A Guide to Gospel Conversations

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:13–17 ESV)

Observable Hope in our Pain/Mess

Imagine this with me. First century Asia Minor Christian Frank applies for membership in the local business guild. He is denied membership by the board of directors simply because of his Christian faith. A member of the board delivers the news. After sharing the news, Frank is surprisingly upbeat. The board member walks away wondering, what’s up with Frank?

First century Asia Minor Christian student Sally is at school. Everyone knows her family doesn’t worship at the temple of Zeus. Parents have warned their kids about Sally and her family. Sally isn’t exactly welcomed in social circles at school yet she seems pretty ok with it. It’s like her identity isn’t found in what the cool girls think of her. The other students wonder, what’s up with Sally?

First century Asia Minor Christian John is at the hospital. Why? He is very sick. The doctor and nurses see many patients over the day. Everybody’s sick. Everybody’s fearful. Everybody’s despairing. Everybody but John. He’s human and doesn’t want to be sick. Yet the nurses see in him something different. Those nurses have pain in their own lives, they wonder what John has that they don’t.

Rich. Poor. Religious. Atheistic. Powerful. Everyone suffers. We want to hide our sufferings and act like everything is OK. Peter urges us a different way. How so? Again we read verse 15, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

Hope is like the stars; you only see them at night. When the sun is up, it’s hard to see the stars. When everything is great in life, hope is invisible. Hope becomes evident in the dark nights of the soul.

Peter urges us to be ready to give answers. This assumes that unbelievers are asking questions. Where do the questions come from? Their observation of our lives; not perfection or the projection of having it all together. Actually our attempts to appear perfect are counterproductive to this. It is simply real Christianity observed through real Christians dealing with real problems with the only hope in this world found in Jesus.

When unbelievers see hope, they ask about it. That’s verse 15. Our lives display hope and unbelievers ask about it. Be ready to give an answer when they do.

We have to see the brokenness of our lives as opportunities. None of us are exempt from experiencing the effects of a life and a world that is fallen:

  • We know what it’s like for work to be frustrating.
  • We know what it’s like for home, family and relationships to have conflict and strife.
  • We know what it’s like to have financial worries.
  • We know what it’s like to suffer loss and hurt
  • We know what it’s like to get caught up in our crazy, busy schedules
  • We know what it’s like to get discouraged and have doubts.

One of the most powerful ways we witness for Jesus is when we say to people, “I know exactly what you’re going through and this is where I’ve found the good news of Jesus to be powerful, helpful, freeing, comforting etc…” One of the reasons canned gospel presentations often fall on deaf ears is that they seem like abstract truth that mean nothing for life.

When you share how the gospel frees you to ask forgiveness of your wife and kids in your anger or how knowing Jesus allows you to be sympathetic, serve your difficult boss or neighbor, or how your hope in Jesus allows you to live with unfulfilled dreams or desires, that’s powerful to an unbeliever who is dealing with all the same things but without hope.

What is our country thinking about right now? Charleston, South Carolina. Nine people shot dead in a church. What did this church do two days after the murders? They forgave the murderer. That makes an unbelieving world sit up straight. Why? Forgiveness is not the natural response. Vengeance is. Might there be a few visitors to that church today? They’ve got something here that I don’t have. I want to check it out.

All of a sudden the hope of the gospel hits home. They see how this hope is working in you.

Speak with Gentleness

“Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (Verse 15)

I was raised in a church with a more confrontational style of evangelism. People certainly were saved by it but how many people were turned off by it? Too often talk about religion turns into debate. These rarely end with conversions to Christianity.

Shouting doesn’t help but gentleness does. Gentleness is the way we say what we say. The tone. The sense of it which the other person perceives. When we are calm, kind, and conversational as we share our story of faith or maybe share the gospel of Jesus, the tone endears the truth.

What do we instinctively do when someone yells at us? Confronts us? Gets in our face? We take a defensive posture. We want to self-protect. But when we sense someone cares about us or is treating us kindly, our heart opens to them.

If you think condemning is the only way to go, check out how Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman at the well. He had the right to condemn her and her life of sexual sin but he built rapport with her and drew her toward the truth. When it was all done she rushed to her hometown and invited everyone else to go talk to him. That’s a sign of a good conversation. A tone of gentleness.

Reverence God/Respect the Other Person

“…with gentleness and respect.” (Verse 15)

The Greek word for respect is phobos, we get phobia from it. You may say, finally a Greek word that helps me. I have phobia about sharing my faith. Actually, the phobia is to be toward God. That is why it is translated reverence or respect. It’s debated whether it’s toward God or the other person. Peter always uses this word vertically toward God. That’s probably the sense here, but reverence for God will show itself in respectful actions toward others.

Do you listen to people who disrespect you? Probably not. I think this speaks to a sense of dignity and dependence in this. If our sharing is a comedy act, we don’t have reverence for God. If our sharing is demeaning toward others, we don’t have respect for man. Peter is encouraging humble evangelism. Not vitriolic. It’s not, we’re better than you! What’s your problem? Instead, it’s respectfully and humbly telling how Jesus provides real hope and help in the struggles of life. People will listen to that.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

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