Signposts to Jesus
Your workplace is a unique place where you, by God's grace, get to daily sit or stand side by side with a group of people who may know virtually nothing about the message and impact of the gospel of Christ. Yet there you are, on a level playing field, facing the same pressures, challenges, joys and disappointments that they face. It is a brilliant place for Christians to be. In many ways it is the front line of Christian influence among people whose only perception of the Christian faith comes from popular culture and preconception. What an opportunity to be 'salt and light'. To help people see through their misconceptions. To bring hope into people's lives.
When Apostle Peter instructs the early church with his famous words "always be ready to give a reason for the hope you have, but do so with gentleness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15), he clearly has some expectations about the sort of interactions Jesus' followers should be having within their society. I want to think about the nature of those interactions but before that here are six quick things to say about this verse:
It is written to all the people who would have read Peter's letter and therefore is not exclusive to evangelists - it covers you and me as well.
Peter says live in the expectation that people will ask you about your hope (more in a minute about why he is confident of people asking questions).
What we have to explain is our hope - now for most of us hope is a nebulous idea tied to our future wishes, but as we explain in Living with Hope, the reality of God's big picture - actually causes a profound impact on our expectations for daily life.
We are to speak with gentleness towards the non-believer not with fear, insecurity, assertiveness, but battle-ready zeal!
We are to speak with fear (I know it says respect in your Bible, but the Greek word here is Phobos from which we get phobia today); if it is fear then that fear must be fear of God and the awesome opportunity you have to speak to others about him.
Finally (and I cheated here) the verse actually starts "in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord." For many of us the fear of losing face makes us clam up when we are asked what we believe. Frankly that's because my own self-image is more important to me that making use of the opportunity to signpost people to Jesus. Only if Jesus is Lord of my life daily will I find the humble courage to share my inner feelings and beliefs.
Why Will People Ask?
I said we'd look more at what questions about their faith believers should expect to be asked. Peter states they should be ready to answer questions right in the middle of a large block of the letter (2:11-4:19) which is primarily concerned with how Christians live in a non-believing world. And it is how we live that Peter thinks will cause non-believers - or even not-yet-believers - to start asking questions. Peter actually starts this section by saying "Live such good lives among non-believers that they see your good works and glorify God" (2:12). He spends the next verses giving examples of what this might look like and then bang "always be ready..." almost as if these are two consecutive points.
Brilliant. Live for Jesus and speak for Jesus.
I like to think that we - as Christ's witnesses on earth - are like living signposts pointing to Jesus. Every signpost, to be effective needs three things - the WORDS which clearly name the direction of travel; these need a strong SUPPORT that holds them up and makes them visible to rushing passers by; and finally the support needs to be bedded in a strong FOUNDATION.
Peter's letter holds these ideas together with the WORDS we speak about Jesus held up and SUPPORTED by the lives we live. One without the other will never be a signpost. Words on their own may remain invisible (especially if our lives are nowhere near other people's expectation of Christian morality), whilst a post with no words is just pointless!
The opportunity Peter describes as "be ready to give a reason" is an invitation not won by offence but earned over time as people watch the way we deal with office politics, workplace ethics, frustration, disappointment, even bullying and ridicule. By and large people do not want to be preached at (that's the nature of sinful hearts) but where they see us living in a way which defies the logic of our society, which offers peace in conflict, humanity in relationships, joy in hardship - these character qualities will shine out for all to see. Some non-believing friends of ours started bringing their children to church because "where else could they ever learn right from wrong?" The Gospel is good news - both for eternity and also for now! And that good news should influence who we are and how we behave in every circumstance - especially at work, where the world is watching.
One of the big themes in Peter's letter is that we no longer have to live the way we used to, we no longer have to live within the tramlines of our society or culture, when those tramlines draw us to un-Christlike behaviour. We don't need to tell lies because 'that's just the way people do it'; we don't need to pay bribes because 'there's no other way to get justice'; we no longer have to chase wealth at the expense of everything else just because the world has told us that's what success is; we no longer have to treat people as transactions who bring, or fail to bring, us any benefit. We do not need to conform. But our subversion of society's false standards needs to be clearly aligned with God's glory; otherwise it will just become a rage against society's wrongs, not a plea for individual's salvation. And this means checking our FOUNDATION.
In Peter's letter the Christology (that is the theology of Jesus Christ) is everywhere - scattered through the letter. I just want to highlight four verses and four words:
1:3 "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead." Resurrection - Peter was an eye witness of Jesus being raised from death; it was the reality of Jesus' resurrection that gave him both a hope for the future and also a vision of new life for now.
1:18-20 "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed from your empty way of life handed down to you by your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ...chosen before the creation of the world." Redeemed - the language is of God going to the debt collector and buying back our lives - and he does so not with such rubbish as gold or silver but with the blood of his son! Jesus, chosen before creation - never plan B for if humanity failed, but always plan A for when humanity failed.
2:24-25 "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls." Restored - sin is an incurable cancer that attacks not only us as individuals, but also our societies, our families, our workplaces, our churches. It is incurable except that in his wounds Jesus heals us. He releases us from the inevitability of sin, and frees us for the possibility of righteousness.
3:18 "For Christ died, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God." Reconciled - Jesus - one death for all time - one aim - to bring us to God. We were made for relationship with the loving Father in heaven.
The wonderful Christian writer Jerry Bridges once said that we should learn to preach the Gospel every day to ourselves. To remind ourselves of what is reality lest we lose grasp of it in our short-sightedness. Resurrection - Redemption - Restoration - Reconciliation.
Your workplace is unique. You are there. A Christian in a place where pastors, missionaries, evangelists can never go. Surrounded by people who only go to church for funerals, weddings and Christmas (and increasingly none of the above); people who learn their prejudice against Christianity from media. People who believe the rhetoric that many bad things were done in the name of the church. People who think that life without God is OK, just because they don't have the imagination to perceive the horror of a godless universe.
The chasm between 'Christian ministry' and your work colleagues is immense. And into that chasm the Lord Jesus has placed you.