“Courage, Dear Hearts”
In Part One, I said of I Peter 3:15, “Modern Western Christians need to stop murdering this verse for our own purposes. We may not be that far from needing its real meaning.” I’d like to explore a little further as we look at that real meaning.
I Peter 3:15
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.
As we saw, this verse tells believers how to respond in persecution. It is not about having a well-reasoned, articulate defence of our faith in the face of atheistic skepticism, nor skill in explaining the Gospel, nor willingness to defend / teach Biblical Christianity to anyone who asks. It is about boldness to proclaim our faith even when persecutors try to instill terror, about Christians telling of our hope even when on trial.
In the last post, I gave the verses just before and just after this one, but the broader context is instructive as we look to really nail down what a verse is telling us.
Peter’s First Epistle
This first epistle, or letter, of Peter’s was written to equip his readers to face persecution. He begins chapter one by calling them scattered “strangers” or foreigners, and within a few verses he is talking about being “tried by fire”. In the face of this persecution, he exhorts his readers to be holy (14-16), pure, and charitable (22).
These are themes to which Peter returns repeatedly in this book: we are a unique and separate people from those around us, and thus we should live in holiness and charity in the face of persecution.
These themes are very much in view in the immediate context of 3:15, as well. We looked at some of this in the last post, but let’s expand it to the broader section.
I Peter 3:8-17
8 Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:
9 Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.
10 For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile:
11 Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
13 And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?
14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;
15 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:
16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
17 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
Peter is telling them how to face persecution. Be loving and pure (8-11). You are different from those around you (12). Don’t fear the persecutors (13-14). Keep your conscience clear, so any accusations against you are false, and so any suffering is for doing well, rather than for doing evil (16-17).
Peter was writing to a persecuted church, facing trial by fire. Just like the rest of his letter, this passage is about being different from unbelievers and living in holiness and charity when being persecuted. Verse 15 is part of the passage and those themes, not an isolated bit of text to twist to whatever purpose fits the “need” of the moment.
Besides looking at the themes of the letter in which it appears, and the immediate context, we need to look at the whole of Scripture. In this case, another passage screams for our attention — because Peter quotes it. Look at Isaiah 8:12-13:
Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
Compare to I Peter 3:14-15:
But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; 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:
Peter is drawing on Isaiah’s contrast between fearing what others fear, and fearing the Lord. In Isaiah, others feared an invading enemy, while Peter writes of the fear others think we should feel when they persecute us. It makes little difference. Any fear that is not the fear of the Lord is misplaced, and any other fear becomes irrelevant when we fear the Lord.
“Courage, Dear Hearts!”
Peter is not saying, “Get your arguments in order, logically prepared, so you can convince people.” He is saying, “Don’t be afraid to speak. Don’t fear man, but honour the Lord. Their terror is nothing. The only one to fear is the Lord, and you speak for Him.”
Peter doesn’t leave his readers with a simple exhortation: “Be brave! Tough it out!” The context and the quote from Isaiah tells us it is more than that. He is also giving a reminder of the real source of courage in this situation, the fear of the Lord, equipping his readers to be brave rather than just telling them to be. He is teaching exactly what his own Teacher had taught him, years before.
27 What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.
28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
There is nothing to fear from those who can only kill the body, when you fear the Lord. Let Him be your fear.
Perhaps C.S. Lewis had something like this in mind, when in one of Lucy’s darkest hours, she heard the whisper, “Courage, dear heart!” As Peter’s readers face a fiery trial, the Holy Spirit guides him to give a message that says, “Courage, dear hearts! The Lord is on our side! Fear Him, and Him alone.”
Part Three — Apologia and “Be Ready”