Vol. 1 - No. 9
Giving An Answer
by Robert L. McDonald
In a suspicious world which is hostile toward those who seek to do the will of God, the Christian inevitably will be called upon to defend his faith and to express the reason for his hope. Even though we may be ridiculed and mocked for our faith, this is nothing to compare to the trials of Christians during the first century. Then, as today, saints should not dread what man can do but to show in a clear manner a holy reliance on God as our protector and abundantly able to vanquish all of our foes.
It is in this setting that the apostle Peter wrote to Christians who understood the exhortation much more readily than we. It is true that we can imagine some of the difficulties facing those early disciples, but I feel that our freedoms somewhat shade our understanding as to what they really endured. Peter wrote, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
Answer, in English, has shades of meaning all of which must be determined in context. Here are a few ideas conveyed by the word: (1) To reply in recitation or examination. (2) To act in response as to a request. (3) To render account or be responsible, also to make amends. (4) To be adequate, sufficient or serve the purpose.
But the word in our text carries still a different meaning. It is from the Greek apologia: “Verbal defense, speech in defense” (Lexicon, Thayer, pg. 65). Albert Barnes adds this comment: “The word originally, however, referred rather to that which was thought not to be true, than that which might be construed as wrong; and the defense or ‘apology’ which Christians were to make of their religion, was not on the supposition that others would regard it as wrong, but in order to show them that it was true. The word here used is rendered defense ... answer ... and clearing of yourselves” (Albert Barnes, 1 Peter 3:15). The basic meaning of the word as found in the New Testament is not to convince something is not wrong, but that it is right. Let us examine its use and see if this is not true.
The church at Corinth had allowed a number of problems to fester until factions began to form. Immorality had gone unchecked to the point that a brother had committed fornication with his stepmother. Such indecency was not even named among the heathen, whose moral conduct should have been far lower than Christians. Paul rebuked the church for ignoring the heinous deed and directed to withdraw fellowship from him that he might be brought to shame and to maintain the purity of the body. The church gave heed to the wisdom of God for its preservation and was thereby commended. Referring to the action of the congregation, Paul wrote, “For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation” (2 Corinthians 7:11). The phrase “what clearing of yourselves” comes from the word under consideration. What they did was not on the supposition that others would regard it as wrong, but to show them it was right. Brethren need to learn this important lesson today when exercising disciplinary action.
Paul’s Defense in Jerusalem
The word was also used when the apostle Paul was falsely accused in Jerusalem. He had been in that city but a few days when certain Jews of Asia recognized him. Stirring up the people to lay hands on him as an enemy of their religion, these Jews accused Paul of having polluted the temple and the frenzied multitude went about to kill him. But he was rescued by the chief captain of the Roman guard and escorted to the tower for imprisonment, supposing him to be the Egyptian concerned in a recent rebellion. To his surprise, Paul addresses him in Greek and requested to speak to the people. Permission was granted and Paul addressed them in their native language, not as a foreigner, but as an educated Hebrew. He told of his early life, that though born at Tarsus, he had been brought up in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel. He spoke of his zeal for God, his persecution of the Christians, the confidence placed in him by the high priest and elders and the commission given him. He narrated the circumstances of his conversion, the announcement by Ananias as to the purpose for his appearance to him, the marvelous vision which he subsequently had commanding him to bear the Gentiles the message of salvation. As Paul begins to make this beautiful address, he employs the word apologia. Remember, Paul was not trying to convince the Jews that he was not wrong, but rather what he had done was true.
Defense of the Gospel
The gospel has no voice of its own. Only believers will stand up and be counted for the truth of the gospel. Sectarians, modernists, infidels and heathen have no real reason to uphold the truth of God. Why would they? They regard it as foolishness and nothing more than the parroting of fables of foolish men. Truth must then depend on those who believe it and will come to its defense. To the Philippians the apostle Paul was not trying to convince his auditors that what he preached was not wrong, but that it was right.
In Giving An Answer
The very statement of the apostle Peter implies that one has made preparation to give an answer to be able to state reason for belief. This preparation comes through a devoted study of the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:15). As one reads and sets his mind upon that truth, a knowledge of this truth is increased (Ephesians 3:4) and in time convictions are formed which lead to an expression of faith. Our convictions express that we regard the religion of Christ as being true and the hope of heaven founded upon that which is regarded as true. This kind of conviction will not allow dreamers of this world to lead us away from the One in whom we have placed our trust.
Even though we may be rudely assailed and mocked as we endeavor to stand for the truth, we must answer with modesty and gentleness. In a calm spirit, let us state clearly the reason for our belief and hope. All of this is in fear and reverence of God. We are involved in expounding divine truth in the presence of Him who sees and knows all things. We therefore should have a clear and intelligent view of the truth of the gospel and be willing to stand up and be counted when called upon, being deeply impressed with the importance of speaking the truth only for belief.
In verse 16, Peter says, “having a good conscience” that does not accuse of having done wrong in word or deed. Regardless of accusations and attacks by our enemies, we must conduct ourselves in a way which glorifies the Almighty.
Only through the gospel is our salvation from sin possible. It is truly God’s power to save. Knowing its importance, we should love and obey it and bring our lives into complete submission, for one day we will be judged by that truth.