|Sermon Text: 1 Peter 3:13-17|
|13||Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?|
|14||But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened."|
|15||But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. 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,|
|16||keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.|
|17||It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.|
Everybody is all for evangelism, right? When you all took that worship survey last year requesting sermons, one of the biggest requests was for a sermon on evangelism. So this morning, you are going to get that. Evangelism is one of our Core Values of who we are as a congregation. It is the very heart of our mission statement. We love it when that Evangelism Candle on the communion table is lit. In the Presbyterian Church USA, every time we do an evaluation of what our top priorities are, evangelism is always right up there at the top. Everybody is all for evangelism, right? Or are they?
Evangelism literally means good news, the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ. His life, death, and resurrection. The possibility of His presence in your life. The hope of eternal life with Him. Good news!
Well if that is the case, then why is the word evangelism such bad news for many people? For a lot of non-Christians the word evangelism stirs up thoughts of high-pressure, buttonholing, judgment and condemnation. And put downs. Hucksterism. And I know how they feel. I remember one time in San Antonio I was sitting in a restaurant, and this guy comes up and pulls up a chair next to me and asks me if I know Jesus Christ. He is going to witness to me. So to save him and me time, I said, "Hey, I am a Christian." And to make sure he understood, I said, "In fact, I'm born again, I'm washed in the blood, I'm spirit-filled." Well, he kind of had a disappointed smile on his face. He was about to leave, and then I blew it by going on and saying, "In fact, I'm a Presbyterian pastor." With that, he sat back down and began to witness to me. Finally to get rid of him, I prayed the prayer to receive Christ.
It is bad news for a lot of Christians as well. We don't want to come across as offensive. We don't want to lay our trip on people. We don't want to be identified with Jim and Tammy. We don't want to appear to be ramming anything down somebody's throat; and so we are all for evangelism, but we do a lot more talking about it than actually doing it.
When we don't do it, unbelievers are happy. So, what is the problem? Well, God is not really happy about that. In fact, Christians aren't really happy about it. They are feeling guilty inside because they know they never talk to anybody about Christ. And unbelievers aren't really happy at all either, like the two Michigan loggers in a logging camp. One says to the other, "You know, I am just now finding out you are a Christian. We have been working together for two years, and I had no idea. You know, that evangelist came through the camp last winter and talked to me about my soul; and I pointed to you and said, 'Well you know, he seems to be doing fine without Jesus Christ. I don't think I need him either.'" At that point, that silent Christian realized that his silence was putting another person's soul in jeopardy.
We kind of know that deep down inside too. Down deep inside, we know that God wants us to do evangelism. I have got some good news for you this morning folks. You don't have to buttonhole people. You don't have to beat them over the head with a Bible. You don't have to lay your trip on anyone. That is why I am so excited about the text we are about to look at this morning. I would invite you to turn with me and keep your Bibles open during the sermon, to Peter's first letter. 1 Peter, the 3rd chapter, and let's take a look this morning at verses 13-17. This is the Word of God, and it is good news.
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. 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 a gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscious, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
Join me as we pray: Now Father, as my words are true to your Word may they be taken to heart. But as my words should stray from your Word, may they be quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Scott Peck begins his book, The Road Less Traveled with this phrase, "Life is difficult." You know it is. It is for everybody; Christian, non-Christian, but especially for the Christian. Life is difficult if you try to follow Jesus Christ in an authentic way in a culture that is increasingly more and more post-Christian. And it was that way back in the pre-Christian culture that Peter lived in. As he writes to these early Christians he is saying to them, 'If you try to follow Christ. If you try to do good. If you are eager for doing good, and try to live a life of authenticity and integrity and compassion in the name of Jesus Christ, who is there to harm you?' Plenty of folks! So Peter goes on in verse 14 to say, 'Okay, Okay. But if you suffer, remember you are blessed."
You all remember what "blessed" literally means, don't you? It means on the right road. When you suffer because you are following Jesus Christ, you are on the right road. And you don't need to be afraid because when you are on that right road, Jesus Christ is right there with you.
So, if you are going to follow Christ folks, you are going to suffer. If you go around saying that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation and eternal life, you are going to be attacked. If your lifestyle is one of Biblical morality, then you are going to appear more and more odd as the years go on, and you are going to be mocked. If you make the claim that Christianity is the Truth for the universe, then you are going to suffer for that. That is just the way it is
The early Christians knew what that was all about. There is no way of getting around it. In fact though, God is saying through Peter that it is through your suffering, through your faithful suffering as a disciple of Christ, your unwillingness to fudge or compromise or dumb-down the gospel, but live transparently and naturally and compassionately and authentically as a Christian, that God will redeem that. Even your suffering, God can make a context for evangelism. What Peter is saying here in this text before us, is that if you live for Jesus Christ publicly, you are going to draw fire. But here is what I don't want you to miss. He is also saying that you are also going to draw new believers to Christ.
Who here would not like to experience and know first-hand, the unsurpassable joy of leading another person to a life-transforming eternally lifesaving relationship with Jesus Christ? You can. Now wait a minute, no you can't. No one can lead someone else to Christ. Did you know that? It is true. Only the Holy Spirit can lead someone to Christ. The Holy Spirit really is the only evangelist. But, here is the good new folks, God loves you and me so much, that he doesn't just do it all himself. He partners with us, includes us in His great plan of salvation for people. The Holy Spirit chooses to work through and in your life and mine, to lead other people to Christ. He does that, I believe, chiefly when your life and mine lines up with the life that Peter lays out in verses 15 and 16 in the text before us. I believe here we have the evangelistic text of all of Scripture. Here we have God's ultimate plan for how Christians are to do evangelism. Let 's take a look at these two verses.
There are five points here I want you to notice. Five things that when they line up in your life and mine, we are going to end up leading people to Christ. Here is point number one in verse 15. 'Set apart Christ as Lord in your heart.' Now notice that Peter does not say, 'Make Christ Lord of your life.' I used to, early in my ministry, tell people that is what they needed to do. Make Christ the Lord of your life. But Christ is already Lord of your life. Whether you are a Christian or not a Christian, whether you believe Jesus is real or not, Christ is Lord. You and I cannot make him anything that he already is. That is why Peter says instead, 'Set apart Christ as Lord in your heart.' This a volitional thing. This is a voluntary thing. You and I are to intentionally recognize the Lordship of Christ in our lives; and then, so order our lives in their entirety -- our job, our family, our finances, our recreation, our relationships -- order those things around and under the Lordship of Christ. Jesus as the number 1 priority in our lives. In other words, our lives begin to revolve around him. That is what it means to set apart Christ as Lord of your life.
But let me come clean with you and confess. I don't always do that. Even as a Rev. Three things make me balk sometimes as setting apart Christ as Lord of my life.
1. I don't want to give up all of my stuff. Materialism has a hold on me and it does on all of us, and I sometimes find myself seeking after comfort and convenience rather than radical discipleship.
2. I balk sometimes at that because I do not want to surrender control. I want to call all the shots in my life. I want to make all of the decisions. I want to be in charge. You know what I want to be when I grow up? God. That is what I want to be. I want to be in complete control of my life. I don't want to live by faith. I want to live by sight. I want to be in control making all of the decisions.
3. I don't want to look weird. I want people to think of Ron Scates as respectably religious. But I don't want people thinking that I am some kind of wacked-out, weirdo, Jesus freak.
So, sometimes I balk at setting apart Christ as Lord of my life. But when I do, set Him apart look at what happens. Let's go on. Point number two. When you set Christ apart as Lord of your life, when you order your life around him, make him the number 1 priority, put him at the center of your life; then point number two is, get ready because people are going to come to you. Verse 15 again, people are going to come.
The world is out there watching Christians very closely. They are hoping to catch a glimpse of hope in our lives. They are watching you and me. When they see authenticity, when they see Jesus Christ reflected in our lives, they will come to us, Peter is saying. Oh they may come by night. They may be tearing us down in the morning, but they will come to us by night. Today's persecutors are tomorrow's believers. Because when they see something different in your life, it is something to laugh at in the morning, but when tough times hit they will come to you.
They will say things like, 'I saw you get passed over unjustly for that job promotion, and you didn't go ballistic. You didn't seek revenge." Or they will come to you and say, "I have been watching you dying with terminal cancer, and I am amazed at the way that you live. There is something different about you, tell me what it is."
Do you see what happens, folks? You don't have to go out on an evangelistic crusade. If you set apart Christ as the Lord of your life, you don't have to worry about whether you should be witnessing to so-and so. You don't have to worry about laying your trip on someone. They will come to you. They fling the door wide open to their life, and ask you into it. You are not laying your trip on them. They are inviting you to tell them about what it is that is at the center of your life.
Do you know what they are asking you? They are asking you to tell them about, as Paul puts it in Colossians 1:27, "Christ in you, the hope of glory;" although they don't know that is what they are asking. It gives you and me then the opportunity to share it with them. They are not going to say, 'Oh, don't lay your religious trip on me.' No, they invited you. They asked. The door is wide open. They will come to you if you live authentically for Christ.
But then point number three, verse 15 again. You had better have something to say to them when they ask. Don't say, "Well, go talk to my pastor about that," They want to hear it from you. They don't want some canned speech. They want to hear it from your heart. Can you this day sit down and from your heart articulate how your story intersects with Christ's story? If you can't, then you need to spend some time doing that. Thinking about how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; how His presence in your life; how his hope for eternal glory impacts your day-to-day living, and be able to share that as confidently and naturally as if someone asked you about the Orioles or what you are doing on vacation this summer.
Point number four, still in verse 15. You are to share with people about Christ with gentleness and respect. You and I are not called by Christ to be Bible thumpers. We are not called to beat anybody over the head with the gospel. Peter here is talking about our attitude and the tone in which we speak and share with other people. He is saying that we need to do it out of an attitude of respect and gentleness.
You and I are more likely to do that when we believe two things. First, when we are really convinced of the sovereignty of God. That it is God and God alone, that really draws anybody to Christ. He is telling us here that he wants to do that, not through an argumentative spirit but through a gentle spirit. Secondly, we are more apt to do that when we realize that Christ calls us to see every person we meet through the lens of the cross, as a special creation whom God has made, and whom God loves, and whom God has died for.
Charlie thought that he could argue his next-door neighbor into the kingdom. So, he was always debating him; and the next-door neighbor was always putting him down saying, 'Oh, all Christians are brainless. They don't have any common sense. If people really had brains, they would never accept this myth of Jesus Christ.'
That got to Charlie, and so he began to devour the works of C.S Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, and Josh McDowell -- and you all ought to be doing that too, because those are excellent authors. He thought I am going to win this intellectual battle. Well, one day Charlie noticed that his next door neighbor's rain gutters were clogged with leaves. His neighbors' wife told him that her husband was afraid of heights, and so he couldn't clean them out. So, Charlie grabbed his ladder and went up there and cleaned out the man's rain gutters.
Imagine Charlie's surprise next Sunday, when his neighbor and his wife showed up in church. And during that service of worship, that man's eyes were opened, the veil was lifted, he heard the gospel, and surrendered his life to Christ. Later, he went to Charlie and said, 'The thing that drew me to church, and then eventually into the arms of Christ, was your spirit of servanthood and respect for me.'
I don't believe anybody gets argued into the kingdom of God. Gentleness and respect.
Fifthly and lastly in verse 16, Peter says that you and I will do evangelism most faithfully and effectively when we have a clear conscience. How may times do you and I balk at sharing Jesus Christ with someone, even when they have asked us what is different in your life?. We have come up short because Satan is whispering into our other ear, 'Who are you to be telling someone about Jesus Christ? If they only knew what you did last night. If they only knew what you said this morning. They would shake their heads and walk away."
We are to keep a clear conscience. How do we do that? By running around trying extra hard to be perfect and good? No. What is the church? "Hypocrites Anonymous". You and I keep a clear conscious when we keep short accounts with God. When I sin in some way, what I do is push Jesus out of the center of my life and onto the periphery. Keeping a short account with God is simply realizing I have done that, and then as soon as I realize that, surrender myself once again to the Lordship of Christ, set him intentionally apart in my life as Lord, and allow him his rightful place back in the center. God honors that. You would be surprised how more articulately and how more eagerly you will be to share the gospel with someone when you are in right relationship with the One you are taking about. Keep a clear conscience.
Scott Peck is right. Life is difficult. There is no easy way to go through this life as a human being in a painless way. There is no easy, painless way to be a Christian. There is no painless, easy way to do evangelism; and yet, God in his providence has redeemed our pain and suffering, and actually transformed it into a winsome context for evangelism. It is when you and I suffer but have Christ at the center of our lives, that people will be drawn to us, and we have an opportunity to share.
If we are doing that, we don't have time to get involved in evangelism programs. We will be too busy answering the questions of those who come to us and ask, "What is the center of your life?".
Next week the Presbyterian Church, USA General Assembly meets in Fort Worth. Once again for the 33rd year in a row, we will be told that we have lost something like 25,000 members over the past year. When you hear that statistic this year, I want you to remember something. It is not like that everywhere else in the world. Five thousand people every month are coming to Jesus Christ through the Rural Presbyterian Church of India. A church largely made up of untouchables. That is the lowest rung on the Indian caste system ladder. Those are people, men and women, boys and girls, who daily suffer under the indignities and oppression of the caste system. Yet, they have set apart Christ as the Lord of their lives. They bear up under that suffering with joy and compassion to the extent that the other Indian castes around them see something different in their lives, and they are actually drawn to them. Five thousand people - new believers -- a month, are coming into the kingdom through those untouchables. They see something different. They want to know what it is.
What about when people see your life and mine? Are they drawn to Christ? Why or why not?
Joint me as we pray:
Father we thank you that you are such a gracious loving merciful God that when we don't have you at the center of your lives, when we push you to the side, try to tack a little Jesus in our lives, that you pick us up and dust us off, and set us back on the right road. Lord, give us as believers an overwhelming compassion and eagerness, a humble boldness in telling others what is the center of our lives, who is the center of our lives. Help us to live with integrity and authenticity that the world might see us perhaps at first as odd; but then realizing that the only reason that we look odd, is because we look a little bit like you in a world that is broken and lost it's moral compass in it's spiritual gyroscope. O Lord, may we be your willing servants for Jesus' sake. Amen.
© 1999, Dr. Ronald W. Scates
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145