Am I My Brother's Keeper?
Whenever I get the opportunity to visit Cincinnati, Ohio, I happily refer to it as “going home.” Most people remain connected to the place where they lived as a child, and for me, that place is here. I am especially excited to “go home” once again and join the
good people of the West Mason church in a week of Bible study.
I am also excited and challenged by the church’s chosen subject for our study–“My Brother’s Keeper." As you may know, these words are taken from the first book of the Bible.
You are on the scene at the very first murder. It is a case of sibling rivalry gone bad. One brother kills another out of anger. As recorded in Genesis 4, when Cain killed his brother Abel, God was the only Crime Scene Investigator who was necessary. He saw it all, and even warned the perpetrator beforehand not to allow the situation to escalate. After the crime, God spoke directly to Cain
and rhetorically asked him, “Where is Abel your brother?" Cain’s infamous reply was "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper" (Genesis 4:9-10)?
Cain’s first answer was a lie (“I do not know”). His following question (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”) was an obvious attempt to evade the responsibility for his actions. His question, as well, was rhetorical. He was not looking for information from God. He was not interested in knowing if he truly was his brother’s keeper. The Hebrew word translated keeper (Shaw-mar) means custodian, absolute guardian or caretaker. Abel was a grown man, and Cain was, in one sense, NOT his guardian. Cain was being
sarcastic, hoping God would not probe any deeper. But God knew what had happened to Abel, and He also knew the depth of Cain’s responsibility toward his slain brother.
But Cain’s question, as rhetorical as it was, is a good one, is it not? We certainly need to be looking for God’s an swer to such a vital question.
The scriptures speak often about our personal responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Someone has counted over 64 admonitions containing the words “one another” (or the equivalent) in the New Testament. God commands us to love one another, admonish one another, forgive one another, submit to one another, confess to one another, be compassionate to one another, and carry one another’s burden.
These challenging responsibilities flow from a single source–we are all children of our Father in heaven, through His Son, Jesus Christ. We are brothers and sisters together in the family of God. If I have come to be the child of my Father in heaven through His mercy and love, how could I refuse to love or extend compassion to my brothers and sisters? John connects this mutual responsibility of brotherhood to our love for God Himself.
- 1 John 3:10-12–In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother...
- 1 John 4:20-21--If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
As we journey through this life together, on our way home, let us take seriously our responsibility to be our “brother’s keeper.”