1 Peter 3:15-16 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, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
In my opinion, this is a vitally important passage. The Japanese and the English divide the sentences/verses differently, with the Japanese putting “But do this with gentleness and respect” as the beginning of a new sentence in verse 16. In any case, this passage is the blueprint for the vast majority of the evangelism in the Early Church. We have the record of sermons preached by Peter and Paul, but even there, the sermons were in response to people wanting to know what was going on. That is in sharp contrast to what is done so often today, with people being coerced into attending meetings in which they have little interest. Part of the reason for that lies in the clergy/laity divide that is still evident in most churches, despite the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago. We give “priesthood of the believer” lip service but nothing more, depending on “professionals” to do essentially all the real functions of the Church. The other reason is that the average Christian, at least in places where there isn’t active persecution, lives a life indistinguishable from how their neighbor lives. There is nothing there to provoke curiosity, much less a desire for whatever it is the Christian has. It’s no wonder the vast majority of church members have never led anyone to the Lord! Actually, that’s where this starts out: really living with Jesus as your Lord. That’s what Paul was talking about in Romans. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1) If Jesus isn’t Lord of how we use our bodies, then He isn’t really our Lord, and whatever we call worship isn’t really worship, but hypocrisy. If Jesus isn’t Lord in your heart, it doesn’t matter what rituals you go through. Saying this, we have to remember that none of us is perfect yet, so a lapse doesn’t mean we aren’t saved, but if Jesus is Lord in our hearts, stumbling will be painful for us, because we will desire to please Him in everything. If we will live like that, then His hope will indeed fill our hearts and our lives will be so radiant that those around us will desire the same for themselves.
This is something I’ve talked about pretty much the entire time I’ve been in ministry, but with decidedly mixed success. People are very comfortable with a clergy/laity divide, and many who try to cross that are doing so really in a quest for authority, rather than in genuine submission to the Lordship of Christ. The Coaching Movement that I’ve been exposed to for a couple of years now talks about the priesthood of the believer a lot, and I think that’s very good. The focus is on genuine discipleship for everyone in the church, with no exceptions. Denominations have even been founded on that concept, but I don’t know that they are all that different from any other. I am never to give up, but always keep tabs on my own submission to Jesus’ Lordship even as I encourage and admonish others to do the same. I’ve got to remember that styles of corporate worship are entirely secondary; what matters is the worship in each heart.
Father, You’ve given me the message for Sunday, but this is far more than just a sermon. Help me indeed live every moment with Jesus as my Lord, so that I may in turn lead others to do likewise, cleansing and healing the church to rise up as You intend, for a mighty harvest in Your kingdom, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!