Speed—coveted by the young and ambitious, rejected by the elderly and meditative. One of the most significant challenges of aging is the inability to hurry, rush, or multitask—the body can’t do it. I used to practice a lot of multitasking at work and home; these days, I do one or two things at a time and love the simplicity. Our world has gone from a speedy race for information and activity to a grinding halt due to COVID. The faster you were going, the more dramatic the change. God interrupted life as we know it, and what Christian doubts that the Lord has a grand purpose for this plague-like slow-down, though we can’t discern it? “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’” (Romans 11:33-34) Rather than trying to decipher the Lord’s desires for the world, our work is to slow down. It’s what he has forced us to do. (“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” Psalms 23:2). As we seek God’s wisdom for using these slower, quieter days, the Spirit gives counsels us with the Word of God. What an excellent time to think about biblical gentleness and sharing the gospel lovingly and humbly, letting the Spirit work in our relationships.
Most of us don’t take the time to prepare ourselves spiritually as we should, despite the Bible’s frequent admonitions to do so. Today we will consider 1 Peter 3:15-16. “…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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” Whenever God brings a crisis, we can either wait for it to be over, praying for minimal discomfort, or use the time to glorify God in it. It takes time and quietness to be prepared to share about Christ gently and with respect in a culture of adamant opinion-sharing, criticism, fear, illness, and death. “It is a bitter season. And God ordained it. God governs it. He will end it. No part of it is outside his sway. Life and death are in his hand…In the presence of God, no one has a right to life. Every breath we take is a gift of grace. Every heartbeat, undeserved. Life and death are finally in the hands of God…” (1) This counter-cultural viewpoint on life and God’s mercy should lead us to want to defend our faith gently.
1 Peter 3:15 is weighty. Peter tells us to honor Christ in our hearts as the holy Lord, to be prepared to defend our faith gently and respectfully—with whoever asks. But we cannot do this perfunctorily; it is a work of the Spirit in our hearts and minds. “Sinners must not grasp the means of grace as if conversion could be produced mechanically by human power. Nor should the preacher think that he can induce conversion…the word of law and gospel does not have this power in itself, nor from the preacher, but only from the “glorious sovereignty” of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is sovereign over the word, the soul, and the times of conviction and conversion.” (2) Honoring Christ the Lord as holy in our hearts takes time and deep fellowship with him, receiving his truth with our limitations to expand our view of Christ. It also takes living a life that evidences our love and devotion to Him. We must be fully convinced that Christ’s Lordship is unquestionable to attract others who are overcome with distress about the COVID pandemic’s increasing reach, and respond gently and respectfully, “That person is in a sad condition on whom sin and suffering meet: sin makes suffering extreme, comfortless, and destructive.” (3) If we want others to know Christ, the source of our hope, we must prepare ourselves to gently offer the comfort only God can give through his grace and mercy—a balm to the soul.
We’re instructed to have “a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:16) Have you ever been maligned? Has anyone ever slandered or insulted you, attacking your reputation? The more open and proactive we are about our faith in Jesus Christ, the more likely we will be reviled and mocked. But having a good conscience allows us to stay calm, steady, and objective, rather than reacting emotionally and vindictively. “Two features of the method of self-defense are stressed. It must be done with gentleness and respect. Peter seems particularly anxious to restrain them from the sharp retort. Further, their answer is to be backed by a good conscience, so that the accusers rather than the accused may be put to shame.” (4) Paul gave similar advice to Timothy. “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” (2 Timothy 2:24) Some years ago, after being blamed for many problems in a particular program over which I had no control as the administrator, I adopted a new practice of responding with the gospel, instead of trying to defend myself or listening to professing Christians ranting with nonsensical criticisms. I started telling my critic that I was much worse than they could know; the evil and sin in my heart and mind goes deep, which is why I need Christ and his forgiveness. I recommend this, reminding others why we need a Savior. Isn’t that what God wants, for us to run to the cross in all our trials? Proclaiming the gospel gently, with myself in view, shows respect for the other person’s stated beliefs. At the very least, he or she may walk away confused by the unemotional tone and truth of our reply, considering it further.
During these rocky, anxious days of COVID, we need Christ’s steadiness, peace, reasonableness, and love. If we are to be prepared to defend our faith gently in a culture of mockery, then we must cooperate with God’s sanctification. (5) In his book, “Coronavirus and Christ,” John Piper gives us six things God is definitely doing through the pandemic. But first, he states, “God is not silent about what he is doing in this world. He has given us the Scriptures.” So what is God doing that will prepare us to respond gently to people? “God is giving the world…a physical picture of the moral horror and spiritual ugliness of God-belittling sin…Some people will be infected with the coronavirus as a specific judgment from God because of their sinful attitudes and actions…The coronavirus is a God-given wake-up call to be ready for the second coming of Christ…The coronavirus is God’s thunderclap call for all of us to repent and realign our lives with the infinite worth of Christ…The coronavirus is God’s call to his people to overcome self-pity and fear, and with courageous joy, to do the good works of love that glorify God…[Finally] God is loosening the roots of settled Christians, all over the world, to make them free for something new and radical and to send them with the gospel of Christ to the unreached peoples of the world.” (6) Thanks to my friend for recommending this book and for Piper, who dedicated his pandemic time to help us prepare to answer our hope in Christ. We’ll look back and probably think of many ways we could have used our time more productively and more worshipfully for the cause of Christ during the COVID outbreak. But God’s Word says to us as God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) May God’s gentleness be ours to give to others.
Related Scripture: Romans 12:18-21; 2 Corinthians 10:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Peter 2:19-23; 3:9.
- Piper, John, “Coronavirus and Christ,” Crossway, Kindle Edition, 2020.
- “A Puritan Theology, Chapter 28—Puritan Preparatory Grace,” Beeke, Joel R. and Jones, Mark, Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2012.
- Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible,” 1 Peter 3:14-22, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/1-peter-3.html.
- Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce, General Editor, 1 Peter 3:15-16, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition.
- Piper, John, Ibid.
- Piper, Ibid. (There is a separate chapter for each one of these six reasons.)
November 20, 2020