What does it mean to always be ready to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15)?

First Peter 3:15 is a quintessential verse used when talking about apologetics and evangelism. It says, "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." Our lives should reflect Christ and we should be prepared to verbally share the truth about who He is and what He's done. As with all verses, we best understand its meaning when we examine the larger context.

First Peter was written by the apostle Peter to the "elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia"—essentially to Jewish believers in Christ who were living in Gentile regions. His letter is replete with instructions for godly living, and he points out how those who do not know God will react to such living. In 1 Peter 2:11–12, he writes, "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation." The believers were to fight against their own sinful tendencies and live honorably among those who did not know God. As such, God would be glorified. Believers of every time period and every culture, of course, are spiritual "sojourners" or "exiles" on this earth. As Paul points out, "our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20). Peter's instructions are certainly relevant for us.

The instruction to always be ready to give an answer comes in the context of suffering for righteousness. Peter says, "Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil" (1 Peter 3:13–17). Peter goes on to explain how Jesus endured unjust suffering. He "also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18). Peter later writes, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (1 Peter 4:12–13). Paul told Timothy, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12). Rather than be discouraged by this unjust suffering, the believers were to rejoice that God could be revealed in it. In the midst of their suffering, they were also to continue to honor God.

Such a response to suffering—demonstrating faithfulness and hope—stands out. People would wonder why these believers had such hope, and they would ask. The believers were to be ready to explain why they lived as they did. They were to share the truth about Jesus and the reason they lived unto Him anytime they were questioned about it. We should, similarly, honor the Lord in our hearts and always be ready to give an answer. Our lives should point to Christ, and we should be ready to verbally share the truth about Him.

The content of our message is important, but so is the attitude with which we share. Peter told his audience to make their defense "with gentleness and respect." We should not lambaste those who don't know God nor share the gospel in an intentionally offensive way. Rather, our attitudes and actions should reflect the truth we proclaim. If someone wishes to slander us, we will maintain a good conscience before God. The testimony of our lives will end up putting those who accuse us to shame, either through them being ashamed at their own actions when they realize their accusations are baseless or in other onlookers recognizing their words as slanderous.

In short, to always be ready to give an answer is to always be ready to share the truth about Jesus as the explanation for why we live with hope. We share this truth with our words and demonstrate it through our attitudes.

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