The apostle Peter writes his first letter to Christians who find themselves in a culture hostile to the Christian faith. They were most likely not facing official state-sponsored persecution at this stage, but there are many indications throughout the letter that they faced growing social ostracism. They were accused of doing wrong (2:12), suffered for doing good (2:20), had abuse heaped on them (4:4), and were insulted (4:14). Yet the letter throbs with the positive vision of living fruitfully for Christ in such a context.
Peter summarizes the general strategy in 2:12, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” This way of living (unpacked in the sections of the letter that follow) will not only be faithful to God, but fruitful too—it is the kind of behavior God can use to draw people to himself.
It protects us from two common mistakes when faced with a hostile culture:
So in terms of behavior, Christians are to live neither pagan lives among the pagans, nor good lives merely among the Christians, but good lives among the pagans. Such good lives can attract false accusation from some, but can also be a means, in time, of bringing glory to God. Such good deeds may well be what clinches someone’s decision to believe the gospel.
Alongside our good deeds are to be our ready words: “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” (3:15).
Peter packs a lot of important truths into this verse. Notice that he expects authentic Christian living to prompt questions from those around us. Notice, too, that it is our hope that will be particularly provocative. Peter opened his letter by telling us about the “living hope” into which we have been given new birth (1:3). This living hope, properly appropriated, will be conspicuous and compelling. Our center of gravity is not in this world. Such a situation begs questions, and those questions will come.
Therefore, we need to “be prepared” at all times. We need to think through how to give an account of the hope that we have and why we have it, ready to answer the questions our culture will most likely throw at us. The time to think through our response is before such questions are asked. By the time they come it is too late to start preparing. We must be ready.
We must also be respectful and gentle. Our culture may be hostile, and the questions it presents us may come loaded with topspin, but our questioner is always someone worthy of respect, however disdainful they may seem about our faith. And however much they might not be, we are to be gentle—not scoring points or making them look silly. We want to win the person, not the argument.