“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
1 Peter 3:15
After having the month of August off, it is a joy to return to preaching through the book of Acts! It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply. As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid. Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.
As we arrive in Acts 22 in our sermon series we find Paul publicly giving his testimony as a result of being arrested for being at the center of a riot. Paul seemed to understand what Peter would write about being ready to give an answer — even in times where it might seem safer to just blend in and not speak up. As we seek a greater obedience to living the word of God, we must also be ready to give an ANSWER.
- Acknowledge: As we prepare to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us, it is important that we acknowledge we started at the same place as the person who needs to meet the hope we have. Paul begins his defense — his answer — in chapter 22 by acknowledging that he not only understands their concerns but for much of his life he was right there with them leading people in the very actions they were involved with. Sometimes as Christians our answer falls on deaf ears, at least in part, because we don’t acknowledge we were once just as lost as they were. We want to forget that part of our life. We want to believe we have always been in a right relationship with God — but we haven’t been! Our acknowledgement is a necessary part of our answer so that people can see there is hope for them to experience the change that Jesus offers. When we are engaged in the Act of ANSWER, our Acknowledgement of where we’ve been can help others see they are not beyond the reach of God’s grace.
- Notice: For our answer to be as effective as possible, it is important that we actually notice who we are talking to! Paul appears to do this as he chooses to address the crowd in Aramaic. As you read the text, it is obvious that using this language gets the crowd’s attention. Remember, this wasn’t a friendly crowd wanting to hear what the traveling preacher was saying — it was an angry mob already in turmoil over what Paul had been teaching. If we are going to excel at giving an answer with gentleness and respect, it is imperative that we notice everything we can about who we’re talking to! Too often we put our foot in our mouth because we’ve not paid attention to the details. So, our mouth opens and out comes something offensive, making whatever truth we may have shared to fall on deaf ears. When we Notice as much as possible about the people around us, God will use those details to guide our words in the Act of ANSWER.
- Speak: While this part of our answer should be obvious, it is often the most difficult because it represents the point of no return. Paul writes to the Romans that faith comes by hearing the word of God and that hearing the word of God requires that someone speaks it. Paul would not only speak as part of his answer about his faith, he would speak as much as possible in a language that his audience would understand. A life lived fully in the hope Jesus offers will often get people’s attention but what will we do with it? The speaking we do about our faith in Jesus must come from both our acknowledgement of where we started and from the things we notice about those we speak to. When it comes to living out the Act of ANSWER, there does come a point where we must Speak about the incredible hope that we have in Jesus.
- Willing: To know these first three elements of the Act of ANSWER is good, but doing it typically requires that we ask the question of ourself, “Am I willing?”. Even when we know the importance of the hope that we have, many times we are intimidated into not being willing to share it. Paul had been told he would suffer much for sharing about Jesus yet he was willing to keep giving an answer because he knew it was the only way others would know about an everlasting hope. Instead of letting fear drive our silence, we must be willing to step up and speak up every time God gives us an opportunity to share about our relationship with Him. Are there people we are not willing to speak to because we think they’re unreachable or undeserving? According to God, knowing the good we ought to do and not be willing to do it is sin. The Act of ANSWER will never by attempted by us until we are Willing to be obedient to God in all things and make the most of every opportunity He gives us.
- Expose: There is a perceived downside to the Act of ANSWER and that is that it has a tendency to Expose both us and those we give the answer to. When our answer is filled with the honesty and integrity that it requires, it reveals that we started at the same place as those hearing our answer — we were a sinner in need of God’s grace. Paul’s answer to the crowd exposed to them that even in his strongest held beliefs before meeting Jesus, he was wrong. God uses that same answer to also expose the need in the lives of those listening. It appears that Paul was being listened to, and perhaps even had agreement from among the crowd, until his answer exposed a great sin of prejudice. Everything was good until Paul stated that God had sent him to the Gentiles. That was more than the crowd could stand! Their racial prejudice was so ingrained that they would seek to rid the earth of Paul rather than accept that God desired all people to be saved. Our answer, or lack of one, can expose just how much, or little, we believe that Jesus is the only way to God. Who we tell, or don’t tell, can expose our layers of prejudice and lack of faith in God’s power to change anyone who would turn to Him. Our speaking the truth in love will many times expose the hatred, hurt, and rejection in the lives of those listening. The problem isn’t the exposure, it is what do we do with it. God’s call is for His light to expose, and dispel, the darkness so that mankind would no longer live and walk in it. When done effectively, our Act of ANSWER gives out the light of Jesus so that the deeds of darkness are Exposed.
- Respectful Rights: As we give an ANSWER for the hope that lies within us, we do so recognizing that we have Rights that must be used with Respect. Paul was not afraid to speak up for his rights in a respectful way in order to have even greater opportunity to speak about his faith in Jesus. When about to be flogged in an attempt to get the truth out of him, Paul simply asks, as a Roman citizen, if doing so is right. While some of our rights vary based on the country we reside in and the government we live under, God tells us that our relationship with Him through Jesus gives us the right to be called children of God. Even when our rights seem to be non-existent or eroding away, do we use what we have to increase our opportunity to speak about our hope in Jesus? When exercising our rights with respect will lead to hardship for us, are we willing to still speak up about Jesus? Sometimes it is not so much that we have our rights taken away from us as Christians as that we have given up our rights as Christians because they create a hardship for us. The opportunities we have in the Act of ANSWER often increase when we know the Rights given us by both God and our earthly authorities and we exercise these Rights with Respect.
So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of ANSWER? Do you Acknowledge that you started at the same place in regard to God as those that you are giving your answer to are in? Will you take the time to Notice everything you can about those to whom you will express the answer you have for your hope? Can you Speak up and put your answer into words that others can understand? Are you Willing to make the most of every opportunity? Do you allow the light of Jesus Expose the truth about Him, about you, and about those you share with? Will you be Respectful when you use your Rights to gain greater opportunity to share about your relationship with Jesus? I pray that your response to the Act of ANSWER will boldly show, and tell, the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!