by Akinrinade Funminiyi
At first glance at the book title, a conundrum of questions emerged in my mind. Why did the author, John Piper, love the Apostle Paul? Why did he develop a particular interest in him? Why Apostle Paul? Do I also have a biblical character that I love so much? And if I do, who and why?
However, the answers to the millions of questions rushing through my mind aren’t far-fetched. Piper carefully examined thirty reasons why he loves the Apostle Paul in this heavenly-inspired book. In his opening introduction, Piper claimed to have lived with the Apostle Paul for sixty years. A curious mind would wonder how Piper could have lived with someone who had died many centuries ago. Piper cleared the air by informing the readers that he had lived with the Apostle Paul for sixty years by admiring, fearing, and memorizing him. He added that he had soared with him, dedicated poems to him, cried over his suffering and preached through his most extended letter.
The height and depth of his love for the Apostle Paul are worthy of appreciation and critical evaluation. This is because, in today’s world, it is uneasy to see someone who holds a biblical character with high regard and reverence, like Piper depicted in his book.
“Can one know/love someone who lived two thousand years ago?” Piper perfectly proved this through thirty reasons. The thirty reasons reveal how Piper came to love and credit him. In Piper’s introductory message, he showed the two kinds of love he had for the Apostle Paul. That is, the appreciation-love (for his life-giving teaching) and admiration-love (for the extraordinary traits of excellence in his life).
The book is broken into seven parts with gripping headlines:
• The beautiful transformation.
• Loving the man who shaped my life.
• A mind for logic, a heart for love.
• Making the mysteries sing.
• A personal passion for precious community.
• Counting others more significant than himself.
• The best gift Paul could give.
These seven parts are a perfect revelation of Piper’s love for the Apostle Paul. In the beautiful transformation, Piper revealed how the Apostle Paul transitioned from being a perpetual persecutor of believers in Jesus Christ to an Apostle of Jesus Christ; how his name changed from Saul to Paul. Piper showed Saul’s usual lifestyle through the scripture. In the book of Galatians 1:14, we see that Saul was extremely zealous for the traditions of his fathers. Philippians 3:5-6 confirmed that he was a zealous persecutor of the church. When Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned, Saul was there to hold the killers’ coats. In Acts 9:1-2, we could see how Saul was breathing threats and murder against the church. However, he met with the Lord when he was on his way to execute the threats. This event changed his life and name, and it was the genesis of Piper’s love for him.
Sometimes, I wonder why God considered a man like Saul. Someone who had a record of persecuting the Christians. However, reading Piper’s love for Paul made me understand that there’s no man that God cannot use/transform. If God could change Saul’s name to Paul and work remarkable wonders through him, He can do the same for anyone.
One of the reasons why Piper loves the Apostle Paul is because of Paul’s single-mindedness. Piper admired that Paul dedicated his entire life to one great thing — testifying to the gospel of the grace of God. Piper also loved that Apostle Paul’s love for God didn’t burn out, unlike many religious converts with temporary zeal for the things of God.
Piper further expressed his love for the Apostle Paul because he shaped his life. Piper revealed through Paul’s letters that he helped him overcome an unresolved tension. This tension brewed because Piper was caught in the web of two motives. On the one hand, he wanted to abide by what his parents told him about doing everything to the glory of God. On the other, he wanted to be happy. He was confused by how one motive wouldn’t compromise the other, and at that point, the Apostle Paul’s teachings came to his rescue. In Philippians 1: 20-21:
According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
These golden words liberated Piper’s unresolved tensions; they made him see dying for Christ as satisfying and that he must pursue happiness in God because earthly happiness is temporary. No wonder Piper loved the Apostle Paul! How can you not? A man who humbled, diagnosed, exposed, taught and delivered Piper.
Also, Piper showed how the Apostle Paul displayed the outstanding trait of being rigorous in reasoning and transparent in feeling. Piper deduced from Paul’s teachings that he needed to mature his thinking and emotions. Piper also loves the Apostle Paul because he displayed the fruits of the spirit with simplicity, Godly sincerity, and poetic prowess. This is evident in 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul revealed that spiritual gifts without love are nothing. Piper greatly admired the Apostle Paul’s writing skills in driving home his points with clarity and cogency.
Piper’s undaunted love for the Apostle Paul is also revealed in the book’s final part. Piper noted that Paul gave him his favourite, most sweeping, most hope-supplying verse in the Bible, Romans 8:32:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Piper likened the revelation of this scripture to a Fortioti argument, a Latin word which means “from the stronger”. Piper said the most challenging thing God could do was to give up His Son for us all. Is there anything impossible for Him to do if He could do that? Nothing.
Reading through John Piper’s book, “Why I Love the Apostle Paul,” does something striking to my soul. I’ve developed a particular interest (like never before) in the Apostle Paul, which I believe will grow stronger with the dedication to studying, knowing, and loving him like John Piper.
This book is a great read, and I highly recommend it to Christians struggling to love God and His appointed men and desiring to burn for God till the end of time, like Apostle Paul.
Akinrinade Funminiyi, fondly called Esv_Keks, is a Nigerian realtor, writer and reviewer with works appearing in Writers Space Africa Magazine, Olney Magazine, The Global Youth Review, Mag 20/20, Praxis Magazine, Word Rhymes and Rhythm (WRR) and elsewhere. He’s the initiator of two poetry collections: Si(gh)lent Night (2017) and 60 Seconds Silence (2020).