“An Effective Witness” (I Peter 3:15 sermon)

A couple of weeks ago, a group from our church went to Houston see the play “The Hiding Place,” about how Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy were taken by the Nazis into a concentration camp during World War II because they had sheltered Jews. Corrie’s book, which the play was based upon, tells how a friend named Harry was taken away during a raid on the Ten Boom’s watchmaking business by the Nazi-controlled police. She wrote: “Harry kissed his wife. Then he took my hand and shook it solemnly. Tears filled our eyes. For the first time, Harry spoke. ‘I shall use this place — wherever they’re taking us,’ he said. ‘It will be my witness stand for Jesus.’”  (The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom, pp. 110-111)

That idea right there: of being a witness for Jesus in whatever you are going through, is a big part of the message of the Book of I Peter. God’s people were being persecuted, but Peter was teaching them that God’s purpose for them in this trial was that they might be a witness for Him. And that’s His purpose for us today, too. Wherever we are, every day, whatever our cirucmstances, God wants us to use what we are going through as “a witness stand for Jesus.”

Last Sunday we talked about how we don’t want to let fear control our lives, but that we should truly make Jesus our Lord – and not be intimidated if He tells us to witness to someone. Peter encouraged us to obey HIM, and not give in to fears that would keep us from speaking — or to give in to fears of ANY kind. This morning, Peter continues that topic of being a witness with verse 15, which talks about how we can really be “An Effective Witness” for the Lord: 

“Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

This verse teaches us several things that must be present in our lives for us to be effective witnesses:


I. You must HAVE “the hope within you” in order to witness. 

Verse :15 says “always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” There is a big prerequisite here: that if you are going to be a witness, you must first HAVE this “hope with in you.” What is he talking about, when he says “the hope within you”? He is talking about the confident hope the Christian person has, that Jesus really IS their Lord & Savior, and that they know they are going to live with Him in glory forever.  He says you should be ready to share that hope — but it should really cause us to look back to “step one,” and make sure that you HAVE that hope within you!  Because you can’t SHARE something that you don’t HAVE! 

The truth is, not everyone has this hope within them. God made us to know Him, and to experience His glory forever.  But the problem is, we all sinned against Him, which put us under the dominion of Satan, Ephesians 2 says, and so we are without God, and have “no hope” in this world because of our sin. BUT God so loved us, that He sent Christ to die on the cross for our sins, so that if we would repent of our sins, and come back to Him, He would receive us, and forgive us, and send the Spirit of Jesus into our hearts, and give us the hope — not a “hope so” hope; but the CERTAIN HOPE of glory with Him in heaven forever. That’s what Paul meant when he said in Colossians in 1:27 that “Christ in you (is) the hope of glory.”  If the Spirit of Jesus is in you, then you have that certain hope: you know your sins are forgiven, and that no matter what happens to you here on this earth, you have a home in heaven and will bask in the glory of God forever.  That is what this “hope” is about.

So when you have this hope, you will live differently than those who do not have that hope. When you face persecution, or suffering, or even death, you don’t do face it “like those who have no hope,” as Paul says in I Thessalonians 4. Because you have the hope of heaven.

We’ve had a very real, and very personal experience of this in our own church family recently: many of you know that Imogene & Frank Smith’s daughter Gail White passed away last week. I had the privilege of visiting with her at the Smith’s home in those last days. Gail knew that she did not have long to live. But I can tell you that she was not frantic; she was not afraid; she had a total peace about it. She knew she was going to heaven, and that she was going to see her husband and other family members again soon. She knew she was going to glory. She had that “hope within you” like Peter talks about here. A lot of people don’t understand that; they don’t have that kind of peace — and it is because they don’t have this “hope within you” like Gail had, that Peter talks about here. 

The most important question of your life today is: do YOU have that hope? Do you know that your sins are forgiven, and that no matter what happens to you in this life, you have a home with God in glory in heaven that can never be taken away? If you don’t, you CAN have it, right now: admit to God that you have sinned, and ask Him to forgive you, and come into your life, and save you, and change you, and help you to follow Him. Ask Him to give you that “hope of glory.” 

And when you do have that hope of glory in you, then you will be able to  share it with other people. In fact, as you go through things, and have God’s peace in your life, people will even ask you about it. And when they do, Peter says, tell them about Jesus. Tell them where you got that hope; that it is from Him. 

But if you DON’T have that hope, you can’t be sharing it, can you? In fact, this one thing explains why so many people never share Christ with anyone — because if the truth be known, they are not genuinely saved; they do not have this hope within them. And you can’t share something that you don’t have!  So the most important question you need to ask yourself today is: DO YOU HAVE THAT HOPE? If you have it, then you can share it. If you don’t have it, of course you won’t be able to share what you don’t have. Do you have this hope of Christ within you, that would enable you to share Him with others?  


II. You Must Have the LIFESTYLE of a Witness.

This verse goes on to say, that you share this hope within you, “to everyone who asks you.” This is an important point: WHY would anyone be asking you about the hope that is in you? If they do ask, it will be because they see something in your life that is different:

— they see that like Gail and countless other Christian folks, you are able to face death, or adversity, with a courage that many others do not have, because you have that hope within you. That may cause them to ask you.

— Or maybe they will see other ways in your life that you don’t live like other people around you do: you don’t cheat on the expense account; you don’t live for money and material possessions or popularity like a lot of other people do. You are different. You seem to have a different basis for living — so they ask you about that hope. 

— Or maybe they see you being wronged, and not strike back and get your own revenge; or you don’t talk about those who talk badly about you; or they see you putting other people ahead of yourself, or that you give your time to serving on mission and ministry.  There’s a lot of things they can see in our lives that might show that we are different, and that Christ is in us.  

But again this should challenge us as God’s people: are we really living the kind life that witnesses to other people, that there is something different about us, which would cause them to ask us about the hope that is in us? Peter teaches us here that our lifestyle is one of the most important elements of our witness.  It is not only your WORDS that are important as you witness; your whole LIFE is the background for your witness. 

Peter says in :16 “And keep a good conscience, so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” Again, he’s saying, let your life be the background for your witness. Let your life speak to them, even before your words do. If God opens the door for you to be a witness to them, let it be no surprise that you are a Christian, because they have already seen the way you live.

I remember reading the testimony of a young lady who was a beauty pageant winner, and she showed up at a certain Christian event, and someone from her school came up to her and said: “I didn’t know that YOU were a Christian!” Well, she knew this person didn’t mean it in a bad way, but that immediately convicted her: she was so grieved that someone from her school would be surprised to find out that SHE was a Christian! It just convicted her that her life at that school not been what it should have been.

What about YOU? Would someone at your school be surprised to hear that “YOU” claimed to be a Christian? Would one of your employees, or your co-workers, or neighbors, be surprised if they walked into this worship center and found YOU here? Are you living a life in the world that backs up your confession of Christ as your Lord?  Peter reminds us here that our first witness to people is the way we live: in your home, at your school, on the job, at the ball game, at the grocery store, on vacation — wherever you are. If you are going to be an effective witness, you have to start with the way you live. You’ve got to live the life of a witness.  


III. You Must Be READY To Share Your Witness.

“always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you”

Peter makes it clear that our life must be the background for our witness. But if we are going to be an effective witness, it can’t JUST be our lifestyle; we’ve got to share the gospel verbally with people. We will “make a defense” — the Bible word is “apologia.” An “apologist” is one who defends the faith with his words. We should be ready to share our faith when God opens the door for us. ARE YOU prepared and ready to share?

I read an interesting article a few years ago which was written by a businesswoman who said that every business person should be ready with what she called a “30-second Elevator Speech.” She said you never know when you will be in an elevator, on in line at a store or whatever, and if someone asks you “What do you do?”, then you need to be ready to share, in a very brief, succinct, but effective way, about your business — because you never know; this person could be a prospective customer; or employee, or investor. So she she said every business person should have a “30-second elevator speech” prepared and ready for when the opportunity comes.

Well, when I read that, I thought, in the same way, every CHRISTIAN should be ready to do the same thing too! We each need to have a “30-second elevator testimony” ready whenever the opportunity comes, about what the Lord has done in our lives.

AND every Christian should be able to share a brief gospel presentation, in 30 seconds, or a minute or so. Every one of us should be prepared to share the gospel quickly; and at a moment’s notice. There may be times when we have much longer than 30 seconds or a minute to share with someone — but there are also times when we do NOT have much time, so we need to be ready to share it quickly.  The question is: can YOU? Do you have memorized a brief outline of the gospel that you can share quickly, in your own words? If you don’t, you need to make it a priority to get that ready NOW. God commands us here, to be “ready”!

Let me give you a brief Gospel outline which may help if you don’t have one: 

  1. God’s Purpose  (John 17:3)
  2. Man’s Need  (Romans 3:23)
  3. God’s Provision  (John 3:16)
  4. Man’s Response  (Romans 10:13) 

Learn that outline (or one like it); learn a verse to go with each point, and be ready to explain it to anyone at a moment’s notice, and be able to share it quickly, like this: 

God created you to know Him and spend eternity with Him in glory (Jesus said in John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God …”). The problem is, we all sinned and fall short of His glory, Romans 3:23 says. But “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” and Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins, and He offers us this salvation as a gift. But like any gift, you have to receive it — and the way you do that is by repenting of your sins and putting your trust in Jesus as your Lord & Savior. Ask Him to save you — Romans 10:13 says “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”  

Every Christian should be ready to share the gospel briefly like that — it doesn’t have to be exactly what I shared; you should use your own words; you should put your own verses with it — and PRACTICE it when you are home alone or driving in your car.  EVERY Christian needs to be READY, at a moment’s notice, to share their faith — because you never know when the opportunity is going to come.

When Cheryl & I lived in Tulsa back in the 1990’s (I can’t believe it was that long ago; that was a different century!) there was an article in the paper about a man who was eating a local restaurant, and a couple of tables over, another man had a medical emergency, and fell to the floor unresponsive. Someone was shouting and asking if anyone knew CPR, and at first no one responded — until this man said, “I know it” — and he rushed over, did CPR on the man, and saved his life. And the paper carried this story about what he did.  

The thing is, that man had NO IDEA that when he walked into that restaurant that night, that he would be called upon to save someone’s life. But he was prepared; he had been trained in CPR; he was equipped in case something happened. And when the opportunity came that evening, unexpected, he was ready to save that man’s life. That is the way every one of us as God’s people need to be with the gospel. We need to be ready. We don’t know when the opportunity will open up for us; when someone is going to ask us, or when we will have an open door to share. When it does happen, you probably won’t have your Bible in your hand. You have to know an outline of the gospel; you have to have God’s word hidden in your heart. You have to be ready to share your testimony. If you aren’t prepared and ready to share the gospel right now, then it should be the #1 priority of your life to GET ready to share it. Write down your testimony and practice telling it in a brief way; learn a basic gospel outline — the one I gave you today if you don’t have another one — and practice talking your way through it.  Just like Peter says here: “Always be ready” to share the gospel when the opportunity comes.  If you are ready, and if you will pray for it, God will give you opportunities; but you must be prepared and READY, in order to be an effective witness. 


IV.  You Must Have The Right Attitude As You Witness

There is a little phrase at the end of this verse that would be easy to skip over, but we need to realize its importance. God commands us to always to be ready to share, but then He adds: “YET with gentleness and reverence.”   

He says our attitude when we share the gospel with people is so important; and the attitude we should have when we share, he says, is “GENTLENESS,” and “REVERENCE.” 

— “Gentleness” is the word Jesus used in the Beatitudes when He said “Blessed are the meek (gentle) for they shall inherit the earth.” To be meek in this Biblical sense does NOT mean to be “weak;” rather it means that you trust God, and don’t take things into your own hands, like Psalm 37 tells us to do: “trust in the Lord and do good.” It means you don’t pressure; you don’t manipulate; you trust God and do what is right. You don’t “shove it down people’s throats,” but you gently share His word and trust God with the results.   

— The word “reverence” here is literally “fear,” but it is not a craven fear; rather it is “the fear of the Lord” like we talked about last week. Paul said in II Corinthians 5:11, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.”  That means you realize the awesome and glorious nature of God, and that you fear HIM more than you do the person you are witnessing to! And it also means you realize the awesome responsibility you have as a witness: someone’s eternity is on the line. You need to have a healthy fear and respect for the gravity and importance of what you are doing. 

I think I shared before how C.S. Lewis wrote in his great sermon “The Weight of Glory,” that every person you meet will one day be such a glorious being that if you saw them now, you would be tempted to worship them — OR such an object of horror like you only see in a nightmare.  EVERY PERSON YOU MEET will be one or the other. Every single one. That means we need to treat every person we meet with “gentleness and reverence” like Peter says here. You can’t “blow anyone off” — you may be sending them to hell if you do!  You can’t disrespect anyone — they may end up in heaven, more glorious than the most glamorous Hollywood star. And here’s the thing:  what YOU say to that person, and how YOU treat them, may make the difference between whether their ending is glorious or horrific! That is a HUGE weight of responsibility. We need to feel the gravity of it. Our responsibility as a witness is no small thing. Every day, you and I have the great privilege — and also the great weight of responsibility, of being able to impact the eternal destiny of the people  that God brings across our path. We need to take that seriously.

Witnessing is not a “game.” It is not a matter of “getting a notch in your belt.” Over the years I’ve seen people with that attitude, who have basically “run over” people with the gospel and then said things like: “Boy, I really let them have it;” or “I really got them” with a sharp answer. I used to admire that; but I don’t any more.  There is really no place for it; we aren’t playing some “game” in which we’re trying “get more points” than our opponents. This is a person’s eternity we are talking about. As someone said, “We are not out to win arguments; we are out to win PEOPLE.” And you don’t win people by trying to “one up” them; you don’t win people by “putting them in their place;” or by saying ugly things — whether it is in person, or on Facebook, or wherever.  We need to be gentle; we need to be reverent as we share — we are dealing with someone’s eternity.  

And so God says here, that we need to take our responsibility to be His witnesses seriously. Jesus commanded us to be witnesses for Him: starting where we are, and going to the ends of the earth. And under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter teaches us here how to be an effective witness:

— First of all, he says make sure that you have that “hope within YOU”; you can’t share what you don’t have.

— Then make sure your lifestyle backs up your witness. They won’t listen to you if you don’t.

— Be sure you are READY to be a witness: have a basic gospel outline, and a “30-second elevator testimony” ready to share at any moment. 

— And then make sure that when you do share; that you do it with the right attitude. 

Every one of these things is vital; because witnessing is not a game; people’s eternity is at stake. That’s why God gave us these instructions here in I Peter 3:15, to help us be “An Effective Witness” for Him.  



— Pray about your life: is there anything in your life that would hinder your witness to someone?

— Are you READY to share the gospel?  When you walk out of this room, could you share if God opens the door for it?

— Is your attitude right – do you need to pray about that?

— And most importantly, do YOU have “this hope within you,” or do you need to ask Jesus to save your right now?

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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