8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For, whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.
11 He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.
15 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, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
13 You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
During the past couple of weeks, we have been looking at what is commonly known as the exclusivity of the Gospel. In John 14:6 Jesus makes one of His most famous, and most controversial statements when He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” As we well know, this is not a popular thing to proclaim in a world where we are told that it doesn’t matter what you believe, just as long as you are sincere. But as we also saw last Sunday, it is not our place as Christians to redefine Jesus’ words to fit in with our all-inclusive society. We dare not meddle with the Word of God, because He takes it very seriously when the Church changes or waters down Biblical truth. In the very last chapter of the Bible we are given this warning: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)
We either accept all of the Bible, or none of it. We cannot pick and choose the verses which suit us and the lifestyles we’d like to live. We cannot ignore some teachings of Scripture just because we don’t happen to agree with them. This may sound like a rather fundamentalist point of view, but if you think about it, is there really space for any other true interpretation of Biblical truth? The entire Bible is the entire Word of God. As part of the ordination vows of ministers and elders in the UPCSA we proclaim “I accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as inspired by the Holy Spirit to be the uniquely authoritative and sufficient witness to Jesus Christ and as such the Word of God and the final rule of faith and life.” As Bible believing Christians, this is what we believe and are to proclaim, but if you struggle to accept the Bible in its entirety, you will struggle to share the truth of God’s Word. Remember from last Sunday, that our foundation of faith must be firm. It must be built on the Rock who is Jesus Christ, and not on the shifting sand of human philosophy and our own definition of God’s Word.
A question often raised at this point is the issue of other faiths. There are some really nice people out there who are not Christians, and if the truth be told, many of them put us to shame when it comes to helping and serving others. The simple answer is that salvation is a gift. It is not based on works or merit, but it is a gift of grace, offered to us only in and through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We hear often that you get out of life what you put into it, and you can apply that principle to virtually every aspect of life – to our marriages, our family relationships, our careers, you name it. But the one exception to the rule is our eternal salvation. We have done, and can do nothing to achieve our salvation. It is a gift offered to us by God, but it hinges on whether we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour or not. There is no other means of salvation available to us.
Make no mistake – you will face much criticism and opposition for proclaiming that truth, but the point is that we did not say that Jesus is the only way, the only truth and the only life. He said it, and each of us has to decide whether to accept that truth or not. It is not easy to share the Gospel, and one of the main reasons it is difficult is its exclusivity. But again, we need to decide whether to accept the Bible in its entirety or not.
So once we have reached this point in our walk of faith where we accept and believe God, what next? What are we to do with this Word of hope and grace that He has given to us? In other words, what is the task of the Church? Quite simply, we are to be salt and light. We are to take that message of hope into the non-believing world.
But how do we do that, and how do we do so effectively? How do we tell people about Jesus without compromising the exclusivity of the Gospel in such a way that their hearts are stirred to want to know more about the hope He offers them, but without us sounding all high and mighty and holier than thou?
Part of the answer is found in these key words in Colossians 4:5-6. “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
It all starts with how you see others. How do we behave with and how do we see unbelievers? Do we regard them as the enemy? That is a huge mistake, because we must remember Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:12 – “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Non-believers will almost certainly disagree with us, but they are held as captives of satan. Paul expands on this principle in 2 Timothy 2:25-26. “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” Now of course, if we go around telling non-believers that they have been trapped by the devil and are his captives, we’ll be treated with derision and scorn at best.
But when we are clear in our own minds that they have been taken captive, it will help us to see them as victims, rather than as the enemy. Jesus died for the sins of the world – for everyone. Included in that list are those who just couldn’t be bothered and think that the Christian faith is just a pointless waste of time, as well as those who openly and even violently hate Jesus and all He stands for.
We have to start with trying to see others the way that God does: a person whom He loves with an immeasurable love, and for whom Jesus died.
As hard as it is, try to see non-Christians through God’s eyes – eternal beings, created in His image. In the words of CS Lewis, “You’ve never met a mere mortal.”
Colossians 4:5-6 again - “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
God wants us to conduct ourselves with wisdom and grace toward unbelievers, but we must remain true to the Gospel first and foremost. And how do we do that? By focusing on the cross of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:23 says, “We preach Christ crucified.” The cross of Christ must be focus of our teaching, our worship, our fellowship and our witnessing. I said last week that we must never apologise for the exclusivity of the Gospel. Keep your focus on the cross, and there are no apologies necessary. God doesn’t need us to defend Him. He is quite capable of doing that Himself. Our task is to be faithful to Him, and to reach out to the lost in love and grace. This is an important point that we tend to forget sometimes: It is not our responsibility to bring people to faith. Our task is to tell people about Jesus. It is the Spirit of God who changes hearts.
We just have to keep the cross central in our hearts and minds. The sacrifice of Jesus has cleansed us from our sins, forgiven us our trespasses, and enabled us to be gracious and kind by changing us. We were once His enemies because of our unbelief, but God was gracious and kind to us, and because of this we are to be kind to others, even when our efforts at loving others are rejected.
Christians are called bigots, intolerant, religious extremists and narrow-minded. You’ll remember from our series on the Beatitudes that Jesus said we would be persecuted for our faith.
It really is hard sometimes to be a Christian, yet we are to remain humble, loving, caring, kind and gentle. If we are not, and we don’t show love and patience in the face of all the opposition we meet, how effective is our witnessing?
That is why it is so important to seek God’s wisdom when it comes to interacting with those who do not know Jesus.
Because whether we like it or not, the reputation of the gospel depends on us. The world judges Christianity by what it sees in Christians. We’re the first to admit that we’re not perfect, so surely it’s unfair to judge the Christian faith based on the behaviour of Christians? Quite possibly, but that doesn’t change the reality that opinions of God and what He is like are often formed by how outsiders see us. So the question is, are we representing the Gospel well? Do they see kindness, holiness and love for others and God?
As Peter wrote in our first reading for today, “Live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing.”
In case you haven’t noticed, it is extremely hard to do these things. Our natural instinct when we’re wronged is to fight back. It is certainly the first thing that goes through my mind when someone angers me, and I have to confess that I fail more often than not. This is why we need Godly wisdom and Godly grace to change our behaviour, because we don’t have it within ourselves to do the right thing.
Jesus tells us that we’re to be salt and light in the world. The world is a dark place, and the grip of evil is seen in every aspect of society. What a privilege we have to take the light of Christ into the darkness. The analogy of us being salt in the world is interesting. Salt prevents decay and corruption, and also adds flavour. This is why Paul says that our words should be “full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
So our conduct and our speech must be seasoned with salt. The Bible tells us how to speak and behave, but what about the bigger question – what are we to say to non-believers? Paul says “so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Or as Peter puts it, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
What answer are we to give?
We need to know not only how to speak, but also what to speak and when. The Christian author AW Tozer wrote that there is a God-shaped void within every person, and whether people are aware of it or not, each one is seeking somehow to fill that void with answers. Tozer also says, “We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit.”
So whether non-believers might realise it or not, they are a captive audience! There is a hunger for truth that they may deny or ignore, but it is there.
Part of having answers means being rooted in Scripture. The Bible is the only source of true wisdom, and part of having answers means knowing what the Bible says. Spend time in God’s Word, and get to know it.
If you are asked a question, but you’re not sure of the answer or just don’t know, then don’t be afraid to admit it. Offer to do some research or ask other Christians for help, but don’t try to pretend. And of course, occasionally “I just don’t know” is a good answer too.
Get to know what others believe too. You don’t need to be an expert on other cults, religions and things like the theory of evolution, but it does help to have a working knowledge of where other people are coming from, as this enables you to see things the way they do. We also need to be very careful of criticising or sounding judgmental of others. And of course, pray for them. Your words might not persuade them, and they may not be interested in what you have to say, but they are completely defenceless against your prayers…
And above all, just be authentic. Be yourself. I’ve mentioned this many times, but the story you know best and the one you are most familiar with is your own. Don’t be afraid to share with others how God has carried you through times of difficulty and struggle. When Christians are prepared to talk about what God is doing in their own lives, He becomes real and relevant.
1 Peter 3:15 is a crucial verse when it comes to what and how we are supposed to share the Gospel of Jesus, and there are 3 key elements in this verse.
“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.”
Firstly, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” As I mentioned earlier, keep your eyes on the Cross. If Jesus is Lord of your life, then your foundation is built on Him. Don’t compromise on Biblical truth, and don’t apologise for it either. Angus Buchan was in the news these past few days. He has been prevented from preaching in Scotland next week, and they are also trying to ban him from Ireland. He has been accused of hate speech because he upholds Biblical principles on the subject of homosexuality. This is a subject full of deep emotion and it is guaranteed to be controversial, but Angus has made it clear that he will not compromise on Biblical truth. This is what he wrote on his Facebook page on Friday: “I am accused of being a homophobe, and many other unsavoury things, but all I am doing, and still intend to do in Great Britain, is to preach the undiluted Word of God, the Bible, in its entirety, not compromising one word. It is because I love people and do not want them to perish and go to a lost eternity. John 17:17, states very clearly, “Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth”. That is all I have ever done in the past, and that is all I will ever do! I love homosexuals, and I love lesbians, but I cannot condone their way of living, their lifestyle, because it is contrary to the teaching of God’s Holy Word!” Point number one: In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.
Secondly, “Be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” We often think that we need to be experts on everything the Bible has to say, and while it is essential to get to grips with the Bible and have some knowledge of Christian doctrine, these words of Peter say we should just give a reason for the hope we have. Tell them your story. Share with others the hope that you have and how God has given your life a whole new meaning and purpose. “This is what I was, and this is the kind of person God is changing me into.”
And thirdly, “Do this with gentleness and respect.” We’ve already covered this, but it’s important enough to repeat it. You will not force people into the Kingdom by beating them over the head with a Bible. Your job is to love them into the Kingdom. God is the one who will convict the lost of their need for a Saviour. As the Church we are called to love as unconditionally as God has loved us. Remember, they are not the enemy. They are captives to the same lies of satan that you once were. Try to see them as God sees them, and ask Him to give you a heart for the lost.
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Matthew 28:19-20 and 1 Peter 3:15-16
All Christians would agree that we are all responsible for telling others about Jesus, but this is often where we struggle most.
Why do you think so many Christians are reluctant to share their faith?
Look at 1 Peter 3:15 again.
As we saw on Sunday, there are 3 key elements to this verse.
- In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.
- Be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have.
Discuss each of these principles in your group.
If we apply these principles, how will they help us to be effective witnesses for God?
How are we to react when confronted with the exclusivity of the Gospel?
The Bible is often regarded as old-fashioned and of little or no relevance to modern society.
How do you respond to this common criticism?
Discuss Colossians 4:5-6
What can we learn from these verses?
Close in prayer, and ask God to give you a burden for the lost.
Pray that He would season your words with grace.