“The lower the depth of the suffering, the greater the resurrection.”
Paul Miller delivered a message at Bethlehem College & Seminary’s 2020 Pastors’ Conference titled “J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life.” He introduces the idea of the J-Curve—a very simple idea that the letter “J” traces the path down into Jesus’s death and up into his resurrection—from Philippians 3:7–11. Miller emphasized the idea that we share in the suffering of Christ and become like him in death, making two points and asking one question in regard to that truth:
- It’s strange.
- We usually flee from suffering.
- Aren’t Jesus’s sufferings over?
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Paul Miller: Why don’t we begin with prayer and ask the Lord, Father, I pray that by your spirit, you would open up our hearts to your word, and to the wonder of these truths of Christ in us, and we in Christ. And I pray that you’d pour out your spirit, and give us teachable hearts. And I pray this in Jesus’ name, amen. The idea of the J curve is a very simple idea that the letter J traces the path down into Jesus’ death, and up into his resurrection.
And I want to look with you at a passage from Philippians 3, where Paul introduces the idea of the J curve. And by the way, I’m taking these notes from our J curve study that we have our interactive Bible study guide, so you’ll see some extraneous things on the pages as we go through. And let me just begin by reading this here. So, Philippians 3:7-11.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law.
But that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, that depends on faith. That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible, I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Verse nine is a wonderfully tight summary of Luther’s great rediscovery of the doctrine of justification by faith.
And it’s a doctrine that we are all familiar with. We are familiar with the liberating power to know that we don’t bring our works to salvation, but it is the work of Christ for us on the cross. But when we come to verse 10 and 11, it is probably not the best audience to say it feels like you’re reading Greek. But it is just strange. And it’s almost like these are bleeped, this verse, from our mental software.
And in fact, this idea that Paul talks about here, about sharing His sufferings, and becoming like Him in His death, and experiencing the power of the resurrection is one of the most dominant ideas in Paul. He spends far more time on this than justification by faith. It dominates the book of Philippians. It’s the core of 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans 6, Romans 8. It’s the dominant idea, the idea that we die and rise with Christ.
So, we’re left puzzling over just the strangeness of this verse. And right here, I’ve just got a few thoughts that come to mind as we think what’s strange about sharing in His sufferings, and becoming like in Him and His death. And the first thing is that it really is strange. It’s something we don’t hear a lot about. Particularly, what it means in our everyday lives.
And the other thing, that second bullet point, is aren’t Jesus’ sufferings over? So, what is this? It makes us nervous that somehow, it’s undermining justification by faith, because it seems to merge our sufferings with Christ, which just is not something that we talk a lot about. And just frankly, the third bullet point there, most of us flee suffering. And there’s something to that because we’re not stoics.
And you’ll notice that Paul is very particular. He’s not saying here that suffering is good for you. It’s a fellowship of his sufferings. And so, who would want to embrace sufferings? And why would anybody want to do this? And what’s so striking here in this passage, it is Paul’s very strong desire to know Christ in a fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.
Now, let me just give you a quick story to flesh this out as to what this means. And this was a few years ago, my wife and I go to a Joni camp every year. We live in Philly, and it’s up in the mountains north of us. And Joni Eareckson Tada, his ministry has these camps for families that have a family member with a child or with disability. And we have a daughter Kim, who’s got pretty significant disabilities.
And at one year, about seven or eight years ago, on Monday of the camp, my wife met this woman, Kayla. And she became friendly with Kayla. They were similar. And Kayla was one of these helpers that came to the camp. So, Kayla had paid $500, and given a week of her vacation up to come and serve parents like us. And there’s probably about 100 people like that that are volunteers that come as short-term missionaries to help us.
Anyway, so that was Monday. On Tuesday, Kayla was in the food line with another parent like Jill and I. And this parent heard Kayla, belittle and criticize how she was parenting her children. And she went to the camp directors about this, complained about Kayla. And they brought Kayla in. And they said, “Kayla, did you do this?” Kayla had no idea what this mom was talking about.
They had a big investigation. There’s about 300 people at the camp, but I think half the people at the camp knew about this problem. There was no resolution on it. And as problems go, it’s not a huge problem. But our lives are filled with little problems like this. And so, Kayla came to Jill, my wife, on Wednesday morning just distraught. Here, she put all her time, and money, and energy in the camp.
And now, she’s become the problem. And Jill took me, Kayla and I began to talk. And I said to Kayla, I didn’t draw this chart out, but I told her this. So, here, Kayla, here you are on Monday, you are giving your money and time to the camp. And you are receiving blessing, encouragement, and thanks back from the camp. It was a good exchange. It’s the way life is meant to be.
There’s nothing wrong with that. But I said, “Now, Kayla, on Wednesday, you’re doing the same thing. You’re giving your money and your time. And now, you’re getting back shame, slander, and drama. You are entering a fellowship of His sufferings.” And that fellowship of His sufferings to serve cheerfully when there’s this cloud over you, when people are looking at you when you go by, and there’s this did she do something wrong or not?
Or is she telling the truth? I said it strips your ego. In fact, Kayla, I said to Kayla, “It’s your glory.” And by the way, Kayla had no idea what I was talking about. Just for stage and identification, but it maps, this maps on to the J curve. So, she began here giving a week’s vacation, paying money. There’s a little bit of cost here. And I like to call that the cost of love.
But then, when a third of the camp knows, I’m not sure she was even slandered. But it sure felt like that. And there’s this drama hanging over her. Then, you’re beginning to enter suffering. And it is just like Jesus’ path. Let me just go over to here’s a chart of Philippians 2:5-11, the previous chapter where it’s Paul’s, one of his many great J curve passages. And you’ll see the exact same pattern there.
Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God, a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a slave. Being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form. He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death. Even death on a cross. And you can divide this, here’s the move here, this is the incarnation.
And we could call that love. And certainly, there is a cost to the incarnation. But it is not the kind of suffering that Jesus now encounters down here. And it is one of the primary structures of love of a fellowship. When you bind yourself to someone, when you begin to love, you begin to go down Jesus’ path. And what we tend to do is we tend to rethink the upper commitment up here.
So, when we have problems down at the bottom, we’re not stupid, we go back up to the top and say, “Oh, I should have never have done this in the beginning.” But it’s the very structure of love. Marriage is like this, you could call the top part here engagement, marriage, and honeymoon. And down here is having children as teenagers. Teenagers would be right down here at the bottom. Okay.
And what we tend to do is we rethink, we think back up the chart, why did I get into this? And it is one of Paul’s principal J curves. And I call it the love j curve. It’s where you move towards something and bind yourself to that problem. And back to Kayla for a minute. I want to show you a couple more things here about Kayla. And I’m doing just one person, but God is taking the American church through a gigantic J curve now.
We are with Kayla on Wednesday morning. That’s where we are. We are increasingly powerless as a church. We’ve lost the cultural narrative. We are weakened, you yourself as pastors and leaders are weakened, and you’re dealing with people who are going through their own multiple sufferings now. So, this isn’t just Kayla, we’re Kayla corporately now.
And here are Kayla’s choices, that we can all make, anger, gossip, where you create an alternative community of empathizers. If you hang on to this, this becomes bitterness, or just withdraw, I’ll never come here again. Probably the most common one that I see in church leaders is a low-level cynicism. The combination of the relentlessness of your own flesh that just wakes up with you every morning.
And the relentlessness of outside problems coming at can just wear on your soul. And it is so liberating to realize that the narrative of Jesus’ death and resurrection is what God’s taking me through. And so, as I receive it, and that’s really the most important thing to do, as I take the cup that God has given me. Whether it’s a cup of a difficult elder board, or the cup of a marriage that is challenging, or as I take the cup, that’s where the Holy Spirit begins to do His resurrection work.
Let me just show you a couple things down here over, where… oh, yeah, here it is. Three steps to receiving a fellowship of His suffering. One is see it, that’s where I am. Okay. And then, receive it, say like, Jesus, I take this cup is the act of the will. Even if let’s say your you’ve been slandered by someone. Okay. So, it’s someone else’s will that is against you. So, you think well, why do I… I didn’t create this problem.
But when you receive the cup, Father, I take this slander from, it’s something that you have permitted, you begin to enter into a fellowship of His suffering. And then, finally, if you do it enough, it becomes your boast, it becomes your glory. And you begin to go back here because the dying is only half of it. The other part is rising. Except here’s the trick with resurrection.
We don’t control the character of the resurrection. What does resurrection look like? We don’t even know that as you get into it. It is something that the Spirit does. Nor do we control the timing of the resurrection. Some during some hard periods of my life, I kept imagining, oh, it’s beginning to turn. And I have these all these times. And if you’ll notice, on the J curve, on the J curve at the front of the book, there’s two arrows, there’s a little trapdoor at the bottom of the J curve.
So, sometimes you think you’re at the bottom, and oops, you go down one more. So, I’ve had 10-year periods where I just kept going, they would stabilize a little bit, and they get worse, stabilize a little bit. And I remember thinking, Lord, if the J curve is like a gigantic bungee jump, then the upswing ought to be pretty big out of this. The lower the depth of the suffering, the greater the resurrection.
And just think of how this potentially might help Kayla on Wednesday. One of the things, the first thing I have here is it locates her. You see, one of the things about suffering is it disorients you. You think everything’s gone wrong. Because even though no one told us, we… here, let me erase this, we instinctively felt that life should be like this. And that’s actually epicureanism.
And if we give up on that, we might become a stoic and say, “Well, life is just like that. It’s rough. You just got to hang in there. And Paul is neither stoic, nor he’s an Epicurean, but what it does, it gives me, it locates me, I know where I am. And so, instead of being disoriented by suffering, I immediately know if someone says something to me, rough in a meeting or something like that, I know where I am.
I’m in a mini, or sometimes micro-mini fellowship of His sufferings. And what’s my first move? It’s just like Jesus. What’s the very first thing you do when you discover yourself in a fellowship of your suffering is prayer. The J curve is the spine of the book of a praying life. Of course, not literally, but it is the controlling narrative that you have. It’s all through the book.
And that’s why I thought I really have to explain this principal spine of the Christian life, otherwise, you will pray badly. And I’ll give you an example of that in just a minute. So, it locates you. You’re not confused about where you are. You’re not disoriented. Where am I? I’m weak. I’m powerless. I don’t know what to do. I feel drained of life. So, where do I go? I go to Jesus.
I go to my Heavenly Father. And I tell him that, and that you learn to pray in that downward move of the fellowship of His suffering. And the best part of it is that’s where you get to know Jesus. You will not to get there is a kind of a knowing of Christ, that Paul is talking about here. That Philippians 3 passage that I read earlier is all on epistemology. It’s all on knowledge.
And that first paragraph is the knowing that comes in our union with Christ through our justification by faith. That second paragraph on the J curve, you get to know Jesus as you enter that valley of the shadow of death with Christ. That’s the valley. He has… I’m sorry. It doesn’t take much to choke up on this. I had lived in so many of these, particularly with the loss of a daughter a year and a half ago.
It’s just, I see it so vividly. I choke up. So, bear with my occasional of choking up. But that’s His world. That’s His narrative. This is Jesus’ narrative. So, as you’re going down into death, it’s a world that He has inhabited. And then, He also inhabits the power of the resurrection. And you could read the J curve book 10 times, and listen to 100 hours of this, but until you begin to receive the cups that God has brought into His life, you will not understand this.
It’s a knowledge that comes by entering it. It’s not mere didactic knowledge. It’s valuable to study it. It’s valuable to learn about it. But it’s a knowledge that you only get by entering it. So, it locates you. And it normalizes her suffering. And we already said this, she can receive this from her father, and it takes your little, old, mini suffering, whatever it is, or maybe large suffering.
And it makes it part of Jesus’ story. It’s not just you, little old you suffering there, but you’re in a fellowship with the king of the universe. And He’s for you in that fellowship, and the same Spirit. And as I’ll talk about this later on in the praying church seminar that I have, the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is active in your dime. In fact, it’s very clear in Paul, that that your death is what you bring to the table.
The spirit finds your weakness irresistible. It’s where he does his best work. So, when Paul, in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 and 2, he’s just flabbergasted about the Corinthians. They’ve completely forgotten about the J curve. Well, he doesn’t exactly say it that way. But you know what I mean? And his climax argument, he has three reasons. He said, “Look, the gospel is weak, and out of that weakness comes power.”
You are weak. That’s his second point. And his third point in the beginning of chapter 2, when I was with you, I was in weakness, and fear, and much trembling. So, my weakness, maybe I’m an associate pastor who’s ignored. That’s your weakness. If you don’t receive it, you will become cynical and bitter. And if you begin to receive it, and see that this is the… if you see it’s the master narrative of your life, it’s your path, because it’s Jesus’ path, it will become your glory.
And the beauty of Jesus will begin to come out of you. The J curve is a flesh killing machine. It just strips you of your ego. It strips you of your will, and it makes you into the… and it’s God’s way of imprinting the beauty of Jesus on you. And I think that’s what God is doing with His entire church. He’s weakened us so that we can taste Christ. Let me just give you a couple thoughts.
A couple more thoughts on this, just on I’m going to locate the J curve theologically. We are used to thinking of when we think of the gospel, and we rightly think of it as the benefits of Christ. So, here’s Jesus, here’s me, I receive His benefits. Okay. And that’s absolutely true. It’s all through the New Testament. But what we’re talking about here, and I realize I’m repeating myself, is that those benefits, justification by faith, is the means for you to enter into Christ.
Okay. So, it’s not just you separate, it’s you enter, and that’s where that knowing comes in, because you go into his world. So, it’s just not that this narrative helps you cope with suffering. It’s that this is where God wants us. He wants us in Christ. So, it makes union with Christ. It takes participation to a new level of reality in your life. So, you begin to get the cadences of Jesus.
You His presence by the Spirit. And here, let me just show you, oops, wrong one here. Oh, here, here we go. This is just a chart that’s in the J curve study and the book. So, the bottom of this triangle is Luther’s great rediscovery of justification by faith. You see, the J curve was the dominant medieval narrative. It was the dominant narrative of the early church.
That’s why martyrdom was such a big deal. That used to puzzle me to no end until it was about 30 years ago, I began to notice in Paul, that he just didn’t explain the gospel, but he lived it. It was the Book of Philemon that riveted me. Paul was actually reenacting the gospel in his life. The problem with that, by the way, this just absolutely captured the imagination of the early and the medieval church.
And it comes to a crescendo and Francis of Assisi’s life around 1200. But the problem was, it merged my sufferings with Jesus’ suffering. So, my suffering were paying for my sin. The J curve, this idea that we reenact the present dying and reign of Christ, the J curve is unbearable, without a foundation of justification by faith. And Luther created this line right here in the middle, so that it is not my sufferings that save me, but it is Christ’s sufferings.
And without that line, life is overwhelming. And that’s what it was for Luther. But in the years that followed, there became a squeamishness about this. I think, partly a fear of undermining justification by faith. And he just even, people don’t line up for a fellowship of His sufferings. And so, the popular gospel, but even the theological vision missed this unifying idea.
So, union, a lot of people are writing about union with Christ now. And it’s really, some really rich stuff that is coming out. But this whole lot, so these are two ways of looking at union with Christ. So, I call this bottom one union with Christ by faith, and union with Christ by love is the top. So, the top part of this triangle is the J curve. This is how we do life. This is the normal Christian life.
So, it resets your expectations of what life should look like. Now, let me take a look with you at what we do instead of the J curve. And I’m going to tell you two quick stories here. The first from right before this passage here is, for want of a better word, I call this the failure boasting chart. And so, right before in Philippians 3, Paul says, he’s reflecting on his flesh.
Circumcised on the eighth day of the people of Israel, of tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. Paul is boasting here. His parents were so proud. He was the tribe of Benjamin, that they named him Saul. So, he’s a Hebrew of Hebrews. He’s not an any ordinary Hebrew. He’s a special elite. And you say the same thing here. He’s of the pharisee. He’s the upper class, pure people.
And of the pharisees, he’s a persecutor of the church. So, he’s the best of the best when you look at his DNA, and when you look at what he’s done in life. So, Paul is boasting in his flesh. Okay. So, his idol, which we could call Israel, it becomes his legalism is the measuring stick of how great Paul is. That’s our flesh. Okay. This chart probably explains most of what we do as a flesh.
Now, let me give you an example of this from my life. I was in a meeting a number of years ago, quite a few years ago, in my previous mission with our director and our director of communications, and it was an hour-long meeting. And we had been discussing an idea that I had come up with, and the meeting was just coming to a close.
And there was only one problem, no one had mention, or affirm me that this was my idea. It was just an oversight on their part that I begin to think how do I correct this? And I didn’t want to come out and say, by the way, this was my idea. Did you guys notice that? A little over the top. And so, I begin to think of a way to put it as a clause in a sentence.
Be talking about something else, but mention it as an aside. So, it sort of get on the table. We’re just talking about, and you see, one of the downsides of humility is no one notices you. And I was feeling that. And this is just basic marketing. It’s not the marketing of the self. And I realized I was doing this. And there had been a bunch of things happening in my life.
And I had been reading John 6:6 over, and over, and over again, about feeding on Christ. And at the heart level, I realized I was feeding on them. And I didn’t say anything. And I closed the door after they left, and I felt this overpowering sadness. What’s the point of doing this work? Why am I even bothering with this? And I turned out the lights, and I went over the window, and I got out my Bible, I read John 6.
And I fed on Christ like I never had before. And let me show you a chart on this, I have a chart for everything. And so, here’s the failure boasting chart. And again, this was my view of myself. And this was my fear is that these guys were down here, and they didn’t see me correctly. Their faith was weak. So, it was an easy thing to correct. And as I begin to work on this at the heart level, that’s when I found out.
And what happened in me was actually what I call a repentance J curve. In other words, in the love J curve, the Philippians 2, you commit yourself to something, you bind it, and that eventually leads you into suffering. In the repentance J curve, you’re putting to death something in you. And Colossians 3 and Romans 8 are Paul’s two great repentance J curve passages that based on Romans 6.
So, I put to death by shutting up, and that killed something in me, and my flesh, which was so used to being fed with boasting, marketing, was hungry. And I was feeling that hungry. And when I said no to that, when I said no to that, I killed that flesh. And by the way, this is such a problem with me. It really is a struggle that I have that I fight. I have a prayer card just on not boasting.
And like almost every day, I’ll think, when I pray to get in the morning. Why did I say that? It’s just a little bit of marketing. The beautiful thing about promoting Jesus, you can work yourself in a little bit, and as opposed to that dying. Let me give you one more example of what this looks like on the frontlines. And it’s a story of, I actually mentioned this story in a praying life, and my daughter, Emily, was in 11th grade, and playing field hockey.
And she was on the bench that year. And she and her friend were on the bench a lot. And I don’t know if you guys know what field hockey is up here, it’s like soccer, except you have… or a lacrosse, except the sticks are down. And it’s a big sport in the northeast. My sisters played it. And my Emily’s older daughter, Ashley, had played it. So, I knew the sport well. And of course, I love to see my kids play.
And so, I wasn’t particularly happy about this. But I even went to Emily a couple times and said, “Emily, do you want me to go talk to the coach about it?” And she said, “No, I can handle this on my own.” And the coach was playing her own daughters. And it was known on the team, things like that happen. And again, as far as suffering goes, it’s not huge, but our lives are filled with these little things.
So, that’s the story. So, I was at the gym, and another parent on the team came up to me at the counter and said, “Isn’t that terrible what the coach is doing with Emily and her friend?” And I said to her, I’m not happy about it. But I am actually thankful that Emily has this low-level suffering on my watch, because life is more like bench sitting than it is starring in a game.
And she looked at me, like I was a Martian. She just had an absolute blank face, like, “What on earth is he talking about?” And what it is, we were both Christians, both our kids are going to Christian Schools. But she had that failure boasting chart as a master narrative. And let me just show this. Take a second here. So, this was the mom’s narrative. So, she saw Emily going down.
So, she saw Emily going down, and she was actually being compassionate, and concerned for me. And it wouldn’t have been inappropriate to even say something on that, along those lines. Although, clearly, the way she portrayed it to me, it was, this is life because the idol functioning is you could call it either sports as life, or probably children is life, or at least those two idols coming together
And my narrative, because of many things that God had brought me through, really was at that point, dying and rising with Christ. And I knew where Emily was that God was drawing Emily down into weakness. And I was actually concerned, here is a different color, I was actually concerned that Emily was going up the failure boosting chart. She’s cute, had a boyfriend, she was in a nice group.
And she’s doing well academically and sports. And I was becoming by the month more of an idiot in her narrative. And so, this is the teenage years, sorry, I’m hard on teenagers today. But anyway, so my narrative was, I’m concerned about what’s happening. So, I saw Emily, I was very thankful. No, it was that strange mixture. And this one, the beautiful things about looking at the J curve, it stabilizes your emotions, and it gets shaped to them.
So, I could be sad, but not wrapped up in that sadness. It’s one of the characters in the modern world where people embrace their emotions and go into freefall. And so, it stabilized my… I have one chapter on just what the J on Paul’s emotional life with the J curve. If you look at the end of Philippians 2, you could see Paul going through a j curve with his concerns for Epaphroditus.
And there’s actually four distinct J curves in that passage. And Philippians is all one big explanation of what it is to die and rise with Christ. So, you can see Paul, Epaphroditus dies for Paul. Not literally, he almost dies. Paul then is filled with anxiety. Paul mentions his own anxiety there. Then, he mentions the anxiety the Philippians felt for Epaphroditus. And then, he mentions Epaphroditus’ anxiety for the Philippians because he’s heard they’re anxious about himself.
That’s what love is like. Ain’t that beautiful? So, it not only stabilizes my emotions, but it normalizes my emotions. So, we have this Epicurean software that we bring to the gospel, and realizing that the J curve is dying and rising with Christ gives me a whole narrative that in Bez frees and liberates my emotions, but frees me from the tyranny of them at the same time.
So, I don’t have to be caught by not only just the spirit of my age, but only have to be trapped by my own spirit. But I can be real. I don’t have to be… so, I’m free to lament, and I’m free to sing in prison like Paul does. So, there’s just a whole kaleidoscope of things going on there. And by the way, this was the beginning of a series of things in Emily’s life. I actually checked.
I said, “Emily,” I said, “Can I use this story again?” And she said, “Yes.” And she told me, she’s 32 now, she said, “Dad, that really was the beginning of a trigger of whole events.” And at the end of her senior year, which was a year and a half away from there, we encouraged her to go to take a year off and do missions work.
And she went to an orphanage in Guatemala, where she was just immersed in the world of the poor, and it just, just transformed her entire spirit. So, it was actually the beginning of that path. And if I had been demanding justice for Emily, and again, justice is not unimportant. I went to her twice. But if that becomes the idol, because my child is the idol, and I demand justice, then you lose the narrative of dying and rising with Christ, and no beauty is formed in you.
And in other words, these two things that you see here, these two charts are two narratives. And the suffering is happening anyway, why not join it with Christ and get to know Jesus in it instead of trying to fight your way up? The failure boasting chart, and again, I wish I could do these, if I had longer, I would have done these passages in order. First, the flesh passage.
And then, Paul’s description of the J curve in Philippians 3. This is what Paul calls rubbish, skubala. It’s not just where I am in the chart is, but the narrative itself is rubbish. And so, when I find myself jealous, it was actually that my own personal discovery of the J curve happened when I was with Serge, I was the associate director, and functionally, the CEO 30 years ago.
I was walking to the train station, and I realized I was jealous of another mission. And I was golly, I was 37 years old at that point. So, the passions were high. And I’m sure I’d been jealous many, many, many, many times. It was just the first time I noticed it. And I thought, what do I do with that? What am I doing? And in a block from the time, I was in front of the drugstore, and I realized, I have one more block to the train station.
I realized I was owning something. I was owning my work. And I gave my work. I said, God, you can take this away from me. Now, I always thought, in principle, He would take it away, just I was working at the idea level. In your heart, not actually do it. And He actually did it, and He did it for my… just, I needed the humbling. But it was that act of the will to disown what I’m… that there’s two moves to the J curve, is receiving this and pray.
And receiving the dying opens the door to God beginning to show you some of his beauty. Let me show you one more thing, just a way to give you a way of looking at these J curves, and these are our present J curves. Okay. Here we are. In Paul, there are essentially three ways of dying. You call this a taxonomy of dying. Three ways of dying to self.
And we’ve looked at all these already, but let’s just go through them all. Now, what we looked at with Emily and the field hockey was a suffering J curve. And there’s only one J curve, okay? So, it’s probably better to say three kinds of dying in one J curve, but it’s easier to say suffering J curve. In a suffering J curve, the evil is coming at you unwanted. Paul’s thorn in the flesh passage is a classic example of a suffering J curve.
Because this thorn, Paul is a good Jew, he is not a stoic, a stoic would say suffering is good for you. Both Buddhism, a Greek stoicism and Buddhism sit on the suffering. That’s why Gandhi wrote Churchill during World War II to surrender to Hitler. You receive, there’s no resurrection power in either stoicism or in Buddhism, there is no spirit.
So, you simply, it is smart than if there’s no Holy Spirit to bring resurrection power, if there’s no God who hears me when I cry, because the J curve is simply answered prayer. If there’s no God who hears me when I cry, then I’m just on my own. And so, that’s why Paul prays that God would take this thorn in the flesh away. He’s a good Jew. The world isn’t supposed to be this way.
So, if Paul is beat up in a city, he goes to another city. He doesn’t say just give it to me again, you know what I mean? Or he doesn’t become like an Eeyore. So, a suffering J curve, Paul fights against suffering. You just see that all the time, Paul in his life. But when Jesus speaks to Paul, in that suffering J curve, and I’ll show that in a minute, he realizes that that suffering J curve, that he’s been gifted that.
And that’s the way the word Paul uses in Philippians 1:29. This is a paraphrase, you’ve not only been called to believe in Him, but God has granted you to suffer for Him. And the word there is caress. It’s been graced to you. The J curve has been graced to you, because that’s where you get to know Jesus. So, when Paul gets a new paradigm, then that suffering becomes his boast.
It transforms his entire narrative. The repentance J curve, which I mentioned before, Colossians 3, Romans 8, if by the Spirit, Romans 8:13, if by the Spirit you put to death, your flesh, you will live. And that’s where the evil is in you. So, the suffering J curves, the problem or the trouble is coming at you unwanted. In the repentance J curve, you have the problem in you.
Something in you… you have to be put to death. And in the love J curve, which we began with in the story of Kayla at camp, the evil is something that you come upon as you pursue love, okay, or the trouble. Might be better to say trouble. Okay. And that always involves a lowering of yourself into some situation, following the path of incarnation that always leads into suffering.
Now, one of the… oh, here, let me just show you this thing from Paul with the… I’m going to just show you how the J curve works here. And then, so this is, I went over this really quickly, but let me do it again now. This is Paul’s thorn in the flesh. So, Paul has this thorn in the flesh. And he prays to God to remove it. And actually, he prays to Jesus. And what he gets, and I suspect this was fairly early on in his life.
Because the J curve is just such an intimate part of how Paul does life. What he realizes is there’s this dangerous concede in his life, and that God has gifted him the thorn in the flesh. And what happens is that weakens Paul. And if you have something like this in your life, now, what it means is several times a week, you won’t know what to do. Whether it’s a sin in you, or something coming on the outside, you’ll feel powerless.
And you’ll have this discouragement that goes to the bottom, the core of your soul. And you don’t know what to do. You’re confused, you’ve prayed and nothing’s happened. You’re just helpless. That’s where Paul is now when this thorn in the flesh hits him. And Jesus’ narrative that Jesus gives Paul, is that that’s where I want you, Paul.
I want you like I am because I have to quote Jesus in John 5:19, I can’t do anything by myself. I can only do what I see my Father doing. Because in that weakness, in that helplessness is where… is that that’s the launching pad for resurrection. The dying and rising are connected at the hip. There is no resurrection without the death.
And the cross is not a place for self-improvement. It’s a place for dying. It’s where dreams die, where visions die, where you realize you can’t do life on your own. And out of that, and Paul has experienced this so many times, that when he feels weak, he knows that’s exactly where God wants him. Because out of that comes the strength and the power of the Spirit, because the spirit inhabits Paul’s dying.
And out of that comes spiritual power. So, you see all through Paul’s life, this pattern of dying and rising, dying and rising. And out of that emerges the beauty of Jesus in Paul, and in his ministry, and what he does. Now, let me just give you a couple examples in Paul’s life, we’ve been sitting more on the dying side of things. And I’ll take them from Philippians.
Excuse me. In Philippians 1, Paul has a series of short narratives. And one of the first narratives he describes is that he’s in chains. I do wish the translations would say that instead of imprisonment. Of course, it means imprisonment, but that’s what the Greek says. And it lets you know how physical this dying is that Paul is in now, even as he’s writing this book.
And by the way, what a great example. As you know, Philippians is Paul’s most joyous book, that in his weakness, out of that comes joy. Probably one of those joyful people I know is Joni Eareckson Tada. I mentioned this in an example, Joni camp where Joni had been. Joni was signing, my wife was in a line to get Joni to sign her books, and she was signing them with a pen in her mouth.
And Jill was second, was there, there was one woman right ahead of her, and who was getting her book signed. And she said, as Joni was laboriously signing her name, she said, “Oh, you poor thing.” Probably not the most thoughtful comment out there for the day. And Joni reacted instantly. She put down her pen, and she began to worship. She started singing.
She didn’t explain to the woman what she was doing. She had so inhabited the dying and rising of Christ, that it became a reflex for her. And out of that, comes joy. The joy does not come from the Epicurean stuff. I’ve been at Disney the last week, trust me. Although, actually, Kim, my daughter loves Disney. We actually had a pretty good time, but it was fun to make fun of Disney.
Let me go back to Paul. So, Paul, what he… let me show you this in a quick chart, believe it or not, why not? Okay. Since you asked. Paganism is like this, paganism doesn’t have much cynicism in it because it is without hope. It is there is life, and then there’s death. And this is all through paganism. And there’s the cycle, but it ain’t you anymore on the cycle, you know what I mean?
Your leaves now, whatever. And paganism is realistic. And I used to think Paul was an optimist. He is in jail, and he said, “You know what, this is great. Because of my chains, people outside, the whole Praetorian Guard has heard the gospel. And not only that, people outside, my friends outside of prison have gotten bolder.” So, if they can do this to Paul and Paul is okay, then what the heck?
Let me get more shameless. And on top of that, some people are out there preaching the gospel to try to get me in trouble. And that means the gospel is going out more. It’s hard not to read that text and think Paul is not optimist. What rosy colored glasses. You’re in chains, don’t you realize where you are? Here’s what the resurrection does.
The resurrection is it’s like you’re in a darkened room, or room with lots of shadows. And the resurrection is this brilliant light at the center of the room. Paul’s is, he sees the resurrection of Jesus Christ, past and now, present by the power of the Spirit now, as a present reality. It’s the light that just… if this is the central reality of all creation of all human history, then it shines light on everything. And it’s the brilliant light that pushes away all shadows. Now, Paul can still grieve, he can still be anxious. We’re not saying that.
But it’s now, it is the ultimate reality. So, like a pagan, Paul is a realist. So, it gives Paul a narrative to hunt for the spirit’s work. So, we’re on resurrection hunts. And even a simple, one of the hardest times of my life, I couldn’t pray for several months. I couldn’t pray in the morning. I would just sit on the sofa for 20 minutes and read Psalm 23. I could pray that, and I couldn’t, I was just so frozen.
And during that time, I begin to do little resurrection work by just looking at the previous day, and walking through it, and thanking God for His little mercies. And what I was doing is I was living in that moment, I was living in the resurrect, in the light of what God is doing. So, it casts out the shadows. It’s a whole way of looking, and that Paul in Colossians 3 clearly links, which is one of his great J curve narrative passages.
He’d clearly linked a resurrection lens with how we look at people, which fits Philippians 4. So, that’s why I’m looking for what’s right, and true, and lovely. I’m hunting for the good work the Spirit is doing in people’s lives. Because one of the problems with evil is its wicked sticky. It just grabs you, and you can’t be passive with it, with evil, whatever form it is.
You have to be actively taking the cup, hunting for the resurrection in your weakness praying. And out of that, you begin to develop a lens for resurrection hope. In closing, let me just give you… well, I don’t have much closing time. Well, let me just give you quick things. The J curve keeps you from being overwhelmed, or disoriented by the persistence of your own flesh or the outside.
Second thing, it anchors and validates our emotions. It keeps us from withdrawing or collapsing into ourselves. Because we can get depressed about our depression. And so, when people say they’re depressed, I want to know, tell me this, what’s going on in your life? Maybe you should be depressed. Paul has that great depression passage in Corinthians 1, where he’s depressed to the point of death.
And then, he clearly links, but God who raises the dead delivered us. So, it’s that present resurrection spirit at work. It helps us fight cynicism. Because we can even be afraid of good things. Hope can make us nervous because we don’t want to be disappointed. And to quote, Romans 5, we have a hope that doesn’t disappoint. But if it’s God’s resurrection, we can even enjoy the resurrections because this is from God.
We don’t have to go through life like a pagan waiting for the other shoe to drop. And then, that gives us an expectation of continual hope.
Thank you. It was great to be with you this morning. Let me close in prayer. Father, I thank you for the wonder of Jesus. And I pray father as you are taking the church into the dying and rising of Christ in new ways, I pray that out of this, the beauty of Jesus would shine in new ways. And I pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.