I firmly believe that Christians should obediently respond to the words written in 1 Peter 3:15. I believe it so much that this verse is one of the cornerstone verses of my ministry.
“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;” 1 Peter 3:15
Through my ministry I hope to assist Christian women in their efforts to be “ready”. It is why my page Defense for Our Hope and the related articles exist. Being ready to speak up and make a defense for our hope is important. Opportunities to share our testimonies are bound to come up. We may also need to answer those who question our faith. This work of apologetics is valuable even if it is done on a small scale.
With that in mind, it might seem odd that I would include a page in Defense for Our Hope about when not to speak up. In doing so I am not minimizing our need to be ready. I am simply pointing out that there are times when we can or should remain silent. I have learned that such moments do exist. As Ecclesiastes 3:7 says there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak.” For the purpose of this article, I am referring to the times when sharing our testimony or responding to questions or comments about our faith would most likely end badly. I’m not referring to the rejection of the message, but to the interaction between us and another person.
There will inevitably be times when we run across those who are unreasonable and/or insincere in their discussion about the things of God and Christianity. These are the folks that tend to be impolite and not truly open to a fair exchange of ideas. Oftentimes things will descend into negativity that may include personal attacks or misrepresentations of the facts. One example that comes to mind is if someone callously refers to God as a “spaceman”. There is a really good chance that this person is not really sincere about the conversation. It is really important to judge the value of entering into or continuing a conversation with folks who have this type of disposition. It is ok not to.
How do I know? The Bible tells me so. Sorry, couldn’t resist. I have collected a number of verses from the book of Proverbs that have helped me to remember that it is ok and even wise to either not engage or to walk away from some conversations. When this happens, I aim to follow the last part of 1 Peter 3:15 and behave with gentleness and reverence. Most of my encounters these days occur online due to my health situation, but the following verses are just as relevant for face to face conversations. I have found them to be very helpful when applied to online encounters because people act differently when they sit behind a screen. The common courtesies that are extended in person are sometimes abandoned online. Reading various online material including comments on posts, articles, and videos has been very informative about the heart of man. It is troubling to see what we are capable of when we are offered the degree of separation and anonymity that the Internet provides.
Wisdom from Proverbs
Here are the verses that I find helpful. Again, they could apply to many different situations; but I am applying them to testifying to our faith and the work of apologetics.
“How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing And fools hate knowledge?” Proverbs 1:22
It is important to remember that some folks enjoy mocking and have no real interest in learning why we believe what we believe. It does not usually end well for us if we engage them. This next proverb addresses what is likely to happen.
“He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, And he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself.” Proverbs 9:7
Unfortunately, I have seen this happen to people. It’s important to identify this no win situation upfront to avoid this outcome. Remaining silent or ending the conversation as soon as possible will help minimize damage. That means we sometimes have to let things go. Walking away does not mean that we are afraid to speak up or not ready to speak up or unwilling to suffer for the kingdom. It does mean that we’re being wise. (Matthew 10:16) Our time is probably better spent elsewhere, like in prayer for the scoffer. It is important to not lose sight that our desire is for them to know Christ. We can pay to that end.
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Proverbs 18:2 (ESV)
It can be frustrating to try to communicate with a person who really has no interest in listening to what you have to say and instead seems to just want to make their point at any cost. When I run across this type of attitude, I usually don’t spend too much time trying to communicate, if any. I hope and pray that they will be open to listening at another time in their life.
“Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, But any fool will quarrel.” Proverbs 20:3
This is good to remember to help us resist the urge to get into the fray. I know the urge to defend can be strong, and sometimes there’s even a temptation to be sarcastic, but it really isn’t helpful or God honoring if our actions lead to strife. It really wouldn’t do us or the one we are tangling with any good.
“Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.” Proverbs 23:9 (ESV)
Here is the permission to be quiet in black and white. There are those who simply do not want to listen and in fact will hate whatever goodness we try to share about God and Christianity. We need to remember that it is ok to not engage.
“When a wise man has a controversy with a foolish man, The foolish man either rages or laughs, and there is no rest.” Proverbs 29:9
Since this is the outcome that can be expected with unreasonable and insincere folks, it is better to refrain from entering into or continuing a conversation if we find we are in this type of situation.
New Testament Wisdom
The wisdom of refraining from participating in some conversations is not limited to Proverbs. There are also verses in the New Testament that give us guidance about when not to get tangled up.
“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” 2 Timothy 2:23 (ESV)
“But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” Titus 3:9 (ESV)
While we are being alert and making sure we do not have conversations that would be unwise, we should also check our own behavior and guard against acting as the fools described above. There may be times when we are the ones who need to be corrected. Keeping a humble heart that is open to new knowledge and understanding will help us be ready and willing to adjust our thinking if need be. We should also make sure that we listen to people and not just talk at them. It is also important to not be the one who stirs up trouble in the first place or adds fuel to the fire. We can seek to glorify God by our good behavior. Verse 24 of 2 Timothy gives us some excellent guidance about how we should act.
“The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”
2 Timothy 2:24-26
Obeying this exhortation can help us avoid problems for ourselves and others. May we avoid all unnecessary grief by knowing when to speak and when to be silent. And when we do speak, may we speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6 (ESV)