When you proclaim the gospel, use words
Those who have been changed and shaped by the gospel cannot help but speak and share the gospel.
The emphasis on good conduct and “witness without a word,” in 1 Peter might lead some to assume that verbal witness was not a priority for Peter and the witness of early Christians in Asia Minor. On the contrary, Peter, the apostle who preached the gospel to thousands on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), demonstrates in his first letter that verbal proclamation of the gospel is central to Christian witness and mission in the world. Tom Schreiner writes, “The declaration of God’s praises includes both worship and evangelism, spreading the good news of God’s saving wonders to all peoples.”
It is imperative for Christians around the world to rightly understand not only the missional nature of their identity and lifestyle, but also the critical gospel message that they must explain while living in the midst of a non-Christian world. Dean Flemming writes, “We have seen that Peter focuses on bearing witness through ethical living . . . This does not mean, however, that verbal testimony plays no role in Christian mission. Indeed, the witness of word and life are inseparable in 1 Peter.
In other words, Peter emphasizes at strategic points throughout this letter that those who have been born again to a living hope cannot be silent.
The role of verbal proclamation: 3 mentions
Peter makes at least three explicit mentions regarding the nature and role of verbal proclamation in Christian mission in his letter.
First, Peter refers to the initial explanation of the gospel that the original readers of this letter received that led to their own salvation. Peter writes, “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look” (1 Pet. 1:12, NASB).
Peter alludes to the fact that it was the gospel that was proclaimed to these believers in Asia Minor that ultimately changed their lives. Furthermore, the language that Peter intentionally uses is not descriptive of a casual or passive conversation, but of active and intentional proclamation of the good news.
Torey Seland writes, “The use of this verb here is crucial, it being the most important term in the NT writings for proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ: εὐαγγελίζεσθαι is not just speaking and preaching; it’s proclamation with full authority and power … one of the most common terms among the early Christians denoting the propagation of the gospel.”
Peter’s emphasis on evangelism early in the letter centers on a clear and articulate presentation of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was the announcement of the gospel that brought about genuine change and transformation in the lives of these early Christians in Asia Minor.
Second, Peter highlights the ongoing need and expectation for Christians to continually proclaim the gospel in the world. Incorporating significant Old Testament imagery and language, Peter writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9, NASB). Peter asserts that all Christians have a responsibility to speak of the majesty and splendor of God.
Those who have been changed and shaped by the gospel cannot help but speak and share the gospel. Flemming writes, “Missionary proclamation, then, flows out of the church’s identity as a holy priesthood (2:9a), and it partners with the kind of ethical conduct that attracts those outside into the sphere of God’s grace.
The witness of the word is wedded to the witness of life.”
Donald Senior adds, “The Christian mission is to proclaim publicly to the world the ‘great deeds’ of God, that is the acts of salvation that have given life to the Christians and are offered to all who would accept the gospel.”
Central to the witness of the early Christians in 1 Peter is a clear and compelling proclamation of the gospel.
Third, Peter describes the need for Christians to be ready to explain and engage in an apologetic defense of the gospel to anyone and everyone in society. Peter writes, “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…” (1 Pet. 3:15, NASB).
The focus for Peter in this passage is on the need for a verbal testimony that explains the hope Christians possess because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross and in the resurrection. Seland writes, “The Christians of 1 Peter are exhorted to have a much more active role in society concerning their faith. In addition to the texts dealt with above, the apologetic emphasis of 1 Pet. 3:15 is another strong indicator of this missional attitude.”
Living a distinct lifestyle in the culture will inevitably provoke questions and inquiries from those in society. As a result, Christians must be able to give a verbal testimony, defense, and response to those who ask about their distinct and contrasting behavior and beliefs. Eckhard Schnabel writes, “The term apologia signifies that they should be prepared to give an account of the objective foundation of their Christian faith and identity.
The Christians to whom Peter is writing, by nature of their transformed lives and missional presence, must be able to speak and respond directly to questions concerning their identity and lifestyle as those who are in Christ.
In summary, the message that Christians around the world must explain is that of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Verbal witness and proclamation of the gospel are to accompany the good works and conduct of Christians as they live out and speak the gospel to those around them. Christians engage in the world precisely because they have a message of hope to explain to the world.
Furthermore, the missional identity and lifestyle of good works embodied by Christians serves as a stimulus and elicits curiosity and spiritual questions from a watching world. Peter’s evangelistic exhortations to the early Christians in Asia Minor remain applicable for all Christians around the world today. The sharing of the gospel was central to Peter’s message and must be central in our lives as we embody and explain the hope we have in Christ.