Must We Always Defend Truth?
“Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…” —I Peter 3:15
There seems to be considerable consensus among members of the church that we must always make a stand for the truth, no matter what. The aforementioned verse certainly seems to validate this mindset.
However, there is a qualitative difference between being ready to give a defense and actually giving said defense. It is akin to the difference between owning a fire extinguisher and using a fire extinguisher. Obviously, you can’t use a fire extinguisher if you don’t have one, and likewise you cannot give a defense if you don’t have the ability. Also, owning a fire extinguisher does not inherently necessitate using it; likewise, being able to give a defense of the hope that is in you does not necessitate doing so.
Now, there will inevitably be times when we must give an answer for the hope that is in us. Religious challenges are more common that minor house fires, after all. But must we always defend the truth?
Consider Christ’s words: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” This is a moral imperative, and the meaning is readily discerned: do not share the goodness of God with those who will either fail to appreciate it or actively work against it.
God understands that his human servants have a limited amount of resources at their disposal, including the most valuable resource of all: time. God does not expect his servants to waste their time defending giving an answer to those who are not honestly interested in the answer. How could a God that wishes the whole world to be saved prefer that his servants to evangelize the determined lost instead of those who are honestly seeking the truth?
There are certain reasons for defending the truth that are noble; leading others to a knowledge of the truth is certainly among them. There will undoubtedly be some people who genuinely want to know the truth and—hopefully from observing our conduct—will come to us asking to more about what we believe and why. We should be both willing and able to give an answer for the hope that is in us to these sorts of people.
However, there is one occurrence of giving an answer that is problematic: defending the truth to show people that we defend the truth. There is no point to doing this, as this is nothing more than status-seeking. People won’t judge us in the final day, so defending our faith in God to them is pointless, especially since there are not seeking the truth. God already knows our hearts, so he doesn’t need us to defend the truth to the dishonest and uninterested to know that we are willing to do so.
Further, in keeping with Christ’s commands to not cast our pearls before swine, there will be occasions when defending the truth is pointless, and therefore we will have an obligation to occasionally abstain from defending the truth. Our time and energy can be better spent doing other things for the cause of Christ and in defense of our faith in God.
Now, it is important to note that this command requires that we use judgment. It is up to us to determine if the person who is asking for a reason for the hope that is in us is genuine and sincere in their search for the truth. We must consider the question and answer accordingly. We must also examine our own motives, to ensure that we are genuinely attempting to lead others to the truth, instead of simply demonstrating our won righteousness and faithfulness.
In sum, we must always be willing and able to defend our faith, but we must also exercise judgment and discretion when doing so. We are forbidden from wasting our time with the spurious, rebellious, and dishonest. Ultimately, our duty is to be ready for battle, as it were, but not to rush into battle blindly or foolishly. We are called to defend our faith, and we are called to do so prudently.