Am I My Brother’s Keeper?
In the beginning of the world, there existed a pair of brothers; Cain and Abel were their names. They were the first pair of brothers to ever live. Abel was the first shepherd by trade as a keeper of sheep, and Cain was the first gardener by trade as a tiller of the ground. You may read this account in the book of Genesis and chapter 4. Now, it is interesting to note that at this time in Bible history, mankind did not eat meat (crazy, right?). It wasn’t until after the world flood that animals made an appearance in the menu for mankind. And thank goodness they did, for where would the world be without hamburgers and bacon? Abel was a keeper of sheep in order that he (and his family) might have animals to offer to God as a sacrifice for sins, and we know from Hebrews 9:22 that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.” Well in the process of time, Abel offered to God a sacrifice of the flock, whereas Cain offered the fruit of the ground. Abel’s offering was accepted on the grounds that it contained blood thus recognizing and addressing sin, while Cain’s offering represented hard work and toil—the product of man’s efforts to please God. Well, this provoked Cain’s wrath to such a degree that he killed his brother. When God asked Cain where his brother was, Cain replies, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” a subtle and mocking reference to Abel’s occupation, a keeper of sheep. It is at this question we wish to pause and reflect.
Am I my brother’s keeper? What a question indeed! I wonder how many of us have ever asked this question in our hearts if not with our mouths. Should I care about the needs of others? Is it my responsibility to concern myself with the effect my actions will have on other people? With the light of Scripture, we hope to shed some light on this topic which is worthy of our prayerful consideration.
Deut. 22:1-4: “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him. And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again.”
In the Old Testament, each Israelite had the responsibility of caring in part for the interests of his brother. For example, if Daniel noticed that Joseph’s sheep were wandering down the road, Daniel was lawfully obligated to retrieve and return the livestock. If he was unaware of the owner, Daniel would retain the livestock until the owner sought for that which was lost. Daniel was not allowed to look on and say, “not my circus, not my monkeys,” “it’s not my problem,” or “someone else will help.” Daniel could not remain neutral as to the needs of his brother; he was legally and morally obligated to act.
This Old Testament passage serves as an object lesson of what would later be reiterated in a different way to believers on the Lord Jesus in the New Testament book of I John.
I John 3:16-17: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 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?”
God may very well have loved mankind, but we would remain unaware of this love and its depth if had not been demonstrated at the cross where God’s wrath was poured out on His Son Who laid down His life for us. I would suggest that this “dying for another” kind of love (vs. 16) is the greatest form of love one can display, whereas giving of the “world’s good” (vs. 17) is the lowest. I would submit for your consideration that if we are not willing to part with that which is least (our goods) to meet a brother or sister’s need, we will certainly not be willing to part with that which is greatest (our life).
If we are not willing to lay down the very least for our brother, we will never lay down the very most for our brother.
Spiritual: part A– What if I allow my brother to fall?
Deut. 22:8: “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.”
What do you suppose this verse means? What do you think a parapet is? The King James renders the word “battlement” both words meaning “a low wall at the edge of a balcony, roof, etc.” A parapet/battlement is a low wall that ran around the edge of a roof that served a fundamental purpose of keeping people from falling off. As one who has a fear of heights, this strikes me as equally essential to the architecture as the foundation. OSHA would certainly approve of this necessary inclusion.
Ahhhh “But this is MY home, and it’s MY roof,” you say, “No one should be walking on MY roof.” “I should have liberty to do as I please with what is mine.”
Is it possible, that even in matters of private business, God’s people were responsible to look out for the walk of their brethren lest any poor soul stumble and fall from the roof of any Israelite’s house? Is this principle exclusive to God’s people of old, the nation of Israel, or is there application for us today, an application we can trace to the New Testament? Note the following passage:
I Cor. 8:9-13– “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”
Paul is here saying that there are certain activities in which we have liberty to participate, but if flaunting our liberty in the sight of our brethren wounds their weak conscience, we have sinned against Christ. The principle is as simple as that. I may have liberty from God in a particular matter, but I also have a responsibility to my brother’s conscience.
I would like to pause a moment and simply state that we will not always be able to prevent people from being offended by our actions. It will happen in spite of our best efforts. I do not wish to suggest that we are required to walk a tightrope and allow our lives and convictions to be shaped solely by the consciences and convictions of others, but we should at least have some consideration so that we do not inadvertently cause our brother to stumble in his mind and heart.
While my responsibility to my brother does not extend so far as to absolutely dictate my personal liberty, my personal liberty must not trample upon my responsibility.
Spiritual: part B– What if I cause my brother to fall?
Leviticus 19:14– “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.”
Habakkuk 2:15- “Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness!”
Now we discuss a more severe form of the previous issue. We have discussed inadvertently causing your brother to stumble and fall, but what about doing so purposefully? Is it possible that we might intentionally participate in certain activities so as to offend our brother purposefully? In these Old Testament passages, an Israelite was not to curse the deaf, intentionally cause the blind to stumble, or to make a brother drunken so as to expose his nakedness. It is sad to think that someone would perform such an act, but the very fact that it has been written indicates that it does very well happen. While I may feel that I have the freedom to exercise my perceived liberty anytime and anywhere, I can know without contestation that I am absolutely NOT authorized to knowingly offend my brother in so doing.
Rom. 14:13-16, 19-21– “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. … So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.”
Paul states only a few verses prior, “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself” (Romans 14:7). As we consider the opening question, I hope that we can do so and answer it unhesitantly with a resounding YES! If my brother or sister has a physical need, perhaps rather than praying for them only, I should consider being used of God to meet that need—the mother who needs help with a meal or the father struggling financially to provide for his family. If I am not willing to lay down my wallet, you can be certain I will never lay down my life. I am my brother’s keeper. In addition, my love for my brothers and sisters in Christ should be such that I consider the impact my actions have on the consciences of my brethren. And may it be that I never intentionally seek to cause my brethren in Christ to stumble as I exercise my perceived liberty at the expense of my brother’s tender conscience. I am my brother’s keeper. These commands are not possible without the help of the One Who commanded them. Let us pray that in our every act, as we seek to please God in our words and deeds, that we never forget that we are our brothers’ keepers. May we realize that the sum of every sacrifice we could possibly make for our brother and sister in Christ is only a drop to the ocean compared to the sacrifice He has made for us on the cross where for our sin He died in demonstration of His great love for you and for me.