(4 minute 40 second read out)
“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,” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV)
The word for “defense” is apologia. It is used in 2 Corinthians 7:11 in context of genuine repentance. There it is translated “to clear yourselves”
“For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:11 ESV)
Indeed there is an aspect of Christianity that involves clearing ourselves. In process of the spread of the gospel, God has been pleased to use men to speak the truth in love with lives that are inwardly full of hope and faith in God. The way the gospel moves forward is by a defense of one’s delights in Jesus Christ that offer no just cause for offense.
John Calvin explains:
“This was also required by the state of the times: the Christian name was much hated and deemed infamous; many thought the sect wicked and guilty of many sacrileges. It would have been, therefore, the highest perfidy against God, if, when asked, they had neglected to give a testimony in favor of their religion. And this, as I think, is the meaning of the word apology, which Peter uses, that is, that the Christians were to make it evident to the world that they were far off from every impiety, and did not corrupt true religion, on which account they were suspected by the ignorant.
Hope here is by a metonymy to be taken for faith. Peter, however, as it has been said, does not require them to know how to discuss distinctly and refinedly every article of the faith, but only to shew that their faith in Christ was consistent with genuine piety. And hence we learn how all those abuse the name of Christians, who understand nothing certain respecting their faith, and have nothing to give as an answer for it. But it behoves us again carefully to consider what he says, when he speaks of that hope that is in you; for he intimates that the confession which flows from the heart is alone that which is approved by God; for except faith dwells within, the tongue prattles in vain. It ought then to have its roots within us, so that it may afterwards bring forth the fruit of confession.”
Thus, apologia must not be disconnected from the roots of delight in Christ that is defended before the world. A perfect example is found in Song of Songs chapter 5:9–16. Imagine here the Shunamite who is captured into Solomon’s harem is longing for her true shepherd lover, and is asked by the world:
“What is your beloved more than another beloved,
O most beautiful among women?
What is your beloved more than another beloved,
that you thus adjure us? (Song of songs 5:9 ESV)
After this imagine her response or defense of her love for her true and good shepherd. She says,
My beloved is radiant and ruddy,
distinguished among ten thousand.
His head is the finest gold;
his locks are wavy,
black as a raven.
His eyes are like doves
beside streams of water,
bathed in milk,
sitting beside a full pool.
His cheeks are like beds of spices,
mounds of sweet-smelling herbs.
His lips are lilies,
dripping liquid myrrh.
His arms are rods of gold,
set with jewels.
His body is polished ivory,
bedecked with sapphires.
His legs are alabaster columns,
set on bases of gold.
His appearance is like Lebanon,
choice as the cedars.
His mouth is most sweet,
and he is altogether desirable.
This is my beloved and this is my friend,
O daughters of Jerusalem.” (Song 5:9–16 ESV)
A good defense is a defense of our love for Jesus Christ. Perhaps we do well to consider when we are ‘witnessing’ that biblically speaking, the clearing of ourselves before the world has more to do with testifying to a genuine love we have for Jesus. In Peter’s estimation, the world needs to hear more of this.