I have a picture in my dining room of Dad behind the pulpit at his church of 45 years. He’s wearing a tan suit with a white shirt and matching tie, his arm raised with a Bible in hand, and he’s gleaming with that broad smile he was known for.
The picture was probably taken 10 years ago, but the image is one that has been permanently fixed in my mind’s eye for much longer.
Underneath the picture are words from Scripture: I Peter 3:15, “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.”
I’m certain Dad’s smile was because of the hope within him. He knew Christ personally and honored Him as Lord, and believe me, his hope in Christ and life eternal carried him through many rough times.
He was always ready to share this hope when asked, and he was able to do so with respect and gentleness. If only more of us could follow his example.
It seems to me that these attributes are simply lost in today’s society. Our nation, our churches, even our families have drawn sides and battle lines have formed. There is conflict everywhere and each side thinks that they are right.
We are too busy fighting to be gentle and too concerned about winning to show respect. Whether the fight has to do with our political party, our stance on abortion, or how we feel about educating our children, those engaged are not backing down.
And in the midst of a fight, it is not natural to show respect or practice any type of gentle behavior.
Just the other night I witnessed one of my sweet girls arguing with her Dad and this concept became so very clear. She was adamant that her plan to stay home from school was absolutely correct and no amount of reasoning or loving dialogue with her father would change her mind.
She had drawn the line and was not about to budge. Even her physical stance, leaned up against a cabinet with arms tightly crossed and eyes rolled, made it clear.
Don’t we assume this same posture as adults? Arms crossed, brow furrowed, finger pointing. I wish I could answer “No, of course not!” but in the last year I would venture to say that our society as a whole has become increasingly divisive.
I don’t know about you, but all of it wears me out. Just watching the news increases my heart rate and gets me worrying about things I simply can’t control. As hard as I try to stay out of the fight, I find myself getting pulled back in and feeling overwhelmed.
The gentle reminder of my Dad’s picture and the Scripture from I Peter has been a blessing! This single verse has everything I need to get my heart right and to find a level playing field that transcends the fight we’ve all found ourselves in.
For starters, I am to “honor Christ the Lord as holy.” When I study who He was and how He consistently reacted with love and mercy, I have an example to follow.
He certainly lived a life that was set apart (holy) by taking on human flesh and “humbling Himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
I Peter 3:15 also instructs us to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” Did you notice that we are to be ready to give a defense but that we are not to start the conversation ourselves?
“To anyone who asks” means just that – someone wants to hear what I have to say. They will find me and ask. When it comes to the hope that I have, there is no need for me to draw a battle line and fire off my opinion. If I truly have a hope that is evident in my life and seen on my face, others will come to me and ask about it.
Lastly, the verse under my Dad’s picture reads, “yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Even waiting to be asked to speak, I still need to be gentle and give respect to the other person when I do.
Showing respect has become a difficult thing in our divisive culture, but its certainly not impossible. I believe you respect someone by really listening to what they have to say.
You see them as a person, not an enemy, and though you may disagree with their words, you take the time to hear them. You find something that connects the two of you and it may be as small as the fact that you are both human and don’t have all the answers.
To be honest, our humanity is not a small thing at all. As a matter of fact, we humans share the most beautiful love story. We are imperfect, broken, and in need of a Savior. We are destined to live for eternity in darkness and torment, “but God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4).
Now that is a hope I can get behind, and I will share it with anyone who asks.
Isn’t it time for us who have this hope stop fighting with our fellow man and to show gentleness and respect?
I pray for myself and my family, but also for you – that we will be ready to share the hope within us in the days to come and that we will always respond in love.
Sherry Weller is Executive Director of New Life Clinic in Wilmington.
This weekly column is provided to the News Journal by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association.