1 Peter 3:15.
If we want the gospel to “spread rapidly and be honored” then we need to pray for this, knowing that God works toward that end (2 Thessalonians 3:1). We also need to listen to what Scripture tells us about our role in it. 1 Peter 3:15 addresses our part directly and tells us five ways the word spreads.
First, the word spreads when every Christian is involved. This passage is addressed to Christians at large and so indicates that the word spreads when every Christian does their part. Peter, who wrote these words, had spoken to gospel to thousands of people on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), but he still believed it mattered how individual Christians handle themselves in their daily interactions with others. The word spreads through those like Peter who are specially gifted to tell it, but it also spreads and grows through every one of us (cf. Acts 8:1-4; 11:19-21; 15:35).
Second, the word spreads during times of difficulty. That’s the context of 1 Peter 3:15 (see vv. 9, 13, 16, 17). Acts, too, emphasis that the word grew in spite of the trouble and persecution (8:1-8; 12:1-24). Jesus said we would have trouble in the world (John 16:33), and most of us are all too familiar with it. But if we want the word to spread, we need to make sure we do not focus on the trouble but instead set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts (1 Peter 3:15a, this in contrast to v. 14). The word “Lord” is the first word in the Greek text of v. 15 and is the emphasis. Our focus is on him and his concerns. When throngs of Christians were displaced from their homes in Acts 8:1, the focus was not on their troubles. Rather, the emphasis was on the fact that they told the good news wherever they went (v. 4). The word spreads when Christians focus on honoring Christ as Lord even in times of trouble.
Third, the word spreads when Christians live like Christ. The instructions about speaking in 1 Peter 3 are bracketed by exhortations to do good (vv. 13, 17). As we speak to non-Christians, we must keep a clear conscience, which in this context means behaving well (v. 16). Some specifics are unity, sympathy, love, compassion, and humility with our fellow believers (v. 8); not retaliating to bad treatment but blessing people instead (v. 9); wholesome speech, doing good, and seeking peace (vv. 10-12). Example alone is not enough, of course, but without it, nothing is enough.
Fourth, the word spreads when Christians are prepared to speak. A close look at verse 15 suggests a course of preparation:
a) Know what your hope is. In spite of all the trouble going on around us, we believe Christ is King and is coming back to take us into his eternal kingdom in heaven (Titus 1:1-2; 2:13-14; 3:7).
b) Actually have and display enough hope that someone may notice and ask you about it. Our hope must be real to us. True hope then also inspires us to live differently, so much so that others may notice. If they lack hope, they may then ask us about ours, either directly are indirectly. It is worth pondering what indirect ways non-Christians may express interest in our hope. It is important to notice that the setting for discussions about faith envisioned here is personal conversation. Interestingly, the Barna Research group recently published survey results indicating that more non-Christians said they were encouraged to explore Christian further after a casual one-on-one conversation with a Christian than any other kind of religious encounter (Reviving Evangelism, 2019, p. 44).
c) Be ready to give them an answer about the reason why you have hope. The answer or defense Peter urges us to be ready to give is not a rational or philosophical apologetic for Christianity but simply an explanation of the reason for our hope, which is Jesus (Colossians 1:27). We need to be able to tell about Jesus’ death, resurrection, and identity as Lord and Christ.
If we want to be ready when God gives us an opportunity to speak, we have to prepare in advance, and 1 Peter 3:15-16 gives us a pretty good outline of how we can do so. The Empowering Subjects training is another way of being prepared. It is an in-depth, intentional equipping program designed to empower subjects of the King to reach out to the world like Jesus (see more here).
Fifth, the word spreads when it is spoken gently and respectfully (1 Peter 3:15). Christ did not call us to argue religion but to speak good news, and good news needs to be spoken in a manner that is consistent with its message. The above mentioned Barna Research study also revealed that outsiders, if they were going to have a conversation about Christianity, desired two qualities more than any others in the one they were going to talk with: someone who listens without judgment and someone who does not force a conclusion (p. 49). It seems to me that these correspond well to the manner in which Peter instructs us to speak, namely, gentleness (doesn’t force a conclusion) and respect (listens without judgment). I realize there are some conclusions we cannot let go of, and also that boldness in the face of opposition is sometimes needed. Still, the basic manner is gentleness and respect, and many people in our society will be open to having this kind of conversation.
This powerful passage tells us that the word will “spread rapidly and be honored” when every believer focuses on honoring Christ no matter what their circumstances, lives a life of godliness and hope worthy of him, is prepared to tell others the good news of Christ, and does so gently and respectfully. Is there an aspect of this divine wisdom you especially need to bolster in your life? How could you do so? And what could you do to help prepare your brothers and sisters to do their part in spreading the word?