Scripture: 1 Peter: 3:8-9;13-18
During an inauguration address Franklin Roosevelt delivered one of the most memorable and profound quotes of the 20th century. He said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The irony is that FDR, did not always take this sage wisdom to heart, and he lived his life with a couple of big fears. For instance, he would never close a door in a room with a fire place. He was afraid of fire, and he wanted to make sure he always had a way out. He also had a mild case of triskaidekaphobia, or fear of the number thirteen. He went out of his way to avoid traveling on Friday the 13th, and whenever possible he would avoid sitting down with thirteen at a dinner table. We all have things, sometimes silly things, which make us uncomfortable and anxious. Sometimes these small fears can become full phobias which can be completely disabling but usually they are just sources of great anxiety that we have to face or run away from. In surveys of fear people have been asked to rate if they are afraid of a wide variety of things. Do you know what the number one people said they were afraid of? 74% responded they had some level of fear of public speaking. That is the number one thing that people are afraid of. The second highest response with 68% was death. That means, statistically speaking, at a funeral most people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. There is a related fear to public speaking that seizes many people. It does not make many “top fear” lists but it is a major problem that can completely cripple churches. It is Evangaphobia, the fear of sharing your faith with others. Perhaps it is a fear you have.
If you personally do not have this fear, then fantastic. However, statistically speaking most regular church attenders are absolutely terrified of sharing their faith. This is backed up by study after study that shows we do not do it. Lifeway research has regularly done surveys to measure the practice of evangelism, of sharing faith over the years. The specific numbers fluctuate from year to year, but the results are the same as summarized in the 2019 report: “ Lifeway Research found excitement and eagerness about the idea of evangelism, but few Protestant churchgoers actually engaged in the practice on a regular basis.”
The studies find that followers of Jesus understand the importance of sharing faith, but they also find we tend not to like having those conversations. Because of this, there is a quote that is wildly popular in church circles. You have likely heard it, and it goes like this: “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” This is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. Problem is, he never said that and in fact he would probably oppose the quote. St. Francis was well known as an evangelist, who shared the gospel (with words) regularly. Even though he never said it we still like to share it. We really, really like that quote because if gets off of the hook. We like the notion that if we just live a certain way, that through some sort of osmosis process people will pick up on the gospel just from how we interact with them. We have delusions of grandeur that our act of kindness will fully communicate that out of God’s great love he sent his son to offer forgiveness of sins through his death and resurrection. Because many of us have evangaphobia, we cling to the notion that just living the way a Christian should is all that we have to do to share our faith with others. We know that it is not true though.
Do not get me wrong. How we live our lives is important. Our actions should be a direct reflection of the gospel, because living authentic Christian lives is what gives our words weight. That is why this morning’s scripture begins with encouraging believers in Christ to love one another, be compassionate, be humble, and to repay evil with blessing. When we do this we live like no one else so that our lifestyle has an appeal and allure to people who do not yet know Christ. However, that is not enough. If we are going to invite other people to join the family of God, if we are going to make disciples, then we have to use our words. This is why Peter writes in verse 15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have.” It is not just enough to live like no one else, we have to be able to tell people the source of our motivation. We need to share with them why we are willing to live in a way that reflects the gospel.
I really appreciate the way this scripture is worded. It did not say “always be prepared to give a three point argument, citing credible sources, for what you believe.” When it comes to sharing our faith with others one of the greatest sources of fear for sharing our faith is feeling like we do not know enough. We feel like before we can even say the name of Jesus to anyone we have to be knowledgeable enough to answer any potential question or disagreement they could throw our way. That is not what the scripture says though. We do not have to have all the answers, we have to have hope. As followers of Jesus, sharing our hope should not be hard. The hope we have in Christ should be a source of joy, assurance, and grounding deep within our heart. We should have a great hope. When it comes to sharing our faith that is what we need to share. We need to share why being a Christian gives us hope. You may have never considered the question of why Jesus gives you hope. Yet according to this morning’s scripture that is question we need to be most prepared to answer when it comes to sharing our faith. The most effective words we can use to invite others into relationship with Jesus are the words that speak hope. So what is your reason for hope? We do not have to have a novel ready to give out, but we should be able to share our story. We should be able to tell people why we have found hope in Christ. We need to know our story, here is mine.
I have hope because I know what it feels like to be hopeless. I know that I am not alone in this experience, but middle school was a terrible time. Today there is a lot of emphasis on not bullying and many schools have prevention measures and zero-tolerance policies. That was not my experience. It seemed the teachers and authority figures were indifferent, that this was just the way it was, and it was all “kids being kids.” I was told it was my fault because I let people’s words and actions get to me. It seemed that the greatest wrong I could commit was just being me. If I was myself that was not good enough, if I adapted to fit in I was mocked for being a poser. It was a rigged game that could not be won, and I felt trapped. I felt hopeless. Eventually, we moved and it got better. The damage was done though. I looked in the mirror and I felt worthless and unwanted. I felt like there was no place I belonged. Today, I know those were lies of the worst kind. Today, because of Jesus I have hope. I know that I am worth a great deal, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made by the creator of the whole universe. I know that I am wanted because Jesus wanted me so much that he willingly gave his life in exchange for mine. I know that I belong, because I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, that I have received a spirit of adoption, and that I forever belong to the family of God. I know those truths to be cognitively correct but I also feel them in the depths of my heart. It is heart knowledge that grounds me, shapes me, and defines me. It is my reason for hope. My hope is found on nothing less than Jesus Christ and his righteousness.
That is the reason for the hope that I have. What is your reason for hope? In this morning’s scripture Peter urges us to always be prepared to give an answer to that question. It is the primary way we can share our faith. In order to invite others to know Jesus you need to know your story. Even if you have spent your entire life in the church, there is a reason why you stuck with it. There is a reason why you have hope in Christ. What is that reason? Put it to words, write it down if you have to. Learn your story, and then share it because your story is important. There are people in this world, probably people you know who NEED to hear your story. There are so many people in this world, so many people in this small town, who desperately want and need a reason to have hope. For some of these people it is your story that will best speak to them. It is your story that will show them how to find hope in Christ. It is your story that will transform their world by introducing them to the full love of God. It is your story that can lead to the formation of new disciples.
Verse 15 does contain a final instruction about sharing our hope. It says we are to do it with “gentleness and respect.” One of the other great reasons why people have evangaphobia is because they are afraid of offending someone else. So out of deference for their sensibilities we never risk sharing our story and sharing the gospel of forgiving love. If we truly believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one gets to the Father except through him, then it is disrespectful and offensive not to share that message of hope. This does not mean we take what we believe and shove it down people’s throats, it does not mean we belittle someone who disagrees with us. This is why sharing our story, our reason for hope is an effective way to share our faith. We share our story not our dogma. We can do this gently and we can do it in a way that respects the dignity of others. We do this by living like no one else, so that people ask us for the reason why we have a hope that seems to be in short supply in this world. Then when someone asks us, we are prepared with our answer, with our story.
The Lifeway study conducted in 2019 that I quoted earlier operated with a six month time frame. The study found that almost 2/3rds of regular church going Christians had not shared their faith with anyone in a six months. May you not be part of that statistic for the next six months. May you continue to revere Jesus as Lord, and may you find a hope in Christ that is unshakable. May you know your story, may you know the reason why you have hope, and may you always be willing to share it. It is my sincere prayer that all of you are able to overcome any evangaphobia that might have been keeping you back from being faithful. May you indeed preach the gospel at all times, and may you even use words when necessary.