Always Be Ready

May 14, 2023 homily on 1 Peter 3:15-16a and Acts 17:22-31 by Pastor Galen

“Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”  -1 Peter 3:15-16a

Drive-By Evangelism

Evangelism might as well be a four-letter word in our society. Hearing it makes us think of people like the street preacher who periodically showed up on the college campus where I worked and spent all day yelling at the college students, trying to convince them that they were sinful people who needed a Savior. (Unfortunately, he rarely made it to the good news that salvation is possible through Jesus Christ!)

For me, I’m reminded of the time when my wife and I were subject to “drive-by evangelism.” One day when we lived in Southwest Baltimore we were out for a walk, and a black SUV with tinted windows pulled up next to us. The passenger window rolled down, an arm extended towards us, and a Gospel tract was placed firmly in our hands. Before we even knew what had happened, the SUV drove off. I’m pretty sure the SUV had never even come to a complete stop.

1st Peter chapter 3 verse 15 is frequently used as justification for this sort of evangelism, or as a proof text for why we as Christians should constantly be looking to drop truth bombs on people. After all, Peter says that we should always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us. A former student of mine understood this to mean that we are supposed to bring up God or talk about the Gospel in every conversation we have, whether it’s with the barista at our favorite coffee shop or the stranger we meet on the bus.

But interestingly enough, I’ve rarely heard the second part of this sentence—the first half of verse 16—where Peter says that we are to do it “with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:16a).

So what does Peter mean when he says that we should always be ready to talk about the hope that is within us? And how can we talk about our faith in Christ with gentleness and reverence? 

This morning we’re going to look a little bit at the context of this passage in 1 Peter 3, then we’ll look at the example of the Apostle Paul in Acts 17. And then I’ll share a few brief modern-day examples that will hopefully inspire us to dream into new ways that we can share the hope that is within us.

Love, Respect, and Equality

As we’ve learned so far in our study of 1 Peter, this letter was written to Gentile Christians, many of whom were born after the time of Christ. As converts to Christianity, they regularly faced ridicule from friends and family members who thought they had gone off the deep end for turning away from the worship of the Greco-Roman deities. This would have had ramifications for every aspect of their lives, including their occupations, as business associates frequently cut them off because Christians were seen as narrowminded on the one hand for believing in Christ, and too progressive on the other hand because of the egalitarian nature of their worship and community.

Earlier in chapter 3, Peter addresses another situation that was causing tension for many of the new Christians, and that is that some of them had spouses who weren’t believers who insisted on the very hierarchical Roman household structure. This was particularly challenging for Christian women who experienced equality with men at church, but who were often treated as second-class citizens in their own homes. In that particular situation, Peter encouraged wives to acquiesce to their husband’s authority, hoping that by the “purity and respect” (1 Peter 3:2) of their conduct they might win their husbands over to faith in Christ. But Peter goes on to emphasize for the Christian men who were assumed to have authority in their households by secular Roman society that women and men are “joint heirs of the gracious gift of life” (1 Peter 3:7 NRSV), or, as it says in the Message paraphrase, “in the new life of God’s grace, you’re equals. Treat your wives, then, as equals so your prayers don’t run aground.” (1 Peter 3:7 MSG).

And then Peter switches to a different scenario, talking about what we should do if and when we are being persecuted for righteousness’s sake, saying that we should be ready to defend ourselves and talk about the hope that is within us “with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15-16a). 

So the common theme here is that we should seek to win people over to Christ by the gentleness and reverence that we show them. It’s about how our actions speak louder than words, and how rather than constantly seeking to interject the Gospel into every conversation, we should seek to win others over with our actions.

Paul in the Marketplace

But Peter does say that if and when we have an opportunity to share the hope that is within us, we should be ready. And so to see an example of this we turn to Acts 17, where Paul shares the hope that is within him, but he does so with gentleness and reverence.

Now, Paul usually caused quite a stir wherever he went, because typically in whatever city he visited he would go first of all to the Jewish synagogue and try to convince the Jewish people in that city that Jesus was and is the Messiah. (Not something I would recommend today!) Often this did not go over well, and in the case of Thessalonica Paul and his friend Silas literally caused a riot in the city because of their evangelistic methodology. But in Athens, Paul took a bit of a different tack. There, in addition to going to the synagogue, he also went to the marketplace, where Greek philosophers sat around all day and debated the latest philosophical theories, and after a while, they turned to Paul and asked him to present his “new teaching,” which he did by talking with them about the “unknown God” that they already worshipped. 

Paul said that he had been walking around Athens, and noticed that the people of Athens had idols devoted to every god they could imagine. For fear that they may have inadvertently omitted one, they even had an altar dedicated to an “unknown god.” Paul says, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23), and he proceeds to tell them about the God who created the heavens and the earth and everything that lives and breathes. And he even quotes one of their own poets, saying “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we, too, are his offspring’” (Acts 17:28). 

And so here Paul was ready to talk about the hope that was within him. His eyes were open to see the places where there might be an opportunity to connect the dots for people and tap into the spiritual hunger and longing that they had. But he waited until given the opportunity, and when it was granted to him, he shared with gentleness and reverence. Paul met the Athenians right where they were. Rather than debating the finer points of Christian doctrine, he referenced ideas and even poetry that was familiar to them, sharing the hope that was within him using gentleness and reverence. 

Some scoffed at his message, but a small group of individuals joined him. Rick Rennder says, “The seed of God’s Word became deeply rooted in their hearts, and they kept the fire burning in Athens long after Paul’s departure.”

Ellen and the Outreach Committee

When I was serving as a campus minister at UMBC, we were always looking for ways to connect with people who weren’t Christians. Every so often we would try to do outreach events, but they were generally poorly attended, and we never saw any fruit from our efforts. The leader in our fellowship and I would sit around and try to come up with new ideas to connect with people outside of our group, but we just didn’t know what would connect with people.

But one year we had a new outreach coordinator who had a novel idea. Instead of asking other members and leaders in our Christian fellowship for ideas about how to connect with those outside of the fellowship, she decided to go to her friends who weren’t members of our group who had no faith background and she asked them what sorts of events they would attend. And then she took it a step further and asked them to help us coordinate the types of events that they would want to attend. Needless to say, this approach worked far better than our previous approach! 

One of Ellen’s friends pointed out that as a Christian fellowship, we were always serving in the community, but that a lot of students who weren’t part of any religious groups didn’t know how to connect with organizations where they could serve. And so Ellen’s friend suggested we host a “service fair” where different off-campus organizations could come and set up a table and share about opportunities for college students to serve in the community. The idea also surfaced that during the event various students—some who were part of our fellowship and some who weren’t—could share why they serve. This approach was a gentle and reverent way to share the hope that is within us and ended up drawing more people in than the more heavy-handed evangelistic approach we had tried previously. 

The Community Pastor Hiring Committee

I’ve also seen something like this play out on a congregational level at the little United Methodist church in the neighborhood where I grew up. Over the years a lot of the members had moved out of the city, and the church began to have less of a connection to the surrounding community. Acknowledging the challenges they faced in connecting to the community, they decided to hire someone to serve in the role of a Community Pastor, to minister to those in the neighborhood who didn’t currently attend church.

This was a great idea in and of itself, but the implementation was even more brilliant because guess who the congregation invited to be on the hiring committee for this community pastor? Not church leaders or even church members, but residents from the neighborhood who didn’t attend their church! They invited community residents to interview and select their new community pastor. This was a gentle and reverent way to reach the community, that provided an opportunity for many people who hear about the hope that is within us.

The Curiosity Approach

For me, I’ve found that one of the most gentle and reverent ways I can share about the hope that is within me is by asking people about their lives, their priorities, and what is important to them. People often love to talk about themselves, and by encouraging people to share what is important to them, I can often discover places of longing, or even spiritual hunger. Sometimes when I meet someone and they learn that I’m a pastor, they’re not sure what to say. So I ask them if they are part of a faith community, or have any sort of religious or spiritual background. Even if they’re not currently part of a faith community, they often have memories—sometimes fond, sometimes not, about growing up in a particular faith tradition. And occasionally this provides the opportunity for me to share my own journey, and why my faith is important to me.


So this morning, may we receive Peter’s encouragement to always be ready to share the hope that is within us. May we dream into new ways that we can do this together as a congregation, perhaps even soliciting the input of those who are not yet a part of our congregation. And whatever we do, may we do it with gentleness and reverence, in our hearts sanctifying Christ as Lord.


Published by Galen Zook

I am an artist, preacher, minister, and aspiring theologian

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