Do you want a list? “Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?” Well, Peter, I can probably give you a list. That verse seems a little naïve, don’t you think? People are hurt trying to do good all the time. Think of aid workers in times of war, or those trying to help the hurting in totalitarian regimes, or those attempting to stand up against injustice even in representative democracies who suffer persecution and misrepresentation on a regular basis. We could come up with a list.
But then maybe Peter is aware of all of that, which is why he moves on from verse 13 and immediately says, “but even if you do suffer for doing what is right” in the very next verse. Maybe he is more aware of the world in which we live than it seems at first. And of course, he is. If this is Peter, or represents something of Peter’s thinking and example, then, yes, he does understand a complicated world. He goes on to say, “Don’t live in fear; don’t hesitate to do good; don’t let the threats cause you to not do what you know your faith calls you to do and to be.” “Always be ready to make your defense” is a powerful statement about the need to be overt Christians in a world that has become cynical, let alone, dangerous.
What a challenge given to us, to the church, to be prepared to speak, to give account for the hope within us. It is a call to not be quiet, to not keep things under our hats, but to live out loud in a way that draws attention to what we are doing and who we are and most importantly to why we do what we do. This is a call to evangelism, to knocking on doors and telling our story. True, it says, “give a defense to anyone who demands an account.” Some see that as an out. As long as no one asks me, I don’t have to say a word. Well, we could also argue that the world is demanding an account all the time. Certainly, the brokenness of the world demands an account; the emptiness of the world demands an account. The hunger of the world demands an account. We believe that we have what the world needs. How dare we keep it to ourselves?
Now, Peter is quick to tell us how we go about doing this. We don’t do it with anger; we don’t do it with force and annoyance, with tricks and sleight of hand. No, do it with gentleness and reverence, he writes. And tell the honest truth, as you know it. Don’t make up stuff or you will get caught out, says Peter. Maybe that’s because he has some personal experience with that. Don’t say you’re brave when you aren’t. Don’t say you won’t run when you will. Don’t say you are perfect when you and probably everyone else knows you are the chief of sinners. Sorry, that was Paul. But you get the point. Peter says we speak with integrity. We speak as those who did not deserve the grace by which we live, but who were baptized into a new life, a new way of living. We speak as those who are being made into disciples of Jesus Christ, not as those who have finished our labors. We were under the condemnation of death, Peter writes, and Jesus came and set us free. That is the context from which we speak, from which we give an account of the hope within us. Not by our own merits or our own goodness, but by the grace of God in Christ.
The psalmist in Psalm 66 tells a similar story. But instead of suffering, the psalm speaks of being tested as silver is tested. Indeed, the psalm speaks of all sorts of difficulties and struggles as having a divine origin. Yet, the attitude of the writer is not one of frustration or anger but understanding and a willingness to praise. Rather than casting blame, the psalm suggests that there is no human experience that is outside of the will of God. There is nothing that can or does happen to us that is a sign that God has abandoned us. In the end, we could argue that the witness here is that God is present even in difficult times. Our understanding of the activity of God in our lives is different from that of the writers of Hebrew scriptures, which is why it sounds odd or even uncomfortable to us. For the psalmist to say that God laid the burdens and God let the people ride over their heads is the good news of God’s presence in the midst of pain and suffering.
The result of this understanding is that the writer will speak of God’s goodness. The psalmist will “tell what God has done for me.” Like Peter’s call, Psalm 66 says we must be always ready to make a defense for the hope that lies within. And given the difficulties faced, there is no doubt that there will be those who will ask, “How can you still have hope?” So, “come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what God has done for me.”
But notice one more thing about this telling. Nowhere does it ask us to count the numbers who believe us. Nowhere is there supposed to be a measuring of the response to the words that are spoken. Psalm 66 tells us that God has listened. In the end, that is the audience for whom we speak. That is the measure of our faithfulness. Not how many “souls we have saved.” Not the crowds we drew or the attention we gathered. In fact, it may seem like no one at all is responding, is turning their lives around, is making any change based on our words. That doesn’t matter in the least. Yes, of course, we hope to make a difference in the world around us; we hope to bring influence for the cause of Christ and to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world. But in the end, our audience is God. Our measuring rod is faithfulness to the call of God. God will take care of the response. Our task is to always be ready to give a defense to anyone who sees the hope within us.