At the very beginning of the semester I told them that they were wonderful god-fearing kids because they were taking my speech class. Just by virtue of their sitting in those chairs God was taking great delight in them. They thought I was a little looney at first, but they came around quickly. Once I told them that my class was mandated by God, they began to understand.
You might think that it’s a little pompous to say that. But as you think about the verses of Scripture that are before us today I hope that you’ll see what I mean. In this passage we find the Biblical mandate for the discipline of rhetoric, or what we typically call public speaking.
The passage says that we must be ready “to give a defense for the hope that is within us.” In other words, we have to be ready to publicly articulate our faith at the drop of a hat.
You see, there may be times in our lives when we are faced with gospel opportunities. At some point in your life you might be in a position where you are confronted about your faith. Someone may ask you a serious question about what you believe. Or you may find yourself having to give a public testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ. And when that time comes, the Bible says that you need to be able to articulate a sound response.
So what this passage is telling us is that we need to have gospel eloquence. We need to be people who are able to communicate to other people what we believe in a coherent way and without a great deal of jibber jabber that’s going to destroy the opportunity.
And if you are going to be ready to do this, you need to do some time to get ready. You need to spend some time preparing for this confrontation. And that is why I said that my speech class was mandated by God. In that class I helped these young people to prepare by giving them some instruction on the key principles of public speaking.
But I want you to understand that what I’m saying here isn’t just a really bad plug for my speech classes. This has a great deal of significance for you too. Each of you must be ready for such situations as well. You may one day be in a position where you need to demonstrate some gospel eloquence. It may even be in a conversation this afternoon. So there’s no time to waste in getting ready.
So what I want to do is give you a crash course in public speaking. Today, you are going to sit in on Mr. Timmons’ Speech class, and we are going to listen to what Peter tells us we must to do to prepare for these conversations.
Peter says that if we are going to be ready for this confrontation with the world we must prepare. And there are 3 things we need to prepare. We must prepare our attitude, our answer, and our approach.
The first thing we must do is prepare our personal disposition. I’m talking about getting our attitudes in order.
I. Prepare our attitude [14b-15a]
That’s what Peter deals with in the latter half of verse 14 and on into verse 15. He says, “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”
You’ll notice that there’s two parts to this. There’s your attitude towards your fellow man, and there’s your attitude towards the Lord. When it comes to your attitude towards mankind, Peter says, “have no fear of them, nor be troubled.”
When you have to stand up and face the world, that can be a pretty intimidating thing. As a matter of fact, statistics tell us that having to speak in front of other people in a public setting is the number one fear that people have. If you go out and ask people, “What is the one thing that you fear most?” most likely the response you will get the most is that they are terrified of having to stand up and speak in front of others.
Now add to that the horror of having to talk about your faith. You’re all of a sudden faced with the possibility of being thought of as an idiot or as a religious fool. That’s so unnerving. And when you’re in that kind of situation, you can be tempted to shy away from what you need to say.
I know of situations where young people were sitting in college classrooms and their professors who were spouting all sorts of crazy stuff. I forget who I was talking to, but one person relayed a story about a young lady whose professor on the very first day of class asked, “Which of you actually believes that abortion is wrong?” She was the only one in the entire class who raised her hand and was willing to speak up. Others came up to her afterwards and said they were pro-life too. But they didn’t want to speak up for fear that they may be ridiculed by this professor who was obviously ready to attack and poke fun at any moron who might admit that they were pro-life.
In those situations we need to have our minds straight. Peter says, “Have no fear of them.” The one you need to fear is God. As Jesus even said, “Do not fear him who can kill the body only. But fear him who can destroy both the body and soul.”
In those situations you need to remember that you that you are safe in the hands of God. You don’t need to worry about your reputation. You don’t need to worry about your life. Neither do you need to be concerned about any of their rage. For God is on your side. The Lord is the one in whom you trust. Therefore you need not fear them.
That’s the other side of this too. When it comes to man, your attitude is to be fearless. But when it comes to God, your attitude is to be fearful.
That’s the essence of what Peter means when he says, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.” The Bible talks a lot about the fear of God. When it does it’s talking about that deep seated reverence for God that you ought to have. It is that recognition that he is awesome, that he is holy and worthy of honor. And that’s what this is saying here. You are to honor Christ as holy. You are to fear God and see to it that Christ is revered above all things in your life. You need to recognize that he is the Lord and, and put him distinctly above all other things in your life. Once you do, then (and only then) will you be ready to speak for the Lord.
If you flip through the Bible you’ll see this happen on a number of occasions. Before Moses has his confrontation with Pharaoh, what happened? He was confronted by the Lord in the burning bush. It was his preparation. God was getting his attitude in order, reminding him that He was the God who was holy and Lord over all, even Moses’ bumbling tongue.
You may remember when Isaiah was called to be a prophet. He had that stellar vision of the angels and was overwhelmed by the presence of God. It was only after that event that he was prepared to confront Israel as a prophet.
I came across another just this week. It was the calling of Ezekiel. The book of Ezekiel starts off with this amazing vision of God’s grandeur. Then God says to Ezekiel, I’m sending you to a people who are not going to listen to you.
How can you speak to a people who are going to hate you and not going to listen to a single word you say? The only way you can do that is if you have the right attitude. Having no fear of man and having a great fear of God.
In a very real sense, when you confront the world, and are called to stand up and speak on behalf of the Lord, you are acting in the role of a prophet. You are doing the work of a Moses and an Isaiah. And if that’s going to happen, then you need to be equipped with the same attitude of Moses and Isaiah.
But if you are going to be ready for this kind of confrontation, you must not only prepare your attitude, you must also prepare your answer.
II. Prepare our answer [15b]
That’s what Peter goes on to say in the next part of verse 15. Peter says you need always to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;”
Or, as your version might say, you must be ready to “answer every man who asks for a reason concerning the hope in you.”
So when someone puts the question to you, you need to have content ready. This is the moment for your words.
In my speech class, the last speech that we did was a debate. And one of the distinctive features of the debate was this thing we call “the rebuttal.” The kids were required to give an answer to the speech that their opponent had just given. So after Joe gave his speech (Let’s say he talked about why dogs are better than cats), Mary would have to stand up and give an answer. She would have to articulate why cats are better than dogs (obviously, we feel bad for Marry. It is a lost cause and she’d probably do better just to remain seated and not say anything.).
And I told my students that they needed to be ready to give these rebuttals. They needed to study their topics thoroughly. They couldn’t just go out and do a quick internet search, because they would get burned by their opponent. They had to look at the issue intently. They had to study both sides. They had to try and anticipate what their opponent was going to say.
And that’s exactly what Peter is telling you. You need to have that sort of readiness with your response. You need to be anticipating the kinds of things that your friends or family members are going to be asking you. You need to be studying the faith in an intent manner so that you can give an adequate answer when they ask.
Now, I will say that you won’t be able to anticipate everything. There are going to be times when you get asked a question that you won’t be able to answer. And in those times you’ll have to do the humble thing and say, “I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.” But you shouldn’t be in a position where you do this all the time. You need to know something about what you believe and why you believe it so that you can fire these bullets at the appropriate times.
You understand what is Peter trying to prevent here, don’t you? He doesn’t want you to be caught off guard. He doesn’t want you to be caught in a situation where you have an opportunity to speak for him and come off as a bumbling idiot. He wants us to utilize every opportunity possible in the most beneficial way.
I’ll never forget the time my family and I went to Wendy’s and we happened to see one of my co-workers there. He was eating dinner with one of his buddies and he introduced me to his buddy. I have the unique privilege of being introduced as “the minister”, and that typically gives rise to one of two responses. The person slinks back and wants to avoid me or they get excited and want to engage me. My co-worker’s buddy was the kind who got excited. He immediately started asking me questions. He was very up front about it. His first question was, “Hey, what do you believe?” I was a caught a little off guard because I was about to bite into my burger, but here was an opportunity. What was I going to say? I had at the most 2 minutes. How could I give an answer? But I was ready. My church at the time recited the Apostle’s Creed every Lord’s Day. We always began the Creed by asking the congregation, “Christian, what is it you believe?” Here was a guy asking me, “Christian, what is it you believe?” So, by God’s grace, I was able to take him through the main points of our faith in just a matter of minutes.
I don’t know if that conversation had a big influence in his life. Moments later we were both back to eating our burgers. But at least he had heard. He had the gospel explained to him and he got at least a bare bones sketch of Christianity.
The point is, I was able to give an answer. I had belonged to a good church that was dedicated to sound teaching, and they had helped me prepare for that very moment.
Your being here is one step in the right direction. Your being here at this service is helping you to prepare your answer. And I want to encourage you to keep at it. Be in the Word all through the week. Dedicate yourself to studying the faith. As you do, you will be able to give an answer when the opportunity presents itself.
But along with our attitudes and our answer, notice that Peter says we need to prepare our approach.
III. Prepare our approach [16-17]
What Peter says in verse 16 is very important. It’s something that we often overlook. He says that when you give this answer, “do it with gentleness and respect.”
Again, this is the one we often overlook. Especially brainy people like us. A lot of the times we like to engage the conversation. We like to jump into the debate. And we’ll pull out all the stops so that we can win the argument. But as we do so, we don’t do it with gentleness and respect because it’s not so much about sharing the faith and winning the person over as it is winning the argument.
When we get into the conversation things can become heated. And perhaps that may be a good thing now and again. Maybe the conversation will call for some strong language. That very well might be. In my speech class I had my students give a speech that was purely emotional. We called it the passion speech because they had to give a speech that was purely energized with strong feelings.
Sometimes public speaking or interpersonal conversations need some spice to them. But this isn’t always the case. I would say that most of the time, when you speak about your faith, it requires a much more mild spirit.
Some of you know Greg Bahnsen. Greg Bahnsen was perhaps the best apologist of our time. He used to debate a lot of atheists. If you ever have a chance to listen to his debates, please do. They are some of the most informative things in the world.
But there was a time when he was debating a certain man, and Bahnsen had him cornered. Everyone knew that he could have slaughtered his opponent, and perhaps even made him look rather silly in the process. But Bahnsen didn’t do that. As a matter of fact, he skipped right over that line of argumentation. After the debate everyone asked him, “Why did you do that? You could have destroyed him!” Bahnsen responded by saying yes, he could have thrown his opponent down. But he wasn’t out there to do that. He didn’t just want to win the debate or simply defeat his opponent. What he really wanted was to win the man over to Christ. And so he chose to go in a direction that was much more gentle.
Most of us are not going to be on a platform doing a debate. But when we write our friends that letter or when we speak with them on the street, we need to remember what Peter says here. Don’t dehumanize your opponent and just make it about your answer. Remember your approach is just as important, and it needs to be like Christ himself. Remember what the Bible says about him. He was meek and mild. So gentle was he that “a bruised reed he would not break, and a faintly burning wick he would not snuff out.” That’s to be our approach.
And you see why too. Peter gives us a good reason for this kind of approach. He says that you need to do this as a means of protecting yourself. Verse 16 goes on to say that if you do this, “When you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”
You may remember the story about Stephen in the book of Acts. He was the first martyr of the church. He was stoned after he gave a great testimony. As his attackers came to stone him the text says that “his face shown like that of an angel.” That’s how clear his conscience had been and it was a disgrace to those who came after him.
That’s what Peter is talking about here. When someone verbally insults you, they will be the ones who will look bad if you have maintained this kind of approach.
Well, your time in my class has come to an end. But I want you to remember the some of the keys to the art of divine eloquence. I have spoken to you today because I want you to be prepared. I wouldn’t doubt that even before the week is out some of you will have a conversation or two about spiritual things. Someone will inquire about the things you believe or you will have an opportunity to speak up for the truth.
I hope that this message has proven beneficial to some degree. But remember listening to what I have said is not enough. Every week my public speaking students had to give a speech. And they couldn’t just walk into class without having done any work beforehand. They had to think through everything that they were going to say and how they were going to say it long before they stood before the class.
The same is true for you. Class is now done, but your work has just begun. As you look to the Lord and seek to fear him, I pray that your answer will be used in tremendous ways.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.