1 Peter 3:15-22 "Living to Witness to the Hope"
There is an old Chinese parable about a poor man who lived with his son in an abandoned fort. One day the horse they owned and depended on to haul vegetables to town—their sole means of support—ran away. When the neighbors heard about it they went to the old man and expressed their sympathy. “Too bad,” they said. “How do you know it’s bad?” the old man responded. “The horse returned and brought back with him a dozen wild horses.” The neighbors said, “This is good!” “How do you know if it’s good?” he: asked. “When my son tried to tame the horses he broke his leg.” “Bad,” they said, “very bad.” “How do you know that?” the old man replied. “Shortly afterward a war broke out, but my son was laid up and did not have to go to the front.”
Events by themselves often are looked on as hopeless situations. But no setback, failure, loss, or suffering stands alone. Always there is another chapter, to follow. Always there is a final word, and that word is God’s. Throughout his epistle Peter calls attention to suffering, but in every instance it has a good consequence.
Peter urges his readers: “Be prepared to give an answer to everyone who, asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” This is the “living hope” given to them through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Elsewhere he reminds them to pay attention to the Word of God “that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (2:2). The hope is kept alive as they meditate on that Word. “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4). In the Bible we see again and again that God will not give up even when the situation seems hopeless.
Some 800 years before Christ, a prophet named Hosea bought his faithless wife from her lovers for the price of a slave. He tried to win her back with love and patience. His way with her typified God’s dealings with the wayward nation Israel: “I am now going to allure her . . . and speak tenderly to her. . . . I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope” (Hos 2:14–15). Still, he seems to waver between punishing and forgiving his chosen people: “Ephraim [his name for Israel] is joined to idols; let him alone!” (4:17). You think it’s all over, but, later on: “It is I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms . . . How can I give you up, Ephraim? . . . For I am God, and not man” (11:3, 8–9). A clear picture of the heart of God!
We are to “give the reason for the hope . . . with gentleness and respect.” Peter had learned that words harshly spoken—even though they are true—turn people off. But beside the witness by words it is evident that the witness of our lifestyle is also effective and necessary. One of the finest examples of this is his advice to Christian women who are married to pagans. “Be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives” (3:1–2).
So also husbands are urged “in the same way [to] be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life” (3:7). Even to civil rulers believers are to show respect “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors. . . . For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men” (2:13–15).
The Reason for the Hope
The Reason for the Hope
Repeating that “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous and the unrighteous,” Peter presents the reason for the hope. Our ancient creeds echo his words: “he descended into hell to proclaim victory; he rose triumphantly; he ascended into heaven; and he sits at God’s right hand to rule over all things.” Many fine films depicting the life of Christ with color and drama have been produced in our day. Unfortunately they usually end with the crucifixion.
We may find it difficult to relate to our Lord’s exaltation. That he was born, that he ate and drank, that he suffered pain—these human experiences we share with him. But the descent, ascension, and being at God’s right hand are not part of our own existence. Yet it is important that we consider each of these steps or stages of exaltation if we are to witness to the hope we have. Christ did not descend into hell to give those who died in unbelief another opportunity to believe. Therefore our witness is urgent; it may be the only time the questioner will hear the Good News. The Savior’s ascension into heaven is linked with his visible return when “every eye will see him” (Rev 1:7). That he rules over everything in heaven and on earth assures us that even as his kingdom of glory and power is real, so is his kingdom of grace. “[My Word] will not return to me empty, but will . . . achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Is 55:11).
Conclusion: Because God works through his Word we can be effective witnesses to the hope we have, although for the moment it seems to produce few if any results. Because God will have the last word we will not give up.
Joseph Conrad, in Typhoon, his epic story of the sea, furnishes us with a picture of this very thing. Winds and waves pound the ship as the sailor shouts to the Captain, “The [life] boats are going now, sir!” Again and again he hears a voice “with a penetrating effect of quietness in the enormous discord of noises, as if sent out from some remote spot of peace beyond the black wastes of the gale: ‘All right’ (Joseph Conrad, Typhoon and Other Tales of the Sea [New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1963] 38). Through the turmoil that threatened the safety of the disciples in their tiny boat on Galilee, that tested the faith of the early Christians in Peter’s day, and still threatens us today comes the voice of him who conquers all: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Mt 14:27).