Philippians 1:16b : ”Knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel.”
Paul is using two important words in this verse that will help us answer the question “Can I be an apologist?” These two words are “set” and “defense.”
The first is keimai in Greek and is most of the time translated by “lying.” It is not a common term in the New Testament, we only find it 24 times.
The term does have much of an active meaning. That is quite important to apologetics as we will see. The other (defense) is apologia, from which we have our word “apologetic,” it simply means a “defense.”
In his ministry, Paul often used apologetics as an evangelistic tool. Actually, the word apologia is found only eight times in the New Testament and seven times it is used by Paul (two recorded as part of his speeches in Acts and five in his epistles).
Paul is indeed appointed for the defense of the Gospel, but are we? All of us? The eighth and last mention of the term apologia is found in 1 Peter 3:15, a very “apologetic” verse. You will actually find it in almost every book on the topic!
For many people, apologetics is a matter of specialists and since, in our very atheistic context, a strong apologetic is needed to face the opposition to our Faith, many Christians are reluctant to evangelize because they fell inadequate.
Unfortunately, this idea comes from apologetics or apologists themselves.
A quick reading of the verse will teach us that, to paraphrase Paul in 2 Timothy 4:5, we all can do the work of an apologist!
Peter is writing to believers struggling with persecution. This is what he tells them: “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.”
The verse can be divided, for the sake of its study in four small parts. Peter tells us to
(1) sanctify Christ, (2) to be “ready,” (3) to give an account for our hope and (4) to do it with meekness.
(1) We all wonder if we are up to the task that God has called us to do. This is why Peter is starting with the proper foundation: it is about Him, not about us ! Christ is Lord and that means that he leads and guides me.
Do I have to worry about being capable ? In 2 Peter 1:3, the same apostle states that “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”
We have all provided by God, through His divine power, to be able to live the Gospel and, through this life, be an apologist ! As Paul said in Galatians 5:16: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
” I do not think of “not carrying out the desire of the flesh.” I first walk in the spirit THEN the desires of my flesh are taken care of. Keimai (lying) is important here for our third point. In Philippians 1:17, the verb is in the middle voice.
It means that Paul is just there. As Christians, we need to be there, that is available and in rest. The “success” of my witnessing does not depend on me. I’m not a salesperson!
(2) It is nevertheless true, that there needs to be some training, some specializing when it comes to Apologetics. This is where Bible College and church attendance come in. What is relevant for today? Well, just like yesterday, the Gospel is.
I need to be in the Body of Christ to have my life transformed, I need to study His Word to have the answers from God and I need the specific training that Bible College can provide for me, in many areas, Apologetics included !
(3) We are asked to give an account for our hope. This section of the verse is at the heart of what we’re saying here. Notice what Peter is saying, reading the verse following his logic leads to this:
First we are under persecution or opposition, we react as living epistles (2 Corinthians 3:3), our lives trigger questions from the unbeliever. We answer by explaining (giving an account for) the reasons for the hope within us.
The word “account” is translated from the Greek term logos. This gives us a hint of what our response should be. We lean on God’s Word (logos) to provide for the content of our response.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18-19: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”
It is because of our testimony that people will ask questions. They will want to know how we can explain the hope we have in a hopeless situation. No mention of special intelligence or capacity is made here.
(4) Our attitude as a Christian and our lived out life raise questions from the unbeliever. This will have to be seen also in the way we respond to the questions raised.
Too many times, when one knows some Apologetics, the discussion turns into a argument-winning contest. By doing this, I may (or may not!) win the argument, but I may very well, by being perceived as arrogant lose an opportunity to show Christ again as He was seen under persecution.
So what is Peter telling us? That to do apologetics, we just need to live out the Gospel. To live out the Gospel, we just need to sanctify Christ as Lord in our thoughts and He will produce the change.
That change will be seen as we become living epistles which, in contrast of the emptiness of the unbelieving life, will raise the questions.
Do I have to be concerned by the world getting darker? Not really. Our brothers to whom Peter writes were in a dark world also. As the old song goes, “The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Light Shines.”
We are, all of us, set or appointed for the defense of the Gospel. In different capacities, maybe, but all of us are called to live out the Gospel and be a witness in this world not despite the opposition, but because of the opposition. We are indeed set for the defense of the Gospel!
– Philippe Seradji