In Acts 11:19 and following, something amazing happens in the city of Antioch. Some of the persecuted believers from Jerusalem make their way north to Antioch where they begin to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to Jews and Gentiles. When the church in Jerusalem hears about this, they send Barnabas to Antioch to find out what is happening there. Consider this passage concerning Barnabas’ trip to Antioch:
The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. (Acts 11:22-24 ESV)
According to this passage, after Barnabas arrived in Antioch and witnessed for himself the grace of God poured out on the non-Jewish believers, he was (literally) caused to have joy. Then he began to encourage all of them to remain faithful to (or to continue with) the Lord. He encouraged them to do this “with steadfast purpose”.
A few days ago, my friend Leah suggested this phrase in order to help define the church (See her comment on the post “What is a Christian?“). In other words, the church should be known as those who “remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.”
I looked through a couple of commentaries, and they both jumped over this phrase in verse 23 in order to discuss verse 24. So, I thought I would dig into this verse and this phrase myself.
Reviewing other translations, the phrase “with steadfast purpose” is also rendered “with purpose of heart” (NKJV), “with resolute heart” (NASB), “with a firm resolve of the heart” (HCSB), “with all their hearts” (NIV), “with devoted hearts” (NET), “with a hearty determination” (ISV).
Also, there is disagreement on where this phrase should be placed. There are two possibilites. First, the phrase may describe how the Christians in Antioch were to remain faithful to the Lord: “He [Barnabas] exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose” (ESV, see also NKJV, HCSB, NIV, NET, NJB). Second, the phrase may describe how Barnabas encouraged the Antioch Christians: “With a hearty determination he [Barnabas] continuously encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord” (ISV, see also NASB).
So, as you can see, this phrase has raised more questions for me. I will continue studying this as I can, but I’m wondering if others out there may be able to shed more light on this passage.
What does it mean to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose? Is that what Acts 11:23 says? Does the passage say that Barnabas encouraged them with resolute/determined heart? How does the church do this? What does this mean for the church today?