6 May 2014

1 Peter 3:13-22

“Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.” (vv. 15-16)


Although religion is not necessarily marginalized in 21st-century Britain, census figures tell us that people of faith are in the minority. Popular books portray religion as antiquated, illogical, and responsible for a range of social ills. Sometimes it is hard for people of faith to know how to conduct themselves in this context. The temptation toward apathy, fear, and even defensiveness is understandable. The cultural and historical context of 1 Peter is quite different from 21st-century Britain, but the latter half of chapter 3 addresses the question of how Christians should conduct themselves in a setting that at best disregards them and at worst publicly scorns them.

1 Peter addresses the struggles of Christian communities in the Roman Empire's Eastern provinces; areas now part of modern Turkey. Christians in this setting were a vulnerable minority. Although the letter does not indicate that the Christians were experiencing violent physical persecution, it hints at an underlying potential for violence. Historical documents reveal physical persecution of the region's Christians in the early second century.

Maintenance of civil order in Roman society depended upon everyone, whether free or slave, fulfilling their duties. Worship of the local community's patron gods was a duty. But the Christians addressed by 1 Peter rejected Roman religion in their acceptance of faith in Jesus Christ and their worship of the one God. Their faith brought their status as good citizens into question and left them vulnerable to verbal assault. How should they respond to being maligned for their faith in Jesus Christ?

The message of 1 Peter encourages Christians to 'do good'. They should remain faithful to God, following the example of the suffering Christ. They should otherwise be good citizens. If their individual behaviour is beyond reproach, then any abuse they receive from others will be unjust. The Christian's conscience will be clear and God will ultimately vindicate them by putting their abusers to shame. The letter does not encourage passivity or retreat, but "gentleness and reverence". Christians should engage in their community and offer an authentic account of their beliefs through their actions and words.

To Ponder

  • For what person, principle, or belief would you be willing to suffer?
  • How do we do good to those who are not good to us?
  • How might Christians robustly defend their beliefs without coming across as defensive?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Cindy Wesley

Cindy Wesley is the director of studies at Wesley House in Cambridge. She is responsible for the life of the chapel and for advising students about their courses and modules.