(1 Pet 3:15)
We have looked at the main section of the verse and that is generally all that we would quote.
But we ought to observe that these familiar words are sandwiched between two important statements.
“Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts” (some textual variants read Christ)
What does this mean? Sanctify is hagiazo which here means to reverence as holy One who already is, that is God or Christ. Grudem believes Peter may be drawing on Isa 8:13, “But the LORD of Hosts, Him you shall regard as holy; let Him be your fear and Him be your dread.”
One saint of old got it about right,
“We sanctify the Lord God in our hearts when we with sincerity and fervency adore him, when our thoughts of him are awful and reverend, when we rely upon his power, trust to his faithfulness, submit to his wisdom, imitate his holiness, and give him the glory” (Matthew Henry)
Because He is holy, our conduct towards others is also to be holy. Certainly we know that our hearts are capable of less than holy responses when challenged.
All of our apologetic encounters are to be conducted in the light of who Christ is in our lives and with an attitude towards the other of, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
“…with gentleness and respect”
The final clause reminds us that the manner in which we answer is just as important, if not more so, then the cogency of our arguments.We are not picking a fight. We are not trying to win an argument.We are respectfully seeking to communicate the truths of God’s Word with gentleness.
Not enough of us have mastered the art of giving a gentle response to those who oppose us. Gentleness was not always the way of our Lord who knew how to express righteous anger at the appropriate times and in the appropriate places; but it is always to be the way of his disciples who do not as yet share His perfect naturein its fulness.
The answer is always to be given with “respect.”
Your respect though is not for the argument of the other person. We ought to have no respect for views that indicate someone in rebellion against their Creator.
I believe we treat them with respect for two reasons:
1) That person is a human being made in the image of God
2) That person is no more or less spiritually blind than you were until God opened your eyes.
Thus humility is called for.