1 Peter 3:15 (ESV) … “ 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…”
Instead of being afraid of people, believers are to focus on Christ himself. This is also translated “reverence Christ as Lord” or “sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts.” The “heart” was considered a place of deep emotions—that’s where fear would dwell. But Peter wanted these believers to replace fear with faith and reverence. By acknowledging Christ as Lord and Savior, they would recognize his holiness and be able to rest in him. There would be no room in their hearts for fear.
This alludes to words from the prophet Isaiah: “But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isaiah 8:13 nrsv). When believers have set apart Christ as Lord, regarding him as holy and reverencing him in their hearts, they know that he is in control of events, that he is the reigning king, and that all powers and authorities ultimately must answer to him.
Only he who can say, “The Lord is the strength of my life” can go on to say, “Of whom shall I be afraid?”
Alexander MacLaren says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
When believers have Christ set apart in their hearts, the courage he gives them ought to make them always ready to testify about him. Peter called upon the believers not to fear, but he didn’t stop there. Their faith should be active, ready to speak out—prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks. While Peter may have been thinking about believers speaking in a court, he seems also to have had in mind the everyday informal inquiries that might be directed at the believers—from either hostile or friendly neighbors. The words “an answer” can also be translated “a defense” and usually refer to responding to an accusation (see, for example, Acts 22:1; 25:16; 1 Corinthians 9:3; Philippians 1:7, 16). Thus, these may refer to formal charges or informal accusations. Under any circumstances, the believers were to be ready to testify, explaining the reason for the hope that they had.
The believers would be persecuted for their faith alone because unbelievers would have no charges to bring against them except to question them on their “hope.” Unbelievers can see that Christians have something different; only “hope” gives us strength and joy in hardships and persecutions. Unbelievers will ask about it; believers must be ready to tell them. Christians need not worry about what they should say if accused, for they could prepare their defense ahead of time! Even in a hostile situation, believers can witness for Christ; their words might cause an accuser to come to faith. Paul certainly took advantage of every situation, no matter how hostile (read Acts 22:1–21; 24:10–24; 26:1–23). All Christians must be ready and able to give a reasonable defense of their faith. They need not be apologists or theologians, but every Christian ought to be able to clearly explain his or her own reasons for being a Christian. Some Christians believe that faith is a personal matter that should be kept to oneself. It is true that we shouldn’t be boisterous or obnoxious in sharing our faith, but we should always be prepared to give an answer, gently and respectfully, when asked about our belief, our lifestyle, or our Christian perspective. Christians’ words and manner of speaking to an accusation should align with their lifestyle.
Peter had already said they should be sympathetic, tender, loving, and humble (3:8); he had explained that they were not to return insult for insult (3:9). Thus, if the believers were called upon to testify for their faith, they must do so with gentleness and respect. Believers were not to be arrogant, rude, or overly aggressive. They were to trust God for the outcome of any hostile situation, and they were to trust the Holy Spirit to work quietly in the hearts of their listeners. Thus, their manner of speaking ought to reflect an attitude of meekness and gentleness (neither of which implies weakness), remembering their responsibility to always show respect (also translated “reverence”) for God.
He who can tell men what God has done for his soul is the likeliest to bring their souls to God. Robert Leighton gives the following advice for being a ready witness: Here’s how ordinary people can be ready to witness (make a defense for their hope) without needing to become theological scholars:
Pray, read the Bible, and review God’s promises every day. Then you’ll be ready to explain why you’re hopeful.
Make praising Christ your daily practice. If you focus on his power and glory, you will be fortified and courageous to speak to others.
Be as natural in witnessing as you are in conversation. Talk like you, not imitating anyone else. Find the clues in your life that help explain God’s Good News to others. If you are a plumber, talk about God’s love like running water. If you are a doctor, portray God’s love as a healing force.
Respond with care. Trust God to melt stony hearts. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1 niv).
Listen to your audience. Where are their heads and hearts? What burdens them? Listen long and hard. Frame your witness in the words and at the level your audience will understand.