your enemy, instead see them the way God does, namely through the lens of His grace. Whenever I want to rail against the latest controversy, I first ask myself, “Is this an issue that directly attacks and threatens biblical Christianity?” Secondly, I ask myself, “What is my motivation for speaking to this issue?” Finally, I ask myself, “Will what I say be helpful and edifying to others or will it tear down others?”
Most of the time as I think through those questions the answer is no to those answers which means I don’t write or speak about those issues. Again, not every issue is worth speaking about. Many blogs and other voices may say what I think about a certain topic. Yet if I don’t have anything edifying to say or if it isn’t an issue that directly threatens biblical Christianity and my motivation is all wrong for speaking to the issue, then I simply won’t speak. As my dad told me and as the Bible says it is best to be slow to speak and quick to listen.
The next time you think you need to write a blog post or speak about an issue stop first and think about it. Do you really need to speak to that particular issue or does your flesh want to speak out about it? Most of the time if we are honest, our desire is to be recognized as someone who pointed out the latest flaw in another person. Rather than operating in the flesh, Christians are called to manifest the fruits of the Spirit because they have been redeemed by Jesus. Rather than engaging in controversy, Christians are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation. Yes, sometimes Christians must stand up and speak out about issues so don’t get me wrong. I just don’t think we need to speak to every issue all the time as many are doing.
The Gospel calls God’s people to be a particular people who love Jesus and know and serve Him. If even Jesus didn’t speak to every issue but rather addressed the big issues of life and our greatest need is to know and serve Him, then I don’t think He will be upset if we don’t participate in the rancor about every issue. Part of Christian maturity is knowing when to speak and how to speak. The Bible speaks loudly to both issues. Christians are to speak truth in a world that rejects truth. Christians are to tame their tongues and speak the truth seasoned with grace. If Christians took more seriously what the New Testament said about how we are to speak, I think we would see less controversies and more genuine dialogue and discussion with one another about important matters that we can all agree on such as marriage, abortion, reaching the youth just to name a few.
While I doubt I’ll stop getting asked about my opinion about the latest controversy, I pray we can learn to speak to one another as the people of God because of the great work Jesus has accomplished for His people. I long for the day when Jesus will return at His second coming, speak His Word and slay all His enemies. Until that day, I pray that we as His people can speak the truth in love to one another and have serious conversation and dialogue all with a view to grow in understanding God’s Word and in the Gospel. Rather than all the fighting, what we need is to pause, take a deep breathe, deflate our egos by laying them at the foot of the Cross, take up the Cross, and follow Jesus. Then and only then will we be slow to speak and quick to listen because only then have we truly put to death our sinful desires.
Jesus is the great sin killer who empowers God’s people through the Holy Spirit to know and serve the Lord. It is for this reason I don’t need to speak about the latest controversy. Rather than speaking, I need to be silent, I need to be still before God, I need to put my sin to death so I can love my brother and sister in Christ and show him or her the love of Jesus Christ. That is my goal, and I pray it is yours, to be killing sin rather than coddling it and growing in knowledge of God and of His grace for the purpose of the strengthening of His church and advancing His gospel. Those are issues worth talking about, worth defending, and even worth dying for.
This is our weekly roundup of posts for 12/3/2013-12/7/2013. If you have any feedback on how we can serve you our readers better, I would appreciate it. Thank you for reading and allowing us to minister to you throughout this past week through these posts.
Podcast: William Boekestein – Why Christ Came by Shaun Tabatt http://servantsofgrace.org/92-william-boekestein-why-christ-camepodcast/
God wants to use you for His glory by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/god-wants-use-glory/
Podcast: Pam Farrel – 10 Questions Kids Ask About Sex by Shaun Tabatt http://servantsofgrace.org/93-pam-farrel-10-questions-kids-ask-sexpodcast/
Doctrine and Discipleship by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/doctrine-discipleship/
Podcast: The Importance of Apologetics by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/94-the-importance-of-apologeticspodcast/
In All Your Work Tell The Truth by J.C. Ryle shared by Aaron Armstrong http://servantsofgrace.org/in-all-your-work-tell-the-truth/
The Necessity of Apologetics by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/95-necessity-apologeticspodcast/
12 Truths to Help Us Grow In Our Hatred of Sin by Mike Leake http://servantsofgrace.org/12-truths-help-us-grow-hatred-sin/
Apologetics and the Church by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/96-apologetics-churchpodcast/
Life After the Fires of Affliction by Mike Leake http://servantsofgrace.org/life-after-the-fires-of-affliction/
Why Going to Church on Sunday is An Act of War by Dan Darling http://servantsofgrace.org/why-going-to-church-on-sunday-is-an-act-of-war/
Sermon: Divine Love, Divine Discipline from Hebrews 12:4-11 by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/45-divine-love-divine-disciplinesermon/
Okay, so maybe that title is a bit melodramatic. But I wanted to get your attention, because I think faithful, weekly attendance at your local gospel-preaching church is important. It’s important for all the reasons we know, right? To hear the Word preached. To develop community in the body of Christ. To exercise your spiritual gifts. To support the gospel proclamation both local and international. To obey the Scriptures.
Yes to all of these reasons for going to church. And also yes to the well-worn clique, “You can go to church every week for your whole life and still be far from the Kingdom of God.” Yes, I’m still preaching that because it’s still true. Going to church won’t get you one yard closer to the pearly gates.
And yet, the simple act of going to church–I’m assuming here a church who preaches the gospel and declares that Jesus Christ is King–is in and of itself a declaration of war. When your weary legs rise for another verse of the chorus and you offer praise to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, you are saying, in effect, that the reigning prince of the power of the air, Satan (Ephesians 2:2) is really not the king he thinks he is. There is another King, another Kingdom and it’s coming one day in it’s fullness and power. When you gather with your fellow believers and worship Christ, you are saying to the rest of the world that man is not ultimate. You are saying that the great movements of this world may have some power, but ultimately they are part of God’s gathering of history to Himself and for His kingdom. When you worship the risen Christ every Sunday at your church, you are telling the world that in your life, for this moment, Christ is ultimate. He is to be worshipped above all else. You’re making a statement that there is Someone deserving of more adulation and worship than the lesser things to which we pledge allegiance. You’re inviting them to ask you, “Why do you think the Kingdom of God is better than the Kingdom of man? What is it about Christ that gets you to roll out of bed, get dressed, get your family dressed, hop in the car, and go to church every single Sunday?
Now I know you don’t feel like this on most Sundays. I don’t even feel like this and I’m a pastor. But that doesn’t make it less true. So go to church for all the reasons you should go to church, the ones we mentioned above. But also go to church so you can tell the world, by your actions, by your praise, by your not being somewhere else, that there is another King. And he’s worthy of your worship together with other citizens of His kingdom.
Going to a bible-believing church, in a largely Christian culture, may not seem so courageous. It still may even seem to be the good and right thing to do (though it has less cultural cache than it once had). But that doesn’t make it less significant.
So this week as you prepare for Sunday, think about that as you scrape yourself up and make the decision to go to church.