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‘Accept and bear the weaknesses’ of others, Barber urges in presidential address

SBC President Bart Barber preached his final sermon to messengers from Romans 15 June 11 at the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. “God has obligated me and you to accept and to bear the weaknesses of people who disagree with the truth,” he said. Photo by Elijah Hickman

INDIANAPOLIS (BP) – In his presidential address at the 2024 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis, Bart Barber challenged messengers and guests to “get cooperation right” by bearing the weaknesses of one another, “even when the other guy is wrong.”

Acknowledging the SBC and its churches face many ongoing challenges, he urged his listeners not to quit, for the sake of future successors, international missionaries and new believers.

“We can face all of these challenges together if our churches are healthy,” said Barber, with apparent optimism.

“The health of this Convention is a thermometer, not a thermostat,” said Barber, who has served as pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, since 1999. He pointed to an important ingredient for good health, as found in the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 15:1-7. “God has obligated me and you to accept and to bear the weaknesses of people who disagree with the truth.”

Barber stressed, “It is a debt that we owe to our Creator.”

Barber said the Scripture was not talking about physical strength, but the strength of those who thought they haven’t fully rejected idolatry unless they abstain from meat that may have been used as sacrifices in idolatrous rituals.

“This is a theological dispute involving the first and second commandments and how to obey them,” Barber explained, adding it also was an ethical dispute involving how much the believer should separate himself from the sinful practices of the world, and a prudential/cultural dispute involving how to resist idolatry, which prominently opposed the Gospel and motivated persecution against the early Church.

“This is a matter of stubborn and persistent disagreement in the church at Rome, not something that they regarded as tertiary,” he said.

But, he added, with all of that on the line, “God’s emphasis landed not on the theological question, nor on the ethical question, nor even on the cultural question.”

Instead, God emphasized “the brotherhood question and the cooperation question.”

The president said, “It’s breathtaking, once you see it, because we know how high of a value God places upon theology and ethics and the separation of His people from worldliness. This passage devalues none of those things; it just shows us how very highly God values unity and mutual respect among His children.”

In Romans 15:1, he stressed, God obligates us “to accept and bear the weaknesses of one another even when the other guy is wrong.”

But why don’t we obey what God requires of us? he asked, offering three reasons why Christians tend to disobey.

First, he said, sometimes we disobey “because rejecting brothers and sisters pleases us more than accepting them does.”

Noting verbal sparring can be fun and that debate is a sport, he said, “The question we should ask ourselves is not what I enjoy doing, but rather what does God require me to do?”

Second, he said sometimes we disobey “because our objective is something other than building up brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Rather than pleasing ourselves, we are commanded to please our neighbor for his good, to build him up, Barber said. This doesn’t mean giving in to whatever they ask or reinforcing what is wrong and harmful in them.

“But when you need to deliver news to someone that they do not want to hear, that news can be delivered to them in a way that makes it unmistakable that we love them,” he said. “That’s not weakness; that’s just obedience.”

He cautioned against confronting and challenging one another in “a prophetic tone” that tears another person down.  

Sometimes, he continued, we disobey “because these weaker brothers have just worn us out, and we’re tired and a little discouraged.”

Pointing out that Romans 15 contains two references to endurance and encouragement, Barber said, “This room is full of tired, discouraged servants of God. Weaker brothers and sisters in our churches are likely the cause. They’ve hurt you. They’ve been on your back without a break. They’ve pounced upon every mistake you’ve made.”

He underscored, “Bearing their weaknesses has become a heavy load.”

He pointed to the scriptures, which show “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” and “hope and endurance and encouragement!”

Moreover, “there is a God in Heaven who wants to change the heart of that child of His who is giving you so much trouble at home. Maybe He just wants to start by changing your heart a little first.”

Barber also took time to examine the “marvelous things” that happen when people obey Romans 15.

When Christians obey, “we have the hope of achieving unity in one mind,” he began.

He recounted how his church opted to support the Bayot people group in Sub-Sahara Africa, something that seemed too large for a deacon who wanted to vote against it. The dissenting deacon said, “I think I will lose, and this will pass, and maybe what I need to see is a miracle.”

“If you are going to dissent this is the way to dissent!” Barber cheered, sharing that miracles indeed have happened.

“But maybe a miracle is exactly what you need to see,” he told the audience. “Dare to dream for it, to ask for God to grant it, and to work toward it.”

Second, when Christians obey, “we have the joy of speaking together in one voice.”

Barber shared how he loves to stroll around the annual meeting halls and listen to all the voices. 

“Burmese voices. Spanish voices. Choctaw, Cherokee, Comanche and Creek voices,” he listed. “The cries of infants yielding to the calming voice of grandparents. The midwestern English of Indiana, and the God-ordained dialect of Texas. We enjoy a tremendous diversity of voices in the SBC, and it is a beautiful thing given to us by God.”

“Our disagreements are largely mundane relics of our imperfect sanctification,” he said, “but our agreements are all supernatural feats wrought by an amazing God. So, whenever Baptists speak with one voice, it is a miraculous thing,” he said.

    About the Author

  • Shannon Baker

    Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.

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