The last clause in 1 Peter 3:15 generates a variety of opinion among biblical scholars. When we speak for God, Peter says we should speak with gentle respect.
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”1 Peter 3:15 ESV
The Greek words translated “gentleness” and “respect” contain more meaning than their English counterparts. The word translated “gentleness” or “meekness” in other translations. It descirbes a power under control, a confidence that isn’t assertive, a humility without weakness or reason without offense. A gentle or meek person is capable and they know it. They don’t have to force their strength on anyone else.
The word translated “respect” could also mean fear, terror, or reverence. In this context, I believe we need to respect both the person we’re talking to and God who gave us the opportunity to speak. When someone else asks us “for a reason for the hope that is in” us, we know God gave us the opportunity. We don’t want to blow it. We want to treat this opportunity with proper importance and reverence. Imagine being given an opportunity to speak for the God of the universe!
Speak for Yourself
We each follow Jesus for our own reasons. Peter tells us to explain the reason for our hope without offending the person with whom we speak. How can we do this? We explain for ourselves. We describe how we decide our beliefs without judging people who hold different beliefs. When we use terms like “lost” to talk about people who don’t follow Jesus, we judge them. No one thinks they’re lost. Terms like “lost” or “without hope,” while biblical, send the message that we’re better than they are.
One key I use is “I and “me” statements. When I speak using the first person, I limit my opinions and judgments to myself. I don’t judge anyone else, but I explain how I reached my conclusions.
Remember Our Place
God always works. He works in our life and the live of our friends and coworkers. When we speak for ourselves, with gentle respect, we avoid offending others and we understand the eternal impact of our opportunity. The next time someone asks you to explain your hope, tell them why you follow Jesus. And do it with gentle respect.