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Preparing Yourself to Give An Answer (2)

A Speech given at Hope PRC’s Conference

On Personal Witnessing – April 3, 1993

 

Prepared With An Answer

The text speaks of an answer of your hope.  That word “hope” encompasses the whole sum of our religion.  It includes all our faith and practice as it focuses upon the promise God has set before us.  And, indeed, what can better answer all the exceptions against your godly life, than the hope that lives within you?  If someone asks you, “Why do you not live like the rest of the world around you?”; truly, the reason is this: You have your eyes fixed on something beyond your earthly situation.  You have the hope, the sure hope, of blessedness in the presence of God, where our Lord Jesus Christ is gone before us.  And you know, as we read in I John 3:3, that “every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself.”

When your eyes are fixed on that city which is holy, into which no unclean thing shall enter, neither whosoever worketh abomination or maketh a lie (Rev. 21:27), then what reason have you to live as the worldly native?  The hope we have cannot subsist in the way of the ungodly world; it cannot survive in that polluted air, but would be choked and stifled by it.  And therefore we must take another way, we must walk a very different way from that of unbelief.

Don’t you see?  How much happier, how blessed is he who is stricken in poverty in the things of this perishing world, who foregoes the pleasures and sins of the ungodly and forsakes fellowship with unbelievers – how much better off he is, than the one who only has this world.  It is the comfort and joy of a Christian, to look beyond the abuse he suffers here, to look beyond earthly possessions and wants, and to fix his eyes upon and to answer his critics and questioners with that heavenly hope that lies before him in the way of obedience to the Word of God.

I find much trouble here, many strong assaults of temptations rising from within my sinful flesh as well as from outside.  I find a law in my members rebelling against the law of my mind, so much strength of corruption in me, let alone the trials I face because of the infirmities of my dying body.  Yet I have a burning, living hope that is unquestionably real!  I lift up my head, because my day of redemption draws nigh!  That I dare to proclaim to all!  I am not ashamed to answer concerning this blessed hope.

But at the same time, let us understand, this apology, this defense of our faith and conduct, must be reasonable and intelligent.  That is not to say it must be scientific.  What I mean is that our defense must not be some vague and general rambling about some radical and legalistic views, incomprehensible to those who ask.  We are not called simply to make some wishy-washy and sentimental testimony that causes unbelievers to think of us that we belong in some state hospital for the irrational and insane.  Such testimony means nothing.  Though there is indeed a proper level of emotion connected to being a Christian and living in the consciousness of this hope, that fitting emotion is encompassed by true spiritual knowledge.

Not with mere sentiment, but with power we give our defense.  Again, not power of speech, not power of anger – certainly not that; for as we shall see presently, this answer must also be given in meekness and fear.  But with power nonetheless, we give answer.  For our answer comes from the Word.  You and I must be in a position to appeal directly to the Word of God.  We must be prepared to defend our conduct and our faith by a vivid demonstration from the Bible of what we believe and how we must live.  That is our answer.

That means specifically that we must be prepared by knowing the Scriptures.  Next to that spiritual preparedness necessary for a Christian witness, we need above all else to be strong in the Scriptures.

Maybe you sometimes get a little sick of this emphasis in the churches (and I trust I am not alone in emphasizing this).  But it is a necessary emphasis.  I would like to see us all be more like the Bereans, who searched the Scriptures daily.  There are far too many among us who are spiritually weak Christians.  Their devotional life is nil.  Their Bibles are never studied.  They seldom, if ever, lift up a fervent and meaningful prayer to Jehovah.  Even coming to church they hear the Word read, immediately slap the Bible back in the pew, and give little attention to the preaching.  Those things give a partial explanation why there is such a lack of readiness to give an answer to the world.

To be ready with an answer is not to be ready with an opinion.  To be ready with an answer is to be ready with an answer from the Bible!  And for that we must live out of the Scriptures.  We should all be able to explain from the Bible our doctrinal positions to a certain degree.  But what about certain positions of life style?  Are you able to show from Scripture why such and such an activity is out of place for us, even when that activity may be widely practiced in Christian circles – movie watching, dancing, labor unions, divorce and re-marriage, and so on and so forth?  Why do we bring children into this world?  And why so many?!  Why do mothers devote themselves to their calling at home to care for the needs of their children?  Many are woefully unprepared to give such answers.  Others make clear by their walk of life that they don’t want such answers.  Still others do harm to the truth of Scripture and the cause of Christ when they give the wrong answers which are only answers of opinion and not of the Word.

We must be those in whom the Bible lives.  Don’t misunderstand, I do not expect, nor does this text require, that every one of you reach the level of an Apostle in your knowledge.  There are different degrees of gifts, different levels of knowledge, differing abilities.  But what is required is that we are able to wield the sword of the Scriptures against unbelief according to the gifts and opportunities God has given us.  That is not an option to you.  “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer.”

Finally, there must be preparation also in our attitude toward those who may be unbelieving, those who would question us.

 

Prepared With a Proper Attitude

            I Peter 3:15 speaks of giving our answers with meekness and fear.  Although not readily seen in our King James Version, this is a matter that receives emphasis in the text.  Be ready with an answer but do so with meekness and fear.  In a sense, the meaning here is much the same as what Paul writes in Colossians 4:6, when he says, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”

This requires prayer before speaking.  The idea, obviously, is that we usually would not answer with meekness and fear.  Especially when the questions come in the form of mocking and taunting, it would be quite natural for us to become defensive and to answer with indignation and defiance.  As when debating any subject in which we know in our minds that we are right, there is always the danger of becoming proud and boastful in our defense.  Maybe even a subtle pride is revealed by our expressions and the way we speak.  We might be inclined to take a “better than thou” attitude towards those who ask us, as if our walk and our spiritual understanding was a matter of our own accomplishment rather than the fruit of God’s mercy and grace.  Peter admonishes us to guard ourselves against such an attitude.  For such an attitude is sure to destroy the very answer we are giving.

Far different from an attitude of pride, meekness is that attitude by which we point our questioner beyond ourselves to our God Who is the Author of all our faith and godly life, and Who alone is worthy of all praise and glory.

Fear, also, is required of us in our answer.  That does not refer to a fear of our questioners, you understand.  Rather, in answering those who question us, we give our answer in the consciousness of God’s presence.  Fear is used here, as in many places in the Bible, in the sense of reverence.  Divine things are never to be spoken of in a light, half-hearted way, but with reverence and sincerity.  To fear God in our answer is to have in our minds an earnest desire to honor God, and to walk before Him in the truth and to the glory of His name.  For in the consciousness of His fellowship, we are assured that He is also with us accomplishing His purpose in the answers we give.

There is one other matter to which I must call your attention in connection with this idea of the preparation of a proper attitude.  This is not a matter set forth in I Peter 3:15, although certainly implied; but a matter taught us in other settings in the New Testament.  I speak now of the fact that personal witnessing or giving an answer of our hope must be given with a genuine concern for the spiritual welfare of the one to whom we witness.

We speak the things of salvation, the good news which is the gospel.  We speak as those who have been called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.  We do well to consider those profound words of the Apostle Paul in this connection, the words found in Romans 9:1ff: “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.  For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

That God has saved us is certainly not a matter for pride and self-exaltation, but for deep humility.  Our attitude needs drastic change, if we look at those whom God places in the pathway of our life and have some sort of cold-blooded “who cares” attitude toward their spiritual state.  The attitude expressed by the Apostle Paul, though profound beyond description, is the expression of the love for the neighbor which is the second table of the law.  This attitude, which is only proper and necessary in personal witnessing, involves a sharp God-consciousness and a sensitive sin-consciousness.  It is practical Christianity – which is sensitive to God’s glory and the spiritual needs of the neighbor.  This is true love for God, and for the neighbor.

Be ready always – also with this spiritual attitude – to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you.  For so God is pleased to accomplish His purpose in our personal relationships with those who are at present unbelieving.

We must understand that for all our testimony and witnessing to those who are unbelieving, the response of that person is outside our control.  Our heart’s desire, as was Paul’s for his fellow Israelites, is that they might be saved.  But God’s purpose is sovereign and His wisdom immeasurable.  He saves those upon whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.  That is the clear truth of Romans 9:18.

When a person comes face to face with the Word of God, whether under the preaching of that Word, or the testimony of the Word by the saints in their daily walk, that person is moved to respond.  Some will respond negatively, fulfilling God’s sovereign purpose.  But there are also others.  There are others who are also unbelieving, and yet whom God has chosen as objects of His love.  There are elect who have not yet been called out of darkness.  And for them the preaching of the Word is the power of God unto salvation. But the preaching does not occur in a vacuum; it doesn’t occur alone.  In the power of the preaching you are given the call and the power to walk as pilgrims and strangers.  In such a way, and only in that way, will you be questioned for the hope that lives within you.  And by those means, the preaching and the living witness of the power of preaching in you, God is pleased to gather His church.

Your personal witness is crucially important to our churches.  Do you stand in the service of God’s cause and purpose?  Then live in the power of Christian hope, as a Christian pilgrim and stranger.  And be ready always to give an answer in meekness and fear to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.