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Am I My Brother's Keeper?

It's the questions of life that make us sit up and ponder. Even the rhetorical ones can cause us to stop and consider their far-reaching applications. I wonder. Yes, at times I wonder . . . is this the way life is meant to be? As children of God, we certainly need to be looking for His answer to such vital queries.

For many, the question posed by Cain in the Genesis account is one such conundrum. And one that has far reaching implications for us.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?”
Genesis 4.9

At first glance, it seems to me that his rhetorical question was an obvious attempt to evade the responsibility for his actions. A deeper dive though uncovers the fact that Cain’s reply lacks empathy and displays a total disregard for the wellbeing of another. You see, when Cain asks the Lord his question, the Hebrew word that is used for “keeper” is: shamar. It’s a word that when translated simply means, “to keep, to watch, to guard.” To exercise great care over. It’s the action one would undertake while watching over a garden, a flock of sheep, or a herd of cattle. A guardian or caretaker.

And so I find myself too asking the question throughout my life. What about me?

Am I my brother’s keeper?

Recently I’ve been troubled as I witness open exhibitions of dislike mixed with indignation. Words and actions that have come to symbolize people’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for the welfare of others. A failure to understand that wandering through life and being self-serving is like landing on some silent shore. One where we will find ourselves truly alone. With no one to comfort us. No one to offer some small kind word of encouragement. No one to help us on our journey through the pitfalls set before us by the tempter.

“When anger overflows, the tongue wags unrestrained.” - Don Quixote

Relationships torn asunder by one unkind word. We become cold and apathetic. At times our anger leading brethren to be downright hostile to one another. The full gamut of emotions is on display for the world to see.

As we wander around this wreck of a world, we see that human history has been marred by a callous lack of concern for the care and well-being of others. It ought not to be with those in the household of God. How should I react to such attitudes of selfishness? Of apathy? Perhaps I should be laden with sadness. And look to our Lord and see His willingness to carry our load through His sacrificial love for me. And for you.

Am I my brother’s keeper?

I most assuredly am. Unequivocally.

The same responsibility falls on us. Regardless whether it is a blood sibling or a sibling in the faith: We, who are more mature, bear an obligation to watch out for those who lack maturity, understanding, knowledge, or wisdom. We must keep watch for them. Their lives are indeed our responsibility.

Scripture speaks often about our personal responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Christ. 55 times in the New Testament we find a "one another" command. Our God commands us to mutually care for one another, minister to one another, forgive one another, love one another, submit to one another, be compassionate towards one another and encourage one another in our spiritual walk. These are powerful exhortations that translate faith into realtime action.

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6.2

These are challenging responsibilities that flow from one source: we are children of God. We are brother and sisters in Christ. Philippians 2.3-4 clearly expresses the attitude we are to have toward others: “in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” This outgoing concern toward other people is the result of a life driven by love (Mark 12.31; Luke 6.27; 1 John 4.16).

Which leads us to another rhetorical question:

But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?
1 John 3.17

Am I my brother’s keeper?

If the love of God abides in us, then the answer becomes crystal clear. None of us deserve the mercy and love God has given to us. And yet He was willing to give His Son for us.

Don’t close your heart against your brother. If we’re not careful, our refusal to help our brother will plant a seed that will bear portentous fruit for years to come.

It’s not too late for you. Or for me.

I am my brother’s keeper. Always.