It’s great to have you join us for the STC Sheffield podcast today. Our Bible passage is Acts Chapter 11 v19-30, and I’d like us to focus on verses 23 and 26:
“He exorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose…..and in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”
The word ‘steadfast’ is used 219 times in the Bible, and 132 of these refer to God. Steadfastness is a Godly characteristic, and therefore it’s not surprising that Barnabas encourages the believers in Antioch to develop this quality in their own lives. But what does it mean to be steadfast?
At its root, steadfast means being ‘firmly fixed in place.’ Over time, describing something or someone as steadfast has also come to mean: ‘not subject to change,’ ‘immovable’ and ‘firm in belief, determination and adherence.’
Why might Barnabas have chosen to speak this particular word to the church in Antioch?
Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. It was bustling and cosmopolitan, a commercial and cultural cross roads, as Jews, Greeks, Romans and those from Persia, India and even China travelled to it and through it. It would be hard to describe anything in Antioch as being ‘firmly fixed in place’ or ‘immovable.’ In fact, as we read in verse 19, the first generation of believers in Antioch were immigrants to the city, having moved there to flee the persecution that was happening in Jerusalem.
Antioch also had a fashionable and wealthy reputation. Think of somewhere like Monte Carlo or Nice. It was famous for having a long, paved boulevard that stretched from north to south, flanked by colonnades, trees and fountains. If being steadfast means not being subject to change, then Antioch would recoil at the thought of being described in this way. Antioch wanted to be known, to be influential, to be at the forefront, to be the place that always changed.
And finally, alongside the glories, came the darker side of Antioch. It was a place of moral depravity and corruption. The temples of Artemis and Apollo on the outskirts of the city were centres of ritual prostitution and vice, attracting large crowds. In 2016, archaeologists discovered a Greek mosaic in Antioch showing a skeleton lying down with a bottle of wine and loaf of bread alongside the words: “Be cheerful, enjoy your life.” It is known as the “reckless skeleton.” Rather than being firm in belief and adherence, the words hedonistic and reckless are perhaps a better description of the residents of Antioch.
Knowing this background helps to explain why Barnabas chose to encourage the Christians in the city “to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.” They certainly had a lot going against them, and there was huge potential for the culture and context to alter their behaviour, change their attitudes, and shake their beliefs, to the extent that they would not have remained faithful to the Good News of the Gospel.
And yet despite everything that was happening in Antioch, the church was thriving and growing rapidly. There were lots of new converts, and the believers were so passionate about evangelism that they were always talking about Christ to others, and so they earned the nickname ‘the Christ people’ – the Christians.
But what is God saying to us today through this passage?
In many ways 1st century Antioch and 21st Century Sheffield are remarkably similar.
We live in the 5th largest city in the UK. It is bustling and cosmopolitan, as people from all over the world come here to work, live and study. As a nation we are obsessed with those who are fashionable, famous and wealthy. We listen to blogs, watch Youtube channels, and read magazines that track their every move, their every outfit. We live in a time when being a social media influencer is actually a job. And finally, there is the darker side of life in the UK today. Where people’s brains are being physiologically changed because of the amount of porn they watch, where last year the youngest reported victim of online grooming was just 5 years old, and where a quarter of all 12-17 year olds have received sexually explicit texts or emails.
And that mosaic found with the words “Be cheerful, enjoy your life,” next to a person with a bottle of wine and a good meal, could just as easily describe the pervading attitude of society today.
Knowing this background helps to explain why as Christians, we need “to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.” We certainly have a lot going against us, there is a huge potential for the culture and context to alter our behaviour, change our attitudes, and shake our beliefs, to the extent that we will no longer remain faithful to the Good News of the Gospel that we read in the Bible.
Whether it is refusing to take part in office gossip, whether it’s choosing not to have sex before you are married, whether it’s deleting Instagram from your phone, whether it’s just having one pint on a night out, not several, whether it’s talking to someone about your porn addiction….whatever it is that means you will “remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose,” commit to do this today, and ask someone else to hold you accountable for it.
Or maybe we need to do some work to ensure that Godly habits such as prayer, reading the Bible and coming to church regularly, are ‘firmly fixed in place’ in our lives. When these things are immovable, we are more likely to remain faithful to the Lord, no matter the changes in our culture or our context.
And finally, let’s think about whether we deserve the nickname ‘the Christ people’ – the Christians?
Our primary purpose remains the same as the first believers in Antioch: to be so passionate about evangelism that we are always talking about Christ to others. Are we firm in our belief and determination to see lots of new converts, in order that our Christian community grows and thrives?
Ask God to show you today where you need to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.
Heavenly Father, fill us with your Holy Spirit in order that our faith is firmly fixed in place and immovable against any pressures, changes and challenges that we may face today. Amen.
READING: Acts 11:19-30
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.