The hope that is within you (1 Peter 3:8-17)
Evangelism - a way of life
St Francis of Assisi is in the news, not least because a Pope has taken his name for the first time in history. St Francis once said “Wherever you go, preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words!” He was trying to say that our lives are in many ways the best advertisement for the gospel. 1 Peter 3 includes the classic evangelical statement “always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is within you” - but it begins not with advice on which words to use, but how to live. So, Peter begins with an appeal to sympathy (empathy) humility, forgiveness and living out peace. These are the marks of a disciple. How we live, how we respond to others, how we embody peace will make a profound impression on people – indeed there is much evidence that it was the early Christians way of life in community, and their peaceable response to persecution which enabled the spread of Christian faith.
Evangelism - a way of hope.
Peter’s description of Christian faith is crucial. he believes it is a way of hope.. “always be ready to give an account of the hope that is within you..” In saying this he is both pointing to the faith we have that this world is not the end, that we are citizens of heaven and have a home with God. He is also speaking of this world - that we are to live hopefully, as if this world can be the place God imagines it to be. So, when the Methodist Church issues a report on poverty recently it is not because we trying to be politicians, but because we believe in a better life for those in need - for we are all made in the image of God and deserve respect , and Jesus went to those most in need. We are also to be confident of the gospel of love – the good news that God has reached out to us in Jesus and that all can enjoy eternal life that begins now.
Evangelism – a way of gentleness
Gentleness and evangelism are not always words which we put together – it is all too easy to think about big mission gatherings at which people are put under pressure to come to Jesus. However, Peter describes how we are to give an account in these terms: “do it with gentleness and reverence.. Keep your conscience clear..” It seems that good evangelism is relational, and its quality depends on how we tell the story of God’s grace in Jesus. Most recent evidence suggests that people come to faith not because of large events or convincing arguments, but because they see in Christians an attractive way of life they want to share - not unlike what drew the very first Christians.