A Ready Answer
When I was growing up in the day-to-day relative calm of the western world in the 1950ís, 60ís, and 70ís, I used to think that King David must have been a bit "paranoid" when he spoke so often in the Psalms about needing Godís protection from all his "enemies." On a personal level, other than the odd "bully" in school, I really didnít have any enemies. I couldnít understand what David was talking about. Well, itís just a little more than thirty years since the relative calm of my youth and, wow, how our world has changed! Just about everywhere you look these days, there is a threat to life and limb lurking just around the corner. Today, we are affected by the threat of terrorism in almost every public place or event we might attend.
Do you think Iím being too extreme in my assessment? Look at how our lives have changed in just a few short years. You canít go to an airport without extreme inconvenience, ranging from baggage inspections to near strip-searches of your person and clothing. You canít attend most major sporting events without enduring somewhat less severe inspections upon your entrance. Our mail is now x-rayed and examined for poisonous or toxic substances, like anthrax or ricin. As if the threat of nuclear war was not enough during the last fifty years, add to it the rising threat and the ease of access to biological weapons of mass destruction. In most major cities, if you dare to wear animal furs out to public events, you may succumb to defacement or injury by terrorists called "animal rights activists" who give animals the same or higher value as humans. Our children are not safe on our own streets. Hardly a month goes by where we donít hear of children being kidnapped or killed by strangers, molesters, disgruntled parents, or even other children.
Was David really on to something when he spoke so many times in the Psalms about needing Godís protection from all the enemies that were round about him? Today we see wanton disregard for human life, whether itís displayed in the increasingly inhumane forms of criminal murder we hear about every day in our countries or whether it takes the form of the ever-present danger of Muslim suicide bombers. Look at Psalms 5:8 to hear Davidís appeal to God in his own day, from the World English Bible.
Judge for yourself. Donít those criminal motivations sound a lot like the motivations of misguided terrorists today? There is no faithfulness, or truth, in their mouth; their heart is bent fully on the sole purpose of destruction, no matter how many innocent people (even their own people) are destroyed in their efforts. Through flattery and deception, they connive to infiltrate into the lives of peaceful men, women, and children. The bottom line is at the end of verse ten: it is against God that they rebel. Regardless of their delusional misguided motives, they do not seek to do Godís will. Through hatred and lying, they seek to do their own will in open rebellion against the plain directives of God displayed for all to see in his written word.
Was David paranoid or did he see the reality of good and evil in the world? As it was in his day, so it has become in our day. Yes, enemies are all around us; except today, we really donít know where our enemies are hiding in our very towns and cities. Davidís solution was to depend on God for his protection. In Psalms 25:2, he openly declared the trust he placed in God to protect his life.
He continued in verse 19.
This was not just a sometime thing with David. Enemies were round about him continually. Whether their aspirations were to dethrone him from ruling Israel or simply to kill him for the lifestyle he led in righteous obedience to God, the threat to him was always there. So it is for us today.
While weíre mentally assailed from all around every day, we can also be physically or spiritually assailed, as well. While we may be on guard for physical attacks, do you think much about being prepared for verbal or spiritual confrontations? Such confrontations may be as simple as mere curiosity or as challenging as an outright defense of your life and beliefs. Do you keep in mind the old Boy Scout motto, "be prepared"? Are you ready?
The Boy Scouts arenít the only ones who have advocated being ready and prepared for whatever surprises or difficulties might be lurking around the next corner in life. Almost two thousand years ago, in the epistle of 1 Peter 3:15, the apostle Peter admonished Christians to do the same.
So, we are to be ready to give an answer; but is an answer just a quick retort to interrogation with little depth of thought or is there more to it? The Greek word translated "answer" is Strongís number 627, apologia. Strongís Greek dictionary defines it as: "apologia", a plea. The root of the word is from Strongís number 626, apologeomai. Itís defined as: "apologeomai", to give an account (legal plea) of oneself, that is, to exculpate [or free from blame].
Can we gain more insight from the depths of this verse? In his commentary, Notes on the Bible, Alan Barnes shows more of the meaningful intent in the words of Peter.
1Pe 3:15 -
Barnes concludes by saying:
It follows, from the injunction of the apostle here:
Peter didnít just tell us to be "ready" and "prepared" merely to give "an answer" when we are asked by others. We have a specific message to convey when we find ourselves in such positions. Focusing on the meat of verse fifteen in the New Revised Standard Version, gives us more insight:
This rendering gives even more power to the intent portrayed in this verse by the words of Peter. When we are demanded to give "an accounting," it is more than just an assignment to give our opinion. An accounting of a matter is like being in a financial audit where every detail must be founded and grounded by proof. In our case, the proof of our grounded foundation can be found in Godís word. We must be able to not only give a summary outline of our foundation, we must be grounded in that foundation to the degree that we can show and prove to others through the very word of God the pieces of the puzzle that fit together to make the whole. What is that whole? It is the hope that is in us; but that hope is more than what most people in the world think is meant by the word "hope."
Look at verse 15 again. The Greek word translated "hope" is elpis. It is Strongís number 1680 and it is defined as, "elpis, to anticipate (usually with pleasure); expectation or confidence." Thayerís Greek Lexicon defines "elpis" as an "Ö expectation of good, a hope. In the Christian sense, it is joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvationÖ"
The hope we have is not just a hope in possibilities. It is not just our own hope. It is not just a recent thing conjured up on our own. It is the same hope passed on to us that first was the hope of our forefathers. In Acts 24:15, Paul testified of the hope that was in him and was first in our forefathers.
According to The Peopleís New Testament by B.W. Johnson, "This hope of the resurrection, the great doctrine of Christianity, was one that the law and the prophets foreshadowÖ The Jews held this same hope. Apart from the Sadducees, a small minority, the Jews believed in a future life and judgment. Hence, even in this matter, he was not preaching a new, unknown and illegal doctrineÖ (The Peopleís New Testament, 1891 by B.W. Johnson)"
Look at all that is in these two small verses. Paul acknowledged that he worshipped the same God as our ancestors. He, like they, believed everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets. Because of that, he like they, had hope Ė a surely positive expectation Ė that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. Wow, what a full meal of solid meat! Put a bookmark here because weíll be back to it several times.
How was it that the forefathers lived their lives in a manner showing they trusted in the promises of God? They showed their faith in Godís promises through their lives of obedience. In Genesis 26:5, we can see how God spoke to Isaac of his father, Abrahamís, compliance.
In Psalms 111:10, even David knew the source of wisdom and understanding.
In Psalms 147:10, David went on to connect the keeping of commandments which expressed the proper fear of the Lord with a way of life deemed to be pleasing to God.
In the book of Job, we can see the words of the one who was deemed by God as, "no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil." In chapter 14 and verse 14, we hear Job ask and answer the direct question about the hope of the resurrection (this time, from the Darby translation).
Job didnít just have hope that there would be a resurrection from the dead. He knew there would be a resurrection. He counted on it and considered it as fact. So, we can see there was a long heritage of steadfast belief among the forefathers that the main hope was in the trustworthy promise of God to deliver them from the bondage of the grave through a resurrection from the dead.
In Titus 1:1, Paul went into further depth when he wrote to Titus of the expectation of the goal at the finish line.
It is that very hope of the resurrection of the dead and the ultimate gift of eternal life that was promised to our forefathers. That is the same hope we share today. That hope is not just some "iffy" or "doubtful" thing. It is a rock-solid sure thing. We know because we have the surety of promise in Godís word.
Paul was likewise sure of Godís promise. We just read in Titus 1:2 that we have the hope of Godís gift of eternal life and we can rely on that hope because it was promised by the ultimate authority, God the Father. We have reliance on that promise because of the integrity of the one who spoke it: it was our great Creator who never lies (the King James, the New American Standard, and the World English Bible all say "who cannot lie"). Not only did he promise that to all his creation, he promised it before he even made his creation. We have the further assurance of Heb 6:17 where we see that it is not even possible for God to lie. Therefore, we can rely on his word with our very lives.
The book of Hebrews is not the only place where we see it mentioned that God does not lie. In Numbers 23:19, we can see the dependable and trustworthy nature of God contrasted with the wavering nature of mankind.
When God speaks, his word is good forever. It is not just something we can count on for the moment. Godís word is steadfast and trustworthy forever. His promises are statements upon which we can stake our lives.
How marvelous is our awesome God; but that is only the tip of the iceberg: itís the very beginning of the story. Yes, we should be founded and rock-solid on the ultimate goal of the promise of eternal life but there is so much more. Letís analyze the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 1:6.
Look again at verse nine. Remember, the subject established at the end of verse eight is the "power of God," that is, the Father. So, it is the Father "who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace." It was that grace which was extended to us through Christ Jesus before the ages began. Just think, if it was "before the ages began," then it was planned and decreed by God and deemed to be executed through our Messiah before we and our forefathers were even created. What great advanced planning!
The Depth of Understanding
We need to ask, though, why was it necessary? Ah, that question gets to the heart of the matter and the essence of why our "ready answer" needs to be so much more than just the immediate response of the hope of eternal life. We need to be fully grounded on the why that leads to that hope.
Letís go back to the beginning. We read just a moment ago, that our Father cannot and will not lie. Furthermore, earlier we read that the sure standard of faithfulness was established by God Most High and codified in his laws of righteousness even before our creation. We need to ask, though, just how do we get there from here? We know those are our goals but just how do we achieve them? Remember, Paul said he "believed everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets." I guess it sounds simple but, once again, thereís more to it than meets the eye because in Hebrews 5:12, there is a distinction made in Christiansí differing levels of understanding.
So, we can see there are the fundamental teachings deemed to be the "milk" of the word and there are more advanced teachings spoken of as "solid food." It is only through training by practice that we are able to grow beyond the fundamentals. It is by striving for the more advanced principles of Godís word that we become able to distinguish between good and evil.
Keep your place in Hebrews because weíll be coming right back. For now, however, letís go back to the beginning of the book in Genesis 2:16.
We all know the story that there were two trees in the midst of the Garden of Eden; but look closer at verse 16. Most people merely assume that God was just trying to deprive Adam and Eve of making their own decisions. Notice, however, there was no prohibition of eating as much as they wanted of all other trees of the garden, including the Tree of Life. The only prohibition was eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Why do you think God did that? Was it because he wanted to deprive them of the freedom to choose? No, that wasnít the case because they had free run of the garden to make their own decisions about which fruits of the other trees to eat. You see, it ties in with what we just read from the book of Hebrews. Even though they were undoubtedly taught the basics by God (and maybe even some of the advanced doctrines) after he finished creating them, itís obvious to see they hadnít yet been "trained by practice" in grounding themselves in the righteousness of God. They took for themselves the prerogative to decide the difference between right and wrong apart from the righteousness of God. Itís plain to see that if they had obeyed God and had the patience to develop lives of righteousness by Godís standards, they would have become "trained by practice to distinguish good from evil." That newfound ability would, however, have been guided through the boundaries of Godís righteous laws.
We know Adam and Eve blew it by being impatient. They disobeyed Godís direct command. They, and we, have suffered the consequences ever since their fateful decision. It didnít need to be that way, however. We have now been given another chance to redirect our lives, bounded by the definitions of the proper ways to live embodied in Godís laws of righteousness. We must be rock-solid, however, in our understanding of that way of life. It first means that we have to be thoroughly grounded in the basics. Weíll go back to Hebrews 6:2 to study those basics. This time weíll read from the New American Standard Bible.
While we might look down on the mere elementary concepts on which Christianity is based, we really shouldnít. In just two verses, you have it right in a nutshell. The foundation is built on 1) repentance from dead works, 2) faith toward God, 3) instruction about baptisms, 4) laying on of hands, 5) resurrection of the dead, and 6) eternal judgment.
If someone asked you, could you explain even these most basic of elementary teachings? Weíve all had many sermons over the years on these topics. For refreshing your memory, you might want to re-read the following sermons on our website: Repentance; Faith is Trust; Baptism; and Deathís True Destiny. In Acts 24:25, we can see that Paul continually preached about such subjects, even to gentile governors, kings and judges.
So, hereís another example of what Paul normally taught. He was speaking of righteousness, which is based on repentance from transgressing Godís laws and obediently living by them. He spoke of temperance or self-control, again the example of living lives bounded by the righteous laws of God. He also spoke of "the judgment to come." What do you know of the judgment to come? Would you be able to explain it if someone asked you?
In the waning days of the Kingdom of Babylon, the prophet Daniel had a vision about judgment. In Daniel 7:9, his vision included sights of the actual throne of God the Father.
Continue in verse 13.
Continue in verse 26.
Yes, we hope for the gift of eternal life; but that is the gift of God, according to his will. On the other hand, the reward that awaits us for obedience is sharing in the government of God over the whole world.
Itís all about standards: Godís standards of righteousness by which we are to lead our lives. Repentance is acknowledgement of our unrighteousness and a sincere desire to change to a new way of life. Faith is trust and reliance upon the righteousness of God embodied in his laws and his ability to keep the promises first given to our forefathers, and in turn, to us. We freely choose this new way of life, not merely because it is a better way of life but because it is the way thatís pleasing to our creator. Isaiah 58 and 59 talk about how our own ways run contrary to Godís ways. The prophet shows how we should voluntarily choose the more righteous ways of God that are more pleasing to him.
Continue in chapter fifty-nine.
If you were to continue in chapter sixty, you would read of the physical blessings God pledges to restore to the children of Israel after he brings them back to their land in righteousness. That is the key and thatís what our hope is all about. We, as a people, need to be reconciled to God; but God will not reconcile a rebellious people to himself. It is we who must change. We need to have a change of heart and a change of our very minds. Look at the last verse we just read. In verse 21, God says "And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the LORD: my spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouths of your children, or out of the mouths of your children's children, says the LORD, from now on and forever." We need to have Godís spirit, his very power and mind, upon us and in us to guide our thoughts and channel our direction in life.
Ultimately, God promises to do that to all of the children of Israel; but we have that distinct opportunity to do so now. We have the opportunity to set aside our old ways of error and to be imbued with the power of God to have renewed minds in line with Godís standards of righteousness. What an honor and what a privilege! That is why the hope we have in the promises God gave to our forefathers is so much more than merely the hope of eternal life. Yes, that is a lofty goal but there is so much more of the story on that road to accomplishment.
Our Present Evil World
Yes, David was right to be what we might regard as "paranoid." We know why the world today is filled with enemies. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12, the truth about our present world. Our physical enemies are merely agents, or instruments, of a wicked spiritual power; but we are not to behave in their manner.
In Romans 12:9, Paul likewise exhorted the Church of God at Rome.
Look at verse 21 again. That brings us right back to the righteousness of God. Our real hope is to lead lives of good, overcoming the evil in the world around us; but it is not "good" by our own definition. It is "good" by the definition of our righteous Father. God is the one who has established and defined "good" by his laws of righteousness, embodied in the ten commandments. We are to lead lives dedicated to Godís definition of the "good" that is pleasing in his sight.
Our Real Hope
We have read many times how we can never "earn" our salvation from God. Salvation is a free "gift" from God for those who have repented of their former evil way of life and continue to repent of their error, who have adopted a new life of righteousness based on Godís definitions, and who understand and believe in the need for a righteous redeemer to intercede on our behalf to satisfy the demands of Godís righteous laws.
Our hope is now our whole way of life, ultimately leading to the gift of eternal life; but our hope is our own. It is not something to be "crammed down" other peoplesí throats. So often, we have experienced early in our newfound Christian lives, the surest way to alienate friends and family is to force our newfound knowledge on them uninvited. Unlike other religions such as Islam, we are not to force our views on others unwillingly. Thatís not the way we are to behave. Acceptance of Christianity and the truth of God is a voluntary effort. When we are invited through honest questioning of our hope, however, we should always be fully prepared with a ready answer.
Sermon given by Philip Edwards
January 5, 2008
Copyright 2008, Philip Edwards