When it comes to apologetics, 1 Peter 3:15 is probably the most well-known passage in the Bible. Yet, when we consider the immediate and wider context of this verse, there is a lot more to it than we may have seen at first. This article will seek to unpack 1 Peter 3:15 and its application for us as Christians today.
There is a danger of becoming so familiar with the biblical text that we conclude we know what it is saying without really knowing everything about it. For example, every apologist knows 1 Peter 3:15 because it is a foundational verse for apologetics, yet often the middle of the verse is emphasized (“always being prepared to make a defense”) without an understanding of its context of enduring suffering for doing good:
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. ForWhoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 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 3:8–15)
Many Christians also mistakenly believe that apologetics can be practiced only by the pastor or leader in the church or even by those who are more academically inclined. Peter, however, tells us that apologetics is not just for some Christians but for all believers.
In his letter Peter has already told believers that they are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). As a “holy nation,” believers are set apart to be different from the world. In a world where we should be seen as different, our lives of faith will usually lead to suffering, whether that may be persecution from the government (1 Peter 2:13–18, 4:15–16) or from unjust masters (1 Peter 2:18–19). Peter is reminding his readers to expect suffering as Christians. Just as Christ suffered for us as our example of gentleness and suffering for righteousness, he is also an example of hope (1 Peter 1:21, 2:21–23).
It is in the context of enduring suffering for righteousness sake (1 Peter 3:14) that believers are to honor Christ the Lord as holy and be prepared to give a reason for their hope.
In a world where we fear suffering, Peter reminds us that our focus should be on honoring Christ the Lord. What does it mean to honor Christ the Lord? The word for honor (hagiazo) here has the sense of “treat as holy, regard reverently”1 Christ as Lord. In other words, we are to treat Christ with a special status (see Hebrews 9:13–14). This is not an option but rather a command to all believers, and the desire of our hearts should always be to understand and obey the commands of our Lord (John 14:15, 23; 15:10).
Our holiness will ultimately come from our devotion to Christ, and personal holiness in a culture of opposition usually leads to suffering. To treat Christ as holy also means that we do not see ourselves as the center of our being or purpose; rather it means we see ourselves as those who are redeemed sinners (1 Peter 1:16, 18–19). Moreover, what you treat as holy in your heart will have an impact on the rest of your life: morality, understanding of life and death, ethical decisions, priorities, and so on.
We need to keep in mind that Peter is writing to Greek-speaking people outside of Palestine (1 Peter 1:1), and the vast majority of New Testament references to the Old Testament come from the Greek Septuagint (LXX)—the Bible of the early church. The phrase “honor Christ the Lord” is an adaptation from the Old Testament in Isaiah 8:13. The majority of the time in the LXX, the Hebrew name for God (Yahweh) is translated as kurios (Lord).
|1 Peter 3:15a
|But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
|kyrion auton hagiasate kai autos estai sou phobos
|but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy
|kyrion de ton Christon hagiasate en tais kardiais humon
The term Lord in the LXX of Isaiah 8:13 refers directly to the “Lord of Hosts.” In Peter’s use of the LXX, he inserts “Christ” (Messiah), asserting that we should honor him as Lord.
In context of Isaiah 8, the nation of Judah is about to face an imminent Assyrian invasion. Isaiah is saying to the people of God that they should not fear the Assyrians but fear “the Lord of hosts.” The contrast is between fearing man or fearing the Lord. In the midst of your suffering, do not fear those who are bringing about your suffering, but fear God. Do not allow your attention to be drawn away in an attempt to appease them, but instead hold firm and endure what you have to endure because your goal is to honor Christ the Lord. To honor Christ as Lord in our hearts is to remember that not only is he sovereign over our lives but also, because of his work on the Cross and his Resurrection from the dead, he is now at the right hand of God where all things are subject to him (1 Peter 3:22; cf. Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20–21). Christ’s suffering on the Cross should be a reminder to us that triumph can often come out of suffering since that is what brought us to God (1 Peter 3:18).
We often practice apologetics hoping that people will think well of us, but it is not about the approval of others—it is about honoring Christ the Lord. Modern apologetics can often leave out sin and repentance because it is seen to be about winning philosophical arguments rather than a willingness to be identified with Christ to the degree that it will cost us. Apologetics cannot be man-centered but must center upon our risen Lord (Acts 17:30–31).
If Christ is rightly honored in the hearts of his people, they will fear him and not the world.
If Christ is rightly honored in the hearts of his people, they will fear him and not the world. But notice that “always being prepared to make a defense” flows from the obedience to the first part of the text, that is the obedience to honoring Christ the Lord as holy in our hearts. It is because we are a royal priesthood and a chosen people that we are commanded to give a reason for the hope in us.
Peter tells us that our personal holiness will require an explanation because it sets us apart as sojourners and exiles (1 Peter 2:11). Those to whom we give an answer are “anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” The “you” here is in the plural form. In other words, it is addressed to all believers. Every believer is being commanded to honor Christ the Lord as holy in their hearts and to give a reason for the hope they have. To reason (apologia) almost always means to give a defense (see Acts 22:1, 25:16; Philippians 1:7, 16), and this can often come in hostile and unexpected circumstances (Acts 24:10–24, 26:1–23).
The questioning is concerning the hope within us, which means that the hope of the Christian causes the unbelieving questioner to ask why the Christian is different (cf. 1 Peter 4:4). What is the hope in the face of a Christian’s suffering? It is a living hope, the hope of a life to come (1 Peter 1:3–4).
However, if we don’t live in such a way as to honor Christ, if we dress, talk, think, and react like the world, then who is going to ask us about the hope that we have? There must be something about our lives that results in us acting differently from the world. Sometimes people don’t hear our words until they see our deeds (1 Peter 2:12). This is not to say that what we do is more important than what we say, but that our words must be consistent with our testimony. Remember it was not until Christ died that the Roman centurion recognized who he truly was (Mark 15:39).
Most of all, we must not forget to explain the reason for our hope in gentleness and respect. If we suffer, it should be because we have honored Jesus as Lord, not because we have dishonored him in conduct or speech.
In a world where we face suffering for our faith, our apologetic efforts to unbelievers must begin by honoring Christ as Lord in our hearts.