It’s human nature to want to learn about people whose lives are interesting or unique in some way. We want to know people and we want to be known by people. Human beings are intrinsically interested in the lives of unique people, including: celebrities, successful people, wealthy people, beautiful people, powerful people, influential people, people who have done something noble or people who have done something really bad.
Listen in to what the apostle Peter has to say to followers of Jesus. 1 Peter 3:15-16 reads, "but in your hearts honor Christ as the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness an respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame."
If we live biblically governed lives, we will become winsome, attractive people. Not good looking - but worth getting to know. People will want to know what motivates us, what drives us, what makes us who we are. This is the idea behind Jesus' words in Matthew 5:13, when he says, "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot."
Our lives can and should be notably different and distinct from the lives of non-believers. The problem for many Christians is that their lives are not “salty.” Nothing appealing separates them from anyone else. One of the things that made the first century church unique is that they were so unlike the world. The early church developed not because they conformed to the world, but because they were different. Today people seem more concerned about “fitting in” than they are about honoring God.
Now, there are people who profess to be Christians who are . . . well, obnoxiously different. Maybe you have a family member that way… that’s not what I’m talking about. Sometimes Christians can be socially awkward. Like the diluted thinking of those that leave tracts instead of tips at restaurants. I’m not talking about being a Jerk in Jesus name. The assumption behind 1 Peter 3:15 is that we would live attractively different that would compel other people to inquire about why we are the way we are. In fact, in Acts 11:26 we learn that the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch because they so resembled Christ.
We are exploring how to live our lives so appealing as to be called a Christ-like…. Christian.
This passage reveals three behaviors in a life so appealing.
1. We love our friends. v.8 “brotherly love”
All people long for close friendship. When we develop and enjoy good friendships, people notice. Typically some of our closest friendships are with other Christians. Notice how Peter describes a Christian friend.
Christians are unified in mind. God has gifted each of us with differing gifts and talents and as a result we approach life differently and will have differing opinions. Peter instructs us through the Holy Spirit that as followers of Jesus we are to be governed by the mind of Christ, so that differences do not divide but rather enrich the church.
Christians are to be sympathetic. This means to share the same feeling. We tend to negate or dismiss the struggle or experience of others with trite statements like - “Been there, done that.” Instead, we need to strive to be present with those who are hurting in their pain, struggle, or loss and oftentimes that means to be present without saying anything.
Christians are to show brotherly love. This love is a natural human affinity and affection. A familial type of love – like siblings have for one another. They are to have a tender and humble hearts as well. When people outside the faith observe Christians demonstrating this type of love—when they see Christians developing and sustaining these types of close friendships—they will inquire because, like all people, they long for it themselves.
2. We love our enemies. v.9
It’s a powerful testimony to have close, loving friendships. But it is even more noticeable when you love your enemies.
What do you feel when someone mistreats you? Says something ugly to you or about you? Treats you with disrespect? Misrepresents you intentionally? Cuts you down in order to build themselves up? Takes advantage of you? Hurts a person you love?
The answer is obvious. The natural response is to retaliate. Yet that is not the response of a Christ-follower. Instead of returning evil for evil or insult for insult, Christ calls us to give a blessing in return. That’s difficult to do. One of the first things Jesus said in His public ministry “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”(Matthew 5:44)
There are two blessings that every Christian can—and should—extend to someone who has inflicted insult or injury. The first is forgiveness. The second is kindness. When we freely give forgiveness and kindness toward our offenders, people will notice. And they will be curious. They will want to know why we didn’t retaliate. It’s one of the most radical things in the world.
Reckless anger and hatred is sin; and sin is senseless. It is natural to our flesh. Taking vengeance into our own hands is something we want to do. However, when we show compassion and forgiveness, they will want to know why we are not bitter or angry or filled with hate.
3. We love life. v. 10–14
Christ followers we should enjoy and love life more than anyone. We are to have a robust love for life. And it should be demonstrated through our attitude (positive, joyful, and optimistic); our words (tender, true, and life-giving); and our behaviors (wholesome, kind, and Christ-like).
When others see our joy, our peace, and our confidence, they will be attracted to who we are. When they see us keeping our tongues from evil and our lips from speaking lies (v. 10), when they see us doing good and pursuing peace (v. 11), they will want to know why. When they observe us loving life and living it to the fullest, they will long for the same thing.
People will inquire as we live lives worth inquiring about. So we should be ready to tell our story and talk about our relationship with Jesus Christ. And when we share because we were asked, it will be natural, it will be positive, and it will have a powerful impact.
There is to be no anxiety in this conversation. There is nothing contrived about it. You shouldn’t try to force anything. Just have a gentle, respectful, yet bold conversation. Maintain a clear conscience by focusing on others—their needs and their inquiries. Ask questions and pursue their heart. You have nothing to prove. Simply love them well and have an authentic conversation.
There is a balance because the gospel itself is inherently offensive and yet gospel compassion is inherently loving. Reach out without selling out. Engage the culture without losing the gospel.
Let me encourage you to use the website Explore God to watch and observe people talking about spiritual conversations. There you will find videos that will help you become more comfortable talking about the spiritual questions that people have. You will also find articles—written in a gentle, respectful tone—that address most of the difficult questions that might come your way. Remember you don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to have all the answers.