How Do I Proclaim the Gospel Boldly, but with Gentleness and Respect?

Most Christians understand that we have a responsibility to the Great Commission, to go preach the gospel and make disciples. However, we’re not sure how to do that with gentleness and respect as Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:15. In our human weakness, we can easily fall into arguments or attacks in our zeal to convince someone else of the truth that we love.

Photo by Alexis Brown on UnsplashI believe that Peter not only gives us the encouragement and command to do this with gentleness and respect, but also the how in this passage. First, let’s look at the broader context and read the whole paragraph.

13And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? 14But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” 15But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 17For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”  -1 Peter 13-17

In this context, Peter is telling us how to respond in the face of persecution by those who seek to harm you, those who threaten you, even those who want to defame you as evildoers and revile your good conduct in Christ. He teaches us how to respond and share our faith even in the face of others who are not treating us with gentleness and respect.

Let’s expand on verse 15 to understand Peter’s advice.

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts” We should regard God as holy, set apart, and not like everything else. As Christians, we have the name of Christ, and we represent Him to the rest of the world. Peter instructs us to respond as Christ did when others sought His harm and brought false accusations against Him. When others attack, we are not to attack back, but instead honor Him as a living example.

“always be ready” This reminds me much of Philip the Evangelist who, in Acts 8, was sent by God to the road which goes to Gaza, where he found a man of Ethiopia reading Isaiah. Philip came up to him and asked if he understood what he was reading. The Ethiopian asked of whom does the prophet say this, himself or some other man? Then in verse 35, “Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.” Philip was ready, he responded when God called, and he used Scripture to preach the gospel to this man. He was ready to be used by God to point him toward Christ.

“to give a defense” The Greek word used here, apologia, means to give a legal defense or a well-reasoned answer. First, we need to be prepared for a logical presentation of the gospel, practice at home if that helps. Also, to answer questions or challenges that the unbeliever raises. This type of apologetics is an important tool to be used by the evangelist for the purpose of reaching the lost by breaking down barriers to their faith and providing reasonable answers to the unbeliever. It should not be abused by acting as if the primary goal is to be considered right, but instead to draw others to Christ.

In this phrase also, there is an implied expectation to listen and understand so we can provide a satisfactory answer. This is one of the secrets to proclaiming the gospel with gentleness and respect. There should be a healthy dialog between you and the unbeliever. Listening, asking questions, responding with respect as we seek to understand and to help them understand. Steven Covey said, “Most people listen to respond, rather than listen to understand.” We should not listen merely to let them finish so we can make our own point. Let’s practice good listening skills: making eye contact, ask questions to clarify or restate things to confirm your understanding. Maybe even ask several questions before forming your answer. Everyone wants to feel like they are understood and will remain engaged and respectful when they are.

“to everyone who asks you” Does Peter ask us to give answers to everyone, our friends, or those who like us? In this context, everyone includes even those who seek you harm. We do not need to earn the right, through friendship, to speak to others about spiritual things. Ray Comfort says, “I can make a friend in 30 seconds.” Often this approach of “friendship evangelism” simply serves to silence the Christian, instead Peter says, even in the face of threats, we tell them of our hope in Christ!

There is one qualification, “who asks”. This doesn’t mean that we wait around for others to ask us about our hope. We can initiate the conversation and bring up the topic, but to remain respectful, we should not force them to remain in a conversation that they don’t want to be part of.

“a reason” The Apostle Paul provides a great example in Acts as he travels from city to city, he reasons with them from Scripture. In Acts 17:2, as Paul entered Thessalonica, “as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures”. As Paul entered Athens, Acts 17:17, “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.” We pray for God to send someone to us, and we remain faithful be engaging whomever God has sent to us for this purpose. As much as possible, we reason with them from the Scriptures. This is where we get our authority, God’s Word is powerful and effective. If we don’t use Scripture, it is merely my opinion against the unbeliever’s.

We must not over-emphasize reason and logic, but recognize that the work of conversion is the work of God through the Holy Spirit. In John 6:44, Jesus says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” and John 12:32, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” It is not up to us to convert the unbeliever; our reasoning and arguments are often inadequate. Despite our poor reasoning or failure to persuade, God uses us when we are faithful and we will be rewarded according to our labor. Paul reminds us of that in 1 Corinthians 3:5-8; “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.”

“for the hope that is in you” The hope we have in Christ is the focus of our response. The unbeliever misunderstands hope as “wishful thinking”. The Bible defines hope as the deep assurance of a yet to be filled promise. Our hope is in what Christ has done for us. Our hope is in His death, paying for our sin, and in His resurrection giving us the assurance of the gift of eternal life. This deep assurance comes from all the works of God, and the promises that He has already filled. Because He is totally faithful, we can trust in His promise of salvation.

Romans 1:16 reminds us that it is this hope, this good news of the gospel, that has the power to persuade the unbeliever. Our hope is in Christ alone, this is what the unbeliever needs to hear and understand.

In all of this, I trust this helps you be encouraged to boldly, and courageously, share the gospel with the unbeliever while remaining gentle and respectful.

Prayer

Pray that God will work through you to bring understanding to an unbeliever. Pray that He would enable you to be a living example of Christ, respecting the unbeliever while honoring God.

Author: Jon Neifert
Posted on January 20 2018
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Romans 1:16