By Mike Willis
The title of this article comes from a very familiar story, the story of Cain and Abel. Briefly recounted, the Bible text states that two sons were born to Adam and Eve, Cain who tilled the ground and Abel who shepherded sheep. In the process of time, both of them brought their sacrifices to God. Abel’s was accepted and Cain’s was rejected. Cain’s reaction was sinful. Instead of changing his sacrifice so that God would accept it, Cain burned in envy and anger at his brother. God approached Cain, trying to warn him of the danger that his sinful anger created for him. He said, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him” (Gen. 4:7). But Cain allowed sin to conquer him. Cain met his brother in the field and slew him.
God again tried to redeem sinful Cain. When God asked Cain where his brother was, he lied saying, “I know not.” Then he said to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). There may be a play on words in Cain’s reply. “Am I the keeper of Abel (who is the keeper of sheep)?” grasps the idea. Cain’s implication is that he is not his brother’s keeper.
We Are Not Our Brother’s Keeper
There is a sense in which one is not his brother’s keeper. Paul said, “For every man shall bear his own burden” (Gal. 6:5). That may be understood in the sense of each person bearing responsibility for his own sin (see Rom. 14:10-12), but it is also a true statement from an earthly point of view. God has given each individual the responsibility to provide for his own. Paul wrote, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Tim. 5:8). He even added, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). God has not given one man the responsibility to take care of another able bodied man.
Furthermore, there are certain spiritual responsibilities that every man must take care of for himself. One cannot be baptized for another, have faith for another, pray in place of the other, etc. Every man is responsible to God for his own spiritual development. This is implied in those passages that exhort every man to grow spiritually (Heb. 5:11-14; Eph. 4:15-16). However, there is another sense in which one is his brother’s keeper.
We Are Our Brother’s Keeper
1. The watchman is responsible to warn his brother. The Lord spoke to the prophet Ezekiel saying, Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul (Ezek. 3:17-19).
This is the sense in which Paul wrote, “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27). To the degree that one has the ability to warn his brethren of spiritual dangers to his soul, he is his brother’s keeper.
2. One is responsible to restore his brother. Paul wrote, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1-2). James added, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:19-20).
In this respect, one is his brother’s keeper. Christians are to watch out for each other.
3. One is responsible for the physical needs of one who needs our help. The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates this point.
And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? How readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise (Luke 10:25-37).
Were the Levite and priest right? If one is not his brother’s keeper, what was wrong with their conduct? They did not strip the man of his garments, wound him, and leave him half dead. They passed by without doing him harm. However, they were responsible to help him. Why? Because one should love his neighbor as he loves himself!
The same truth is taught in the Parable of the Separation of the Sheep and Goats (Matt. 25:31-46). Those who received the invitation to heaven gave drink to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, etc. One is his brother’s keeper.
No doubt there are other ways in which one is his brother’s keeper. However, these should remind us of our obligations one toward another, lest a spirit like that of Cain arise among us.
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