More Than Words
Have you ever had the experience of knowing a line of a movie or a verse of Scripture so well but when you heard it in its fuller context, suddenly it took on new meaning? Perhaps you remember the famous line "Rosebud" spoken by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. "Rosebud" is alluded to earlier in the film, but it is not until the final moments that we discover the word's haunting significance. I have seen Citizen Kane a few times and know its ending by heart, and yet each time I'm struck by the magnitude of that one simple word and all that it represents.
I was reading through the book of 1 Peter recently when I ran across the famous verse on apologetics: "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). Frankly, I found these words a bit jarring because what I understood about this verse—that we should be prepared to give an apologia, an answer, to the cognitive arguments we encounter—didn't seem to fit the flow of Peter's line of reasoning in this letter. But perhaps I had viewed the verse only through the single lens of apologetics, for I have rarely heard any more than this one particular verse expounded. Its interpretation? Christians need to hone their intellectual skills and be respectful and gentle as we engage those of other worldviews. Of course, this is what the verse suggests—but is that all? Like hearing the word "Rosebud" for the first time, if I didn't pay attention to the storyline of Citizen Kane, or the flow of Peter's argument, I might miss all that the author intended. Indeed, the meaning of "Rosebud" is hidden from some of the characters in the film precisely because it goes unnoticed, falling on deaf ears.
The apostle Peter writes his letter to Jewish and Gentile believers in need of encouragement, for they are scattered throughout Turkey and Asia Minor and are undergoing persecution. From the outset, he wants to offer them hope: hold fast to the faith because you have been called into a living hope, have been loved by God since before you were born, and Christ himself suffered, even on your behalf. Peter implores them to "love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God" (1:22-23).
Then he writes, "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps... When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly" (2:21,23). These verses are essentially the sum of Peter's entire argument. And that is this: Christians are called to love and live like Christ, who didn't retaliate in the face of injustice and suffering but rather entrusted himself to God who judges justly. And one day, you will know justice and a great reward if you persevere.
Peter says essentially the same thing in 4:19, and one commentator sees this verse as summarizing the letter: "So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good." What does it mean to entrust or commit oneself to God? The verb literally means, "to turn over to someone to care for, to give to someone for safe keeping." Strikingly, the Greek word for commit in this verse is the very word Jesus used when he cried out on the cross from Psalm 31: Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit. Peter notes in very practical ways that the Christian is to commit to God his mind, his action, his heart, and his appetite—ultimately giving God one's very life. And in doing so, just as in an intimate and loving relationship, we receive his love, courage, joy, and hope.
Returning to the well-known apologetics verse in 1 Peter 3:15—sandwiched between the exhortation to love and to entrust ourselves to God—we find that this same theme is repeated here in chapter three as well. I imagine Peter with the parchment of the Psalms and the scroll of Isaiah before him, for he draws upon Psalm 34 and Isaiah 8 to underscore his message: "Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing" (3:8-9). This exhortation mirrors Jesus's own words in his Sermon on the Mount, which Peter would have heard firsthand. Peter continues, "Do not fear their threats (or "fear what they fear"—see Isaiah 8:12-13); do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord" (verses 14-15). To set apart Christ as Lord is to regard him as holy and as one's master. You may have difficulty relating to the concept of "lord" in your culture, but to regard Christ as Lord is essentially to give yourself to him for safe keeping, believing that he is all-wise and sovereign and will be faithful to his word. (The backdrops of Psalm 34 and Isaiah 8 provide richer meaning to this idea.)
And in so doing, you will be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. How? Because when you entrust yourself to God and bless those who curse and insult you, people will notice. When you respond in gentleness to a harsh word or, like Jesus, say nothing at all, your words will not fall on deaf ears. When you are committed to your faithful Creator and seek to do good in the midst of suffering, you attest to a hope outside yourself—a living hope.
Yes, Christ's invitation is a calling to far more than words. It is an invitation into a living hope, to commit all that we are and all that we have to God, to love one another deeply, and to offer more than words to those seeking an answer and a lasting hope.
Danielle DuRant is Director of Research and Writing at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, GA.