John Piper’s Perversion of Philippians 1:20-23 Part II

In the previous article we began to understand that John Piper failed to take into account the whole context of Philippians chapter one in his interpretation.  We also saw that Piper failed to grasp the literal-grammatical-syntactical functions of the language and therefore failed to rightly divide each portion of Scripture.

In this article we will see that Piper also failed to understand how the language connects the main idea in the parts of the text to the whole of the chapter. Piper does not teach what the Bible says, but proof texts the Bible so that he can make it say whatever he fancies. Let’s continue with our study where we left off.

For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

-Philippians 1:19-20

This verse explains why Paul rejoices over the truth being proclaimed even while he suffers in prison. Remember, the primary way in which verses 19-20 works is to expand the main idea of verse 7.

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you a are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

Paul further supports the main idea in verse 7 by explaining the outcome of his imprisonment which will result in the encouragement of the Philippian church.

Piper’s Error: Rather than rightly dividing the Word of Truth according to its grammar and syntax, Piper groups verses 20-23 together.  By grouping these verses together as a complete thought, a wrong understanding of Scripture emerges. By grouping verse 20-23 together, Piper breaks the continuity of thought in verses 8-18, 19-20, and 21-30 for he has disregarded the grammar which controls how the information in the epistle is conveyed. In other words, Piper merges two ideas (vv. 19-20 with vv. 21-30) together making them one and resulting in a false interpretation of Scripture.

By rightly dividing the Word of Truth we can understand how Paul sought to encourage the Philippian church through his imprisonment.

Paul Provides Encouragement

In verses 19-20 Paul provides encouragement to the Philippian church so that they may continue to preach Christ with all boldness, even if they suffer imprisonment. Paul’s driving emphasis in verses 19-20 is to take the mind of the Philippians off the momentary suffering of this world by redirecting their thoughts to seize every opportunity to exalt Christ.

Paul writes,

For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.

  • Here (verse 19) the warmth of Paul’s heart first encouraged the Philippian church by pointing to their prayers as part of the means of his deliverance. Paul sought to demonstrate the intricate role the church played in his survival while he was in the most dangerous of all prisons. The Roman prison system was no friend to Christians. Both Apostles Peter and Paul would later die under the Roman prison system. To be in prison in Rome would have had the sentence of death for any believer. But because of the faithful prayers of the Philippian church the Spirit of Christ revealed to Paul that he would be released. Therefore, Paul encouraged the church by way of revelation. Paul made known to the church that the ear of their Lord and Savior had heard their prayers and provided the powerful supply of His Spirit as the agent for his deliverance. What weapon formed against Paul would prosper since the Spirit of Christ was at work to deliver him?

 

  • Verse 20 is a bulwark of certainty in Paul’s deliverance. The Apostle gives to the beloved Philippian church his full confidence of a physical escape from the treacherous prison cell through Christ’s provision. The words of Paul were entirely trusted by the Philippian church and regarded as the inerrant Word of Christ. Thus, Paul encouraged the saints by giving them temporary relief through the knowledge of Christ working to free him.

 

  • Verse 20 not only serves to provide a temporary relief to the Philippian church, but also a means of turning their minds to meditate on things above, not on things on the earth. Paul succinctly made the point that his mission in life is to exalt Jesus Christ. He is the model after which the Philippian church was to follow, and he wanted the Philippian church to look at life in ministry as he did. The exaltation of Christ in the sin-stained, fallen world is accomplished no matter what befalls the believer because God is at work in the Christian both to will and to work for His good pleasure (2:13). Therefore, Paul wanted the Philippian church to be as bold as him in living a life pleasing unto God, even if it meant death. In other words, Paul is pointing to the fact that God wastes nothing when it comes to using each believer to His fullest in glorifying His name.

 

Summary of verses 19-20: Paul provided encouragement to the Philippian church by giving full assurance of his physical deliverance from prison through their prayers and the power provided by the Spirit of Christ. Paul seized the opportunity to teach the church that Christ is exalted in all things. Therefore, believers are to be bold in the preaching of the gospel to the world without having any fear for their life.

Piper’s Error: Piper mishandled the Word of Truth and proof texted verses 20-23 to serve his own agenda; namely, further supporting his Christian Hedonism rather than preaching the Word of Truth. By breaking verse 20 from 19 and joining it to 21-30, Piper misrepresented God in what He has said through the Apostle Paul. In the end, Piper placed a heretical emphasis upon the personal gain of the individual believer over the benefit of others. 

Verses 21-30 is an instruction manual on how Christians ought to live while facing a murderous world. Several times through this portion of the text, Paul repeats the full encouragement he gave to the Philippian church regarding his deliverance. But the fact remained in the mind of Paul that he not only must give encouragement to those who are praying for his deliverance, but also for those who are suffering in a manner like his own. Paul explained this very point in verses 27-30. He understood that not every imprisonment will result in a physical deliverance. Therefore, Paul answers the question: how should we now live as Christians in a world that seeks to imprison and even kill us? He explained that we should live as Christ by emptying ourselves of our own personal wants or desires in order that we may serve Christ and one another wholeheartedly.

Paul Provides Comfort

First, Paul comforted the Philippian church by sharing his great desire to die and be with Christ. How were Paul’s words encouraging to the church at Philippi if he desired to die? Verse 24 demonstrates that Paul’s love for the church overruled his own personal desires to die and be with Christ.

Paul writes,

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again (emphasis mine).

  • Verse 21-23 evidently supports that Paul couldn’t make up his mind about what he should desire the most: life or death. Paul found himself in a quandary of sorts because it was his personal preference to die and be with Christ. But verse 7, the controlling verse in the chapter 1, dictates the outcome—the Philippian church was held dear to Paul’s heart. While Paul struggled with his own thoughts about his personal benefit of dying and being with Christ; even so, Paul was a man who sought the benefit of others before himself. Paul lived what he preached. In Philippians 2:4 Paul admonished the church in the same manner by saying, “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others.” In other words, verses 21-23 are designed by Paul to demonstrate how deep his affections ran for the Philippian church. He used himself as an object lesson on how to place the interest of others over his own personal desires. He loved the church in Philippi so earnestly that he would gladly give up his personal gain of dying to be with Christ so that the church would gain by Christ being with them through Paul. Therefore, Paul could say, ‘either by life or death I will honor Christ’. Christ had chosen to honor Himself by Paul continuing in the flesh for the sake of the church.

Piper’s Error: If we follow Piper’s division of Scripture in Philippians, the love story between Paul and the Philippian church would be lost. Piper deflates the climactic point of Paul’s declaration of love for the Philippians by misrepresenting Paul’s intentions as to why he wrote verses 21-26. Piper made the Apostle Paul a self-centered man rather than a servant-oriented man who longed to present the bride of Christ as spotless and without blemish to her Bride Groom.

  • Verse 24 Christ had already made it clear to Paul that deliverance was to occur for the sake of the Church (see also v. 19). In other words, it doesn’t matter what Paul personally preferred, the decision was not his to make whether he should remain or go on to be with the Lord. It was Christ working through Paul’s imprisonment to both teach him as well as the church what it meant to empty one’s self and become a servant (see 2:5). As the Apostle stated in verse 19, Jesus had responded to the prayers of the Philippian church on behalf of Paul and assured the Apostle of his deliverance from prison. The significance of verse 24 is in understanding that despite what the Apostle wanted, the desire of the earnestly praying Philippian church trumped the desire of Paul. What’s more, Christ’s love for His church super abounded that He beat through Paul’s heart a love which overflowed in affection for the Philippian saints. Simply stated, Paul couldn’t bring himself to leave the church he so dearly loved. For this reason Paul said it is “more necessary for your sake” that he remain.

 

  • Verses 25-26 No other outcome but a guaranteed deliverance and a future partnership in ministry for Paul and the Philippian church would occur. Paul was certainly convinced that God’s will was to boost the proud confidence of the Philippian church by answering their prayers. So, how exactly did Paul get out of prison? He was released from prison by God answering the prayers of the Philippian church. In response he set his mind on the will of God and not on his own personal desires. What exactly was the prayer of the Philippian church? The prayer of the Philippian church was a request to God to send Paul back to them for joyful encouragement and further growth in faith.

 

John Piper would have his audience believe that death is the Christian’s pursuit in total satisfaction and magnification of Christ. Piper manipulates the text of Philippians 1:20-23 to support his errant philosophy that “Christ is most magnified in us when we are most satisfied in Christ.” But this is not the case. Paul was never making the point Piper has made. Rather, he was making the point that Christians are to be like Christ, namely, by emptying themselves from selfishness and conceit, humbling themselves and regarding one another more important than their personal desires or beneficial gain (see 2:3).

If the church was to follow John Piper’s false teaching, she would be disobedient to the Scriptures. In Deuteronomy 13:1-5 God gave Israel the knowledge to discern true prophets from false.  The test ultimately came down to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul. You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him” (vv. 3-4).

John Piper has conjured up his own interpretation of Scripture by proof texting verses from books of the Bible, divorcing them from their immediate context, disregarding the grammar and syntax of the language, and ultimately manipulating Scripture to support his own Christian Hedonist philosophy. John Piper must be avoided at all cost.

Dear Christian, turn away from John Piper, the false teacher, and cling to God and His Word and keep His commandments which have been handed down to us by His Apostles (2 Peter 3:1-2).

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