From יַעֲקֹב, Ya’aqov, a slave of God and of the Master יֵשׁוּעַ, Yeshua the Messiah; to the Twelve Tribes of Yis’rael who are in the Dispersion: שָׁלוֹם, shalom. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various ways of testing, knowing that the proving of your faith brings about perseverance in you. And let the perseverance have a maturing work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
(יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 1:1-4, mjlt)
Ya’aqov had every right to brag. Being the brother of Yeshua, he also garnered a great deal of respect and influence as an authoritative voice among the Emissaries. And yet, when he wrote his powerful letter to the Jewish believers “who had been scattered abroad from the oppression that came after Stephen” (Acts 13:19, mjlt), he identified himself in his greeting simply as “a slave of God and of the Master יֵשׁוּעַ, Yeshua the Messiah.” More than a mere statement of humility, acknowledging one’s position as a “slave” emphasizes and elevates the position of one’s “Master.” It speaks categorically as to whose purpose one will serve, and whose will one will subvert. It is from this lowly vantage point that Ya’aqov is fully qualified to address the plight of his brothers and sisters, and to advise them in their behavior and actions as they live their own lives as slaves of Messiah.
It was the oppression of Ya’aqov’s fellow Messianic Jews—their being persecuted and scattered for their belief in Yeshua as Messiah—that caused Ya’aqov to begin his letter with the famous exhortation to “Count it all joy.” It dramatically changes our understanding of Ya’aqov’s words when we realize that the “various ways of testing”—the “testing” which Ya’aqov is encouraging his readers to consider as joy—are a direct result of their dispersion from their homeland at the hands of their own unbelieving Jewish family. What could be a greater source of depression and fear than to be so harshly rejected by one’s own people? And yet, this is Ya’aqov’s entire point. Though they had had to flee to safety for fear of retribution, imprisonment, or worse, everything they endured was for “the proving of [their] faith,” and by knowing this, it would “bring about perseverance” in them. God’s tests show us what our faith is made of, and from that faith, we may find the joy to persevere.
There is a reason for God’s people to persevere with joy—to struggle and press through in the face of adversity—especially in times that our safety is threatened and our faith is challenged: we must “let the perseverance have a maturing work, so that [we] may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” Though it is easier said than done, we persevere for the same reason that Ya’aqov exhorted those early Jewish believers to persevere: at the end of all the running is the destination God has planned for you. The end-goal of the Messianic faith, then, is not persecution and adversity; rather, the adversity is what prepares us to fully and effectively live out our Messianic faith. Ya’aqov wants his readers to be “mature and complete, lacking in nothing” in spite of what the persecution and adversity have already taken away. As disciples of Messiah, we need to learn to live with nothing but our burning passion for serving Yeshua, so that even in the worst of circumstances, we will never go without.
And this brings us back to joy.
An immature, incomplete follower of Messiah will take the safe route and avoid adversity, and he might even feel happy… for a time. But the mature Messiah-follower will put his faith even above safety and comfort, and when he sees how triumphantly he perseveres, he will consider the times of testing a joy to him. He will see God’s hand. He will see God’s faithfulness. He will see how enduring hardship for the sake of the Messiah pleases the Master he serves and readies him to fulfill his purpose as Yeshua’s disciple.
Let us not wait until we are under grave oppression before we consider various ways of testing as tremendous times of joy. Every day, in far less severe ways, we have the opportunity to practice finding that joy—so do it! Our God has a destination in mind for you, and when you arrive, he wants you fully grown, lacking in nothing, and ready.
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