Question: "What does it mean to always be ready to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15)?"
Answer: First Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” It’s a verse that motivates Christian apologists as they prepare to give answers in defense of their faith.
In the immediate context, the apostle Peter discusses suffering for doing good (1 Peter 3:13–14). Persecution and suffering are to be expected in the Christian life (John 16:33), but a believer’s response to suffering should point others to Jesus. Peter emphasizes that Christ suffered and died to provide eternal life for those who believe in Him, and His example of suffering for doing good should strengthen all of us (1 Peter 3:17–18). Instead of fearing persecution, Christians are to make sure they suffer for righteousness’ sake, “honor Christ the Lord as holy,” and be prepared to give a defense of one’s hope in Jesus (verse 15, ESV). A believer should always be ready to tell others the good news of salvation in Jesus’ death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:2–4).
Providing a “defense” or giving an “answer” for one’s hope is based on the Greek word apologian, which carries the idea of “defending” something as a lawyer would defend his case in court. From the Greek word comes the English apologetics, “the discipline of defending” the Christian faith. Notice that Peter does not say that the job of giving an answer is only for the pastor or professional apologist. All Christians need to be prepared to give an answer or defense when someone asks them the reason for the hope that they have.
Peter wrote to the persecuted Christians in Asia Minor. As they were undergoing persecution, their outward behavior demonstrated hope in Jesus—not a wishful thought, but a solid and assured faith (see Hebrews 6:19–20). The believers’ lack of fear in the face of suffering would have propelled others to ask about the reason for their faith, giving the believers a perfect opportunity “to give an answer.” When believers display their sure hope in Jesus despite their circumstances, others will notice (see 1 Peter 2:12).
To properly answer someone who asks about one’s faith, the Christian must use “gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience” (1 Peter 3:15). There’s no place for harshness or disrespect in a Christian’s life, especially as he represents Christ and gives an answer to explain his faith. Peter exhorts the believer to answer unbelievers gently, respectfully, and with the example of one’s life (cf. Colossians 4:6). Believers should reflect Christ’s teaching of gentleness and “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15, NLT).
The command to “always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” presupposes a faith that causes us to live out our hope in Christ visibly before others. When unbelievers see a Christian’s great hope in the face of persecution or suffering, they will naturally want to know the reason for that hope (Matthew 5:16). We need to be prepared to share the gospel in a way that is gentle and respectful. The result will be “that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:16).