“Do not be perturbed, but hold the Lord Christ in reverence in your hearts. Be always ready with your defense whenever you are called to account for the hope that is in you, but make that defense with modesty and respect.”
Peter’s words should sting those of us who malign others, who hold others in contempt, call them names, speak ill of them before the Lord, throw stones at them. This is not the defense Peter commands us to have “always ready.” Our defense is to be an “account” of “the hope that is in [us]” and is to be made “with modesty and respect.”
Think of Stephen’s attitude as he explains to the High Priest and members of the Council the reason for his faith. He begins by calling them “My brothers, fathers of this nation, listen to me.” (Acts 7:1) He definitely speaks the truth to them, but with patience. At the end of his detailed explanation, he speaks of their stubborn hearts and of their betrayal and murder of “the Righteous One.” (Acts 7:52) This truth does indeed “touch them on the raw” so that “they grind their teeth with fury.” (Acts 7:54) However, overall, Stephen remains polite and reasonable until the very end of his life, at which point he is stoned to death. As he is dying, Stephen prays, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60)
Think of Philip’s gentle attitude as he speaks of the “good news of Jesus” to the eunuch. (Acts 8:36). Notice that Philip “starts from [the] passage” that “he is reading.” (Acts 8:36) When asked, Philip gives an account of the hope he has and he does this “with modesty and respect.” The eunuch is appreciative. He sees “some water. ‘Look, here is water: what is there to prevent my being baptized?'” (Acts 8:37)
These great men of God remain reasonable toward outsiders. They each speak the truth in love; as should we.