Give the Best Gift This Christmas

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GIVE THE BEST GIFT THIS CHRISTMAS BY BARRY RAPER 1 Peter 3:13-17 The Christmas season, perhaps more than any other time of year, provides opportunities for us to share our faith. From family celebrations and special services at church to social gatherings, this holiday opens the door for us to reveal the true meaning of Christmas, the gospel—the baby in the manger who became the Savior on the cross. This is the greatest gift we can give others, at Christmas or at any other time. Are you ready for those opportunities when they arise? The Apostle Peter emphasized being ready or prepared to share (or even defend when necessary) your faith, being ready to give an answer to anyone willing to talk about it. Consider three simple reminders from this passage about sharing your faith. 1. Make it biblical and personal. Peter indicated we should always be prepared to dialogue with anyone who asks for the reason behind the hope we have. In Scripture, the word hope is not used as we use it in our common language today— I hope it rains or I hope my team wins—not knowing whether it will happen.


Hope in Scripture, and especially in the New Testament, indicates certainty and a confident expectation. This is the way Paul used the word in 1 Thessalonians 4:1314 when he told believers we should grieve with hope when a loved one passes. What is that biblical hope? Paul was clear: “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” As believers, we have confident expectation that Jesus’ resurrection secures our own resurrection and opens the door to our reunion with those who have died in the Lord. Our hope is the story of redemption, first prophesied after Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden, when God promised the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). God later promised Abraham that his descendants would bless the entire world, and throughout the Old Testament, God worked to bring this promise to pass. He established the nation of Israel and kept them through the centuries until the promised Messiah arrived in the Person of Jesus Christ—that baby of Bethlehem we celebrate at Christmas. You see, the story of redemption is the storyline of the entire Bible. We must be students of the Word, first for ourselves and our own spiritual growth, but also for the sake of others, so we can make the gospel biblically sound. But the gospel also must also be personal. Peter said our conversations with others should reflect “the hope which is in you.” The gospel is more than just doctrinal truth. This hope Peter described must be personal and saturate your life. That way, when you discuss your faith, people see it isn’t some memorized academic exercise, but a real and living and growing faith within you. This is where our testimony comes in. Every Christian has a testimony of coming to faith in Christ—your life before you were saved. You have the story of your conversion experience and your post-conversion life with God working in you over time. Some came to faith early, others later. Some were brought up in a Christian home; others were not. But if you are a Christian, you have a testimony. It’s yours. It’s personal. And it is powerful. Can you imagine recommending a restaurant based only upon online reviews? You could spit out all the facts, cite reviews, even provide a menu. But if your friend says, “Have you ever eaten there?” and you say no, your recommendation will lose its impact. The same is true of sharing our faith. We must combine biblical truth with the story of our own experience and relationship with Christ. —2—

2. Make it gentle and respectful. Peter encouraged us to discuss the gospel with gentleness and respect. Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5 and is the opposite of harshness, the opposite of running roughshod over people. Sinful people don’t need a lashing with our words but a gentle and loving presentation of the Savior. While being open about sin and its effects, or even when directly refuting their worldview, we are called to speak the truth in love. Jesus set the example in His approach toward us, as recorded in Matthew 12:19-21: “He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.” If you want to be effective in sharing the gospel with others, embrace the gentleness demonstrated by Jesus.

If you want to be because our society no longer demonstrates effective in respect. From political discourse and business dealings to social media, we encounter sharing the the opposite: backbiting, shouting, intergospel, embrace ruptions, belittling, and so on. However, as Christians, our basis for treating other people the gentleness with respect is the fact every person is made demonstrated in the image and likeness of God. Scripture places great emphasis on treating others by Jesus. with respect. And then there is respect. Respect is difficult

Please understand. Even when you treat others with gentleness and respect, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will win them over, even if you present the gospel clearly and compellingly. However, when you interact with gentleness and respect, it is likely you will leave the door open for future conversations and opportunities. While we can (and should) present sound reasons for our faith, no one is “argued” into the Kingdom of God. 3. Make it consistent and visible. Peter made it clear the gospel should be clearly connected with how we live as “followers of that which is good.” Some translations say, “zealous for what is good” or “imitators of what is good.” We don’t use the word zealous much these days, but the idea behind the word is extreme passion, seeking something intensely or holding tightly to a position. Burning —3—

with zeal. This sounds like Paul’s words in Titus 2:14, when he shared the reason Jesus gave Himself for us, to “redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Does our lifestyle speak for us before we ever open our mouths? Acts 10:38 describes Jesus simply: “He went around doing good.” Of course He did! He was perfect. Yet, even though we will not be perfect, Christ calls us to live the same way, presenting our lives well-lived as a testimony to God’s grace. When we share the gospel, our lifestyle should match our message. While our good works do not save us, we are saved for the purpose of good works. And while good works cannot save us, they can light the way for others to be saved. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). This is especially true when sharing the gospel with family members and close friends, those who know us best. We must live in a way that doesn’t raise objections to the gospel message we share. One last note of encouragement. When you share the gospel with others this Christmas season, don’t forget the “invisible Person” present as you speak. The Holy Spirit is present to bear witness to Jesus, paving the gospel’s way to the heart. You have the privilege to speak, knowing God alone can open and convince the human heart. Our task is to be ready to share His greatest gift.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• About the writer: Barry Raper is associate dean of Welch Divinity School and pastor of Bethel Free Will Baptist Church near Ashland City, Tennessee.


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