13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,
1 Peter 3:13-181 Peter 3:15 is often quoted by apologists. It is probably the clearest statement in the bible commanding us to defend the faith against attacks. Yet it does not stand alone. The context gives us a lot more information about how and why we interact with those who criticize the Catholicism. It starts with a basic principle of charity. Be eager to do good. Most people won't attack you if your motives are to provide information or explain the thinking behind something. If you are doing right and you are attacked then God will bless you.
Notice it does not say if you are attacked you may respond in kind. Quite the opposite, it says "do not fear what they fear." What do they fear? Maybe looking stupid. Maybe having a flaw in their belief system exposed. Those are the two basic fears are they not? We will look bad or God will look bad. The answer to the first is humility. The answer to the second is faith.
Humility is easy to say yet very hard to do. It is never making it about your beautiful writing or your brilliant arguments. It is making them see there is something more there. That can happen through your cleverness but it can also happen through your incompetence. Sometimes it is the grace of your interactions rather than the quality of you argument that impresses. Do not fear what they fear, means they should see in your style something they can't match just because you are humble.
The other matter is faith. People often get this wrong. They think faith means digging in your heals and never giving an inch. That is often rooted in fear. True faith lets itself be purified by reason. It does not fear hard questions. It knows the hardest questions will have greatest answers even if I don't know what those answers are. The answers might rock my world. That is a good thing. Faith lets God do that. We have no fear that God is going to be proved wrong. Our understanding of God may be proved incomplete but God is real and He is rational and He is good and wise and beautiful and loving and life giving and everything else they say God is not.
Peter goes on to say, "Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame." Think about that. We need to show gentleness and reverence so consistently that anyone who attacks us will feel shame. I can think of people like that. People who are so patient and loving in the face of constant abuse that any anger you might feel towards them just can't be justified. Whether you express that anger or not you feel shame for feeling that way about such a holy person. I can think of people like that. Can I be a person like that? That is hard to imagine.
The last part about suffering is very interesting. It says sometimes the choice is not between suffering and not suffering. It is between suffering for doing good or suffering for doing evil. You are still in pain but you want lash out in pain and hurt someone else or do you want to turn your curse into a blessing for someone else? The answer is obvious when you put it that way. Yet how often do we just get angry and hurt the person right back?
Then there is the really big reason. Verse 18 says, "For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God." This is the Catholic notion that our sufferings can be united with Christ's sufferings and bring unrighteous people to God. That is right. Even if the explanation goes very poorly and nobody gets convinced the suffering that you experience can bring grace to you and to others. It can even lead to the grace of salvation. So even when you lose badly God can win. You just need to leave it to God and let Him lead you to thrill of victory or the agony of defeat knowing He can use either powerfully for your good and the good of all those involved.