I assume we’re all familiar with the phrase “Friend or Foe”:
- Is the person we’re dealing with on our side or against us?
- Is the suspicious email we’ve received a sincere request for help or a scam?
- Is that light at the end of the tunnel a ray of sunshine or an oncoming train? You get the idea!
In today’s passage Peter is writing to advise his readers on how to respond to both “friend” and “foe”.
- By “friends” he means our fellow Christians, other members of our Church or congregation, like all of us here today – and like the fellow Christians of northern Turkey to whom Peter was first writing.
- And by “foes”, Peter is referring to opponents of the Christian faith – people who either don’t understand us or disagree with us – the type of people we increasingly encounter in our C21 British society, possibly even within our own families.
- But “foes” may also include people who want to physically harm Christians. This threat of physical abuse may (thankfully) seem a distant risk to us today, but it was a very real threat to the churches to whom Peter was writing, and to Christians in many other parts of the world today.
As we look at our passage today, we see that Peter says we should treat our fellow Christian ‘friends’ with compassion and love. And we should respond to our foes with good deeds and wise words. So let’s look more deeply at what he says.
Friendship with fellow Christians includes unity of faith and loving care (v.8-12)
Peter begins today’s passage by saying “finally”, despite there being almost half of his letter still to go – you could say its very long conclusion! But actually his advice to his fellow Christians, to his “friends”, is fairly succinct. Within their Christian fellowship, they are to be like-minded, sympathetic, mutually loving, compassionate and humble, he says in verse 8. In other words, as Christians we should strive for unity in the faith.:
- We may differ in our favourites hobbies, holiday destinations or musical tastes, but we should constantly remind ourselves that it is faith in Christ that unites us.
- A healthy church is not merely a social club or a community group, but something far more important than that – its meant to be an outpost of heaven, a place where God’s people gather in the name of Christ to worship him and serve one another.
So one major reason why we do what we do together on Sundays – like listening to the Bible, or reciting the Creed or sharing communion – is to help build each other up in the unity of the faith. Its all designed to help us keep our eyes fixed on Christ our Lord.
But our unity also goes beyond belief – Christian fellowship is more than mere head knowledge – Peter says it should extend to practical support and pastoral care as well. Peter uses words like sympathy, love and compassion in this passage to urge us to take a genuine interest in one others lives, and to make sacrifices of time or money to help one another when we are struggling in body, mind or spirit.
We should also strive for humility in our dealings with one another. A humble Christian admits his or her mistakes, seeks forgiveness for their failings and doesn’t stand on their rights. A humble believer responds to wounds from a friend with words of forgiveness and good deeds, not with retaliation or retribution. In verses 10 to 12 Peter quotes Psalm 34 to make the point that humble Christians are peacemakers – they are the type of people who help churches stay together – you might describe them as a godly glue that helps congregations stick together! Such people, says Peter, are pleasing in the eyes of the Lord, “and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (v.12).
Respond to our foes with good deeds and wise words (v.13-17)
So we should love our friends, our fellow believers, says Peter. But what about our foes. What about people who question our faith, or those who threaten us, speak maliciously about us, slander us or even harm us? Should Christians respond to such people with aggression, animosity or armed force? Peter answers with an emphatic “no”! With the Lord Jesus as our inspiration and role model, we are to respond to our opponents with good deeds and wise words. We’re not to respond to evil with evil. Instead Peter says in verse 15 that we’re to “revere Christ” and follow his example, says Peter.
• Since Christ said we should love our enemies, so should we.
• Since he told us to turn the cheek, we ought to too.
• And since Christ suffered innocently at the hands of evil men, we should be prepared to do likewise if it ever becomes necessary.
Turning the cheek and responding to evil with good may be costly now, but we can look forward to an eternity of blessing with our risen and ascended Lord.
Before I finish, I want to spend a few moments looking at the most famous sentence in this passage. It comes in the middle of verse 15, where Peter says: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” That single sentence has been the foundation for the something called Christian Apologetics. Apologetics doesn’t mean apologising for something, for saying sorry – instead it means ‘giving a defence’ for what you believe, giving a reasons for your faith in Christ. Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, which is the word translated ‘answer’ in verse 15, and was used to refer to the defence barrister’s case in a court of law.
Apologetics is what Christians do whenever we try to answer questions about our faith. Apologetics is about answering questions like:
- Why do we believe in God?
- Or why do we trust the Bible?
- Or why does God allow suffering?
- Or why do we think Jesus rose from the dead?
- Or why do we think Christianity is compatible with contemporary science?
No doubt you’ve been asked one or two questions like that in the past, and I wonder what response you have given?
The good news is that none of these questions is new, and plausible persuasive answers can be given. Sometimes these answers can be found in the Bible, sometimes they are more philosophical, and at other times the answer may require an appeal to scientific or historical evidence.
If you have never come across Christian apologetics before, and want to delve deeper, can I encourage you to look at books by people like C.S. Lewis, William Lane Craig, Peter Kreeft or Alister McGrath. Because if we’re able to give a plausible answer to the questions people ask, they will take our faith much more seriously. If we’re able to demonstrate that we’ve got our heads screwed on, sceptics will be more likely to listen to us when we talk about Jesus. One of those authors I mentioned just now – Alister McGrath – describes apologetics as a ‘ground clearing’ exercise:
• It can clear away some of the misunderstandings and misapprehensions that people can have about our Christian faith.
• It clear away some of the intellectual barriers that can stop people taking Christianity seriously.
So as I finish, today’s passage from Peter has given us a basic toolkit for responding to both friends and foes – to both our fellow Christians and our most vehement opponents.
- Among our brothers and sisters in Christ we should strive for unity, mutual love, humility and compassion.
- And when faced by foes, we should not retaliate, but respond with good deeds and wise words. As Peter puts it, we should “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have – doing so with gentleness and respect.”