Over the past two weeks, our sermons have focused on the importance of relationships, be they the relationships we have within our families (the bond between husband and wife, and parents and children), or the relationship we have with this family of believers we call Mount Olive.  Because God has bonded us together with the bonds of faith, we have much in common: one Lord, one God, on Father of us all.  And of course we want to celebrate that fellowship both in worship and after worship.  I don’t think it’s hard to appreciate what we have within this body of believers.

But what about our relationship to those people who don’t believe as we do?  What about those people who not only don’t believe what we believe, but who are opposed to what we believe, who don’t accept what the Bible teaches, who regard Bible-believing Christians as hopelessly old-fashioned at best and as self-righteous bigots and hatemongers and homophobes at worst.  What should be our relationship to them?  I mean, I can see the value of maintaining a strong connection to the members of my family and the members of my church.  But what about the members of my community?  Especially when so many of them are opposed to what I believe?  Should I join together with them or should I avoid them like the plague?  Or to put it another way:

How Do I Deal with an Unbelieving World?

Here in our text, through the words of the inspired Apostle Peter, God offers us two pieces of advice when faced with the challenges of a hostile world.  He says:

  1. In your heart, set apart Christ as Lord
  2. Always be prepared to give an answer

First, Peter says, In your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord.  With those words, the Apostle Peter is not saying that we all need to make our decision for Christ.  He’s not saying that we need to invite Jesus into our hearts.  No actually, Peter is writing to people who are already believers.  God the Holy Spirit has already put Jesus in our hearts through the water and the Word.  No, what Peter is encouraging us to do is to allow that indwelling Christ to actually rule in our hearts and lives.  To see ourselves as his servants, to acknowledge that he is our head and we are his hands and feet.  To set apart Christ as Lord means recognizing that God has put us in this world for a purpose.  God has made us his lights so that we can reflect his love through our words and actions.

In fact, here in our text, Peter outlines a number of guidelines, ways that we can do this as we interact with the people of our world.  St. Peter says, first of all, all of you, live in harmony with one another; In other words, God’s will is that we make a conscious decision to get along with other people.  That doesn’t mean we’ll always agree with their beliefs or their behavior, but we can disagree without demeaning them or tearing them down.

Peter says, be sympathetic.  The Greek word here literally means to share people’s pain, to put yourself in the shoes of others.  Imagine how would you feel if people judged you by the color of your skin?  What would your world be like if the only father you knew was the one who beat you and your mother?  Sympathize with those who are hurting.  Another word for that is to be compassionate. The Greek word here refers to our inmost feelings, the idea of opening up our heart to the needs of other people.  Finally, Peter says, be humble.  In other words, even though the default setting on the human heart is “me first,” consciously reset it to “others first.”

But now, someone might say, “Wait a minute.  If I put others first—especially those who don’t believe as I believe, won’t they see me as weak?  Won’t they take advantage of me?  Insult me?  What am I supposed to do then?”  Peter has an answer.  He says, {9} Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing.  In other words, when your co-worker is quick to tell everyone what you did wrong, don’t retaliate in kind.  Don’t say, “Well, let me tell you a jerk he is.”  Rather, put the best construction on it.  Say, “Maybe he’s having a bad day.  Maybe I need to do a better job.  I think that, deep down, he’s a good guy.”

And why would you do that?  Why would you bless someone who insulted you?  Peter says, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.  Don’t misunderstand those words.  It doesn’t mean that if we bless others, then God will bless us.  No, it’s the other way around.  Because God has blessed us, because he has called us out of the darkness of unbelief, because God has given us a blessing we didn’t deserve—that’s what enables us to share a blessing with other people who have also done nothing to deserve it, either.

And when we do that, when we show undeserved love toward others, when we bless them who curse us.  When we endure hardship without complaint, don’t be surprised if, little by little, our behavior has an impact on the people who are watching us.  In fact, isn’t that one of the purposes of living a godly life in the midst of an unbelieving world?  St. Peter says as much in chapter 2, verse 12 of his letter, when he writes to you and me as Christians, 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 them.  Or as Jesus himself said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

You might say that that’s the first way we deal with the unbelieving world around us.  Without joining in their sin, we love them, we care about them, we show them compassion.  In a sense, we show them Jesus, through our words and actions.  And yet, our responsibility to the unbelieving world all around us is to do more than simply show them Jesus.  Sooner or later, we have to open our mouths and tell them about Jesus—which brings us to the second key piece of advice that God offers us here in our text.  And that is:

  1. Always be prepared to give an answer

St. Peter puts it this way, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  Boy, if you think about it, there’s an awful lot packed into that statement.  That could easily be the motto of every believer.  Break it into pieces.  Always be prepared.  The motto of the U. S. Coast Guard is “Semper Paratus.” “Always Ready.”  God could say the same thing about every believer.  Always be ready. Always be prepared—prepared to do what?  Prepared to give an answer.  The Greek word here is apologia.  It’s what gives us the English word “apology.”  But here it doesn’t mean to say, “I’m sorry.”  Rather it means to defend what I believe, to say why I believe what I believe.  Sometimes it’s called apologetics.  The point is, God wants us to be ready to tell people not only what we believe but why we believe it.  Peter says, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. 

Of course, the $64,000 question is, “Are you prepared to do that?  If someone were to say to you “Tell me, why do you have hope when the world seems so hopeless?  What do you believe and why?  How do you make sense out of life?”—are you prepared to do that?  Maybe, if you wanted to summarize what you believe, you’d go a verse like Romans 6:23.  The passage begins, The wages of sin is death.  In other words, in our world, there are a lot of consequences of mankind’s ongoing rebellion against God, not least of which is the fact that people die.  But that passage goes on to say, But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  In other words, in spite of our sins, God has given to all who believe in Jesus the gift of life with God forever in heaven.

Or maybe if you are looking for a way to summarize what you believe, you might point to the words right here in our text.  1 Peter 3:18:  For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.  Think about that.  Christ died for sins.  Right?  My sins.  Your sins.  All sins.  Once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.  There is the heart of the gospel, this idea of God sending a perfect substitute to take our place on the cross so that by his death and resurrection, he could bring us to God.  Notice who’s doing the work there.  It’s not that we needed to work our way up to God.  No, Jesus did all the work for us.  Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished.”  Jesus died once, for all, to bring you to God.  My friends, that’s good news, isn’t it?  That’s what gives hope to every guilty sinner.  Jesus has taken our place and given us his.

And why do you believe that?  What makes you so sure?  What is reason for your hope?  Well, simply put: The Bible tells me so.  In other words, God has given me his Word.  And God cannot lie.  How did the hymn-writer put it?  “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  On Christ the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand” (CW 382).

My friends, in our world today, there are millions of people who are building their lives on what amounts to sinking sand.  They are putting their hope in what they perceive to be their own goodness; they’re hoping that things will somehow get better for them, or that the world will become a better place.  But that’s really no hope at all.    But you see, that’s why God put you in this world, why he brings you into contact with those people who have no hope.  He’s calling you to build a real-ationship to them, to love them to care about them, to show them Jesus.  And then when the opportunity presents itself—wait for it—when God leads that person to ask you, “So what do you believe?  What makes you tick?  How do you handle the heartaches in life?  How do you deal with a world that seems to becoming more and more troubled?  Then give them the reason for the hope that you have.  Plant the seeds of the gospel, the good news of who Jesus is, what he’s done for you and how he has made a difference in your life.  Sow the seeds of the gospel and then let the gospel do the work.

My friends, that’s how you deal with an unbelieving world.  On the one hand, recognize that the world is still going to oppose you in many ways.  It’s going to oppose God.  It’s going to prove that it’s still under the control of the Evil One, time and time again.  But that doesn’t change your calling.  God has made you his lights in a dark world.  Let your light shine.  Build bridges to those who are lost and hurting and hopeless.  Real relationships still make all the difference.  Look for the opportunities God is going to give you.  And then, give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have—in Jesus, your savior and theirs, too.  Amen.