Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ – John Piper

The author of this book, John Piper, is Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and studied at Wheaton College, Fuller Theological Seminary (B.D.), and the University of Munich (D.Theol.). For six years he taught Biblical Studies at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1980 accepted the call to serve as Pastor at Bethlehem. John is the author of more than 40 books and more than 30 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at desiringGod.org. John and his wife, Noël, have four sons, one daughter, and twelve grandchildren.

In this book John Piper has taken the words of Colossians 1:24 “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” as his theme for the book and his point is that without the suffering and death of faithful Christians the Church will not grow. He illustrates this point as he reviews the lives of three men who played a major role in the history of the Christian Church. These men are:

William Tyndale was the man chiefly responsible for the English Bible (and as an offshoot, the development of English prose). He was having dinner one evening with John Welsh, a Catholic scholar, who made the comment that it would be far better to be without God’s law than the pope’s. Tyndale responded, “I defy the pope and all his laws … if God would spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow shall know more of the Scripture then thou does.” He was martyred in 1536 by which time he had translated the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament), Joshua through to 2 Chronicles and all of the New Testament.

John G. Paton was the 3rd missionary to go to the New Hebrides, known now as Vanuatu . The first two missionaries, John Williams and James Harris, were killed and eaten by the natives within minutes of stepping ashore. Commenting on the death of these two men, Paton wrote, “Thus were the New Hebrides baptized by the blood of martyrs, and Christ thereby told the whole Christian world that he claimed these islands as His own.” Paton started his work in the New Hebrides in 1858 with his wife Mary. Within a year he buried both his wife and his new born son, both dying of fever. He continued to work on the island of Tanna for 4 years until driven off by the natives in 1862. He spent the next 4 years mobilizing the Presbyterian mission for the islands. In 1864 he remarried and returned to the islands for another 41 years. In 1905 John Paton was 81 years old and he had buried his second wife on the island. Yet at the cost of 2 wives, a son and his vigour he could state that the whole island of Aniwa had turned to Christ. Today, over 100 years after his death, 91% of the population of Vanuatu identifies itself as Christian. Out of that 91%, perhaps 14% are evangelicals.

Adoniram Judson was one of the first missionaries to Burma (Myanmar). Adoniram was 24 years old when he entered Burma in 1813, his wife 23 years old; they had been married 17 months. Adoniram spent the next 38 years serving the Lord in 108°F heat, with cholera, malaria, dysentery, the death of 2 wives and 7 of his 13 children as well as a number of co-workers until his death at 61. In these 38 years there was only one trip home which was after 33 years of service. As a result (under God’s grace), at the commencement of 2000 there were 3,700 Baptist congregations, with 617,781 members and 1,900,000 affiliates (from Patrick Johnstone, Operation World). “This fruit has grown in the soil of the suffering and death of many missionaries, especially Adoniram Judson.”

In this section Piper asks the question to himself and to his readers, “If Christ delays his return another 200 years – a mere fraction of a day in his reckoning – which of us who are alive today would have suffered and died so that the triumphs of grace will be told about one of the 3,500 people groups who are in the same condition today as the Burmese were in 1813? He goes on to ask, “Who will labor so long and so hard and so perseveringly that in 200 years there will be 2 million Christians in many of the 10/40 window (10°-40° Latitude North) peoples who at that time will scarcely be able to recall their Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist roots?”

In the last chapter Piper gives an overview of the situation today in the countries that fall into the 10/40 window. He explains that most of this area is unreached. He defines an unreached area as one not having an indigenous church.

Review by Charlie Muscat

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