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Context Matters: Always Prepared to Make a Defense

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The sentence begins with: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled…” (1 Pet 3:14b). And the sentence ends with, “…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 3:15b-16).

Perhaps you’ve heard that, as a believer in Christ Jesus, you must always be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in you. And for good reason. 1 Peter 3:15 has inspired countless books on apologetics, as well as instruction on how to enter the moral and philosophical debates surrounding objections to the Christian faith. Is that what Peter had in mind?

Context matters. When we learn to read the Bible properly—and not merely as a collection of isolated instructions—we’ll find that some commands make even more sense in light of what came before.

The Command

We find the command in 1 Peter 3:15:

“…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…”

I often hear the verse quoted just like that, landing on the key phrases “always prepared to make a defense” and “a reason for the hope that is in you.” But we ought to notice that this is only part of a sentence.

The sentence begins with: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled…” (1 Pet 3:14b). And the sentence ends with, “…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 3:15b-16).

And look at the next sentence: “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Pet 3:17).

If you read my recent post on “the weaker vessel” in 1 Pet 3:7, I imagine many bells should be ringing for you. You can’t miss the connections to the larger context.

The Argument

While I encourage you to read that full post, let me summarize Peter’s argument in this section of the letter (1 Pet 2:11-4:11).

Peter’s main idea in the whole section is that we must resist our natural desires to do evil, and choose to do good instead (1 Pet 2:11-12). A major reason for doing this is that we might win over, to the glorification of God, those who are currently doing the wrong thing by maligning us (1 Pet 2:12b).

Peter then particularizes the instruction to the power structures of society (1 Pet 2:13-17). Wherever you are in the hierarchy, you have an opportunity to influence others to join you in giving glory to God.

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