It’s not difficult to make believers feel guilty as soon as certain subjects are raised. Personal witnessing and private prayer are perhaps the most obvious examples. It’s not uncommon for people to find it difficult contemplating sharing their faith. From one point of view, this is not surprising as it certainly takes us out of our comfort zone. Very few people find it easy to speak with people about their eternal destiny and the truths of God. Yet these are the things that matter most. We have friends, neighbours, relatives, co-workers not to mention strangers that we encounter in providence and we fail to speak to them about their soul. If we don’t who will? This does not mean abusing relationships but it does mean praying for opportunities to arise and being ready to take them when they do. Let’s consider some of the excuses we have against this.
In all honesty, a lot of what holds us back from witnessing is related to self. It may be our pride (in relation to how others perceive us). Perhaps we are simply absorbed in our own lives and interests (we fail to take to heart those perishing around us). We may also be retained by unbelief (we refuse to think that God could or would use us). There may be other difficulties more personal to our situation, we have to speak in general about the issue. Scripture understands our fears and meets these with valuable counsel.
Alexander Nisbet provides some useful comments on 1 Peter 3:15 that can be connected with such excuses. This verse says that must always be ready to answer everyone that asks us to give a reason for the hope we have. We have real hope and reason for real hope; they do not. We have to do this not with arrogance and superiority, but “with meekness and fear”. Something else we must do is “sanctify the Lord God” in our hearts, this will help us to speak to others faithfully and with humility.
The context of the verse relates to the trials and persecution these believers were enduring. Peter is counselling them about the right spirit and conduct they ought to have in their sufferings. The fear and reality of persecution was not a valid reason to hold back from answering everyone that asked them to give a reason for their hope. We must prepare ourselves beforehand with clear knowledge of the truth. We should be able to show from the Word of God reasons for what they believe. Their testimony for the truth was to be seasoned with meekness even towards persecutors and opponents. It was right that they should have in their hearts a holy fear of giving that testimony in a wrong way.
1. It might invite trouble
In the midst of their troubles, these believers were to maintain in their hearts a felt sense and acknowledgment of God’s holiness. God is matchless in holiness (1 Samuel 2:2). He can have nothing added to that or any other of His infinite perfections by any creature (Romans 11:35-36). Nevertheless, He esteems Himself sanctified in His people’s hearts when they (in view of His holiness) submit to the hardest of ways in which He orders their experience (Psalm 22:3). They are afraid to offend so holy a majesty (Isaiah 29:23). They are strengthened by this to believe that He will fulfil all His promises (Psalm 111:9) and His threatenings against His enemies (Habakkuk 1:12).
In such circumstances of trial God’s children may be perturbed in spirit. They may be in great danger of forgetting God’s sovereignty over them (Isaiah 51:12-13). He can use them as He pleases for His own glory. They are in danger of having thoughts in their hearts inconsistent with the holiness and purity of His nature. The apostle says: “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts”.
2. I couldn’t do that on my own
The godly ought not to be anxious about knowing what to say in a time of trial (Matthew 10:19). Nevertheless, they ought not to neglect ordinary means of preparing for trials. Such means of preparation include drinking in the solid and clear knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 6:19). They must maintain the presence of that Spirit who reveals truths yet unknown and brings known truths to remembrance when it is necessary (John 14:26). In this way, they may be able to defend the truth by holy reason drawn from the Scripture. They can make a defence or apology for it (as the word means here), Thus they can answer objections that may be made against it (Proverbs 15:28). They are to be always ready to answer everyone that asks them for a reason for the hope that is in them.
3. I don’t know the right words to say at the time
There are circumstances where the Lord’s children may safely answer their adversaries with silence. For instance, when they have testified sufficiently and frequently to such truths before (Matthew 27:12,14). Sometimes questions are only put to them by wicked men out of scorn (Proverbs 26:5) or idle curiosity (Luke 23:8,9,11). Perhaps the questions they face are intended to ensnare the godly (Isaiah 36:21).
Even still, they ought to keep themselves ready to defend the truth and give a reason of what they hold. They need to be prepared for occasions when the glory of God and edifying others requires it. God makes known the time and way of doing this to every humble believer that waits on Him (Luke 12:11,12 and 21:14,15; Habakkuk 2:1). The apostle does not direct them here to answer always everyone that asks them but to be ready always to answer everyone that asks a reason.
4. I might get a question I can’t answer
The Lord’s children ought not to satisfy themselves with any confidence or persuasion concerning the truths of the gospel which is not clearly and reasonably grounded on the Word. They must have the kind of persuasion that may not only convince themselves but others also when they called to give them a reason. They are to be ready to give “a reason” to everyone that asks.
5. I don’t have the right temperament for it
Every testimony that God’s people give to His truth before those who oppose it ought to be seasoned with meekness of spirit. This should be evidenced in their conduct toward their persecutors by avoiding all signs of carnal passion and revenge against them (1 Thessalonians 5:15). They must use respectful and sober language towards them (Acts 26:25). This may be blessed by God to reduce their troubles (Proverbs 15:1). The wicked may be convicted of the just character of the cause that they persecute. The following verse shows this. They must be ready to give a testimony to the truth “with meekness”.
6. I’m scared
The fear of man mars confidence and peace in the heart. It is contrary to the spirit we ought to have (the fear of God) which is “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts”. We may have, however, a holy fear that we will fail to act aright in trials and difficulties by denying or concealing any necessary truth. We may have a fear of speaking necessary truth at the wrong time or mixing our own passions with our testimony to the truth. This holy fear is a prime qualification of a right witness for Christ and His truth. This verse says that we should be ready to bear testimony to the truth “with fear”.