Am I My
"Am I my brother's keeper?" is a famous question, which we may ask when we wish to disclaim responsibility for one another. When Cain asked it, he wished to deny he was responsible for his brother Abel, whom he had in fact murdered (Genesis 4.9). In the New Testament John contrasts this attitude with one of love. "For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, and not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous." (1 John 3. 11,12)
On what grounds did John make the assertion that Cain's previous actions were evil? It could have been based on verse 7 where Cain has conversation with God and is told that in his offering he has not done well and sin is couching at the door. Questions about this could multiply because we are given only a few sentences about what happened, which may have taken many hours. Why was the fruit of the ground less acceptable as an offering than one of an animal? To some students of Leviticus (and the whole sacrificial system) the answer will be obvious, concluding with John the Baptist's proclamation "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world". Perhaps it is possible that John, as a good Israelite, did not raise such questions but just accepted the facts as given. For him, Abel's choice of 'a firstling of his flock' was obvious and natural.
John may have been arguing back from what Cain did next in the Genesis story ‑ he must have been evil and wrong minded because he killed his brother. No one kills unless he is evil and governed by emotion rather than controlled by logical thinking (although most people will make an exception for those serving in a national armed force. Israel did so.)
Brotherly care depends on love, and love must be based on justice (righteousness) as more than one commentator has pointed out. Jesus said that being angry with a brother is murder and if there is any evidence of disruption to fellowship with a brother there is no possibility of fellowship with God (Matt.5.21-26). Hatred is the essence of murder and a murderer does not have eternal life (Stott). But a murderer can repent and go on to eternal life (Morris). We now tend to think of 'eternal life' as the quality of life that is given by God. Lack of love is lack of God likeness (godliness). "God is love"
Cain lacked the motivating power of love. That is easily said from John's point of view but would Cain have agreed? For us, two thousand years later still, in which the life and precepts of Christ have been worked out in the daily life of thousands (millions) of Christians, the need for love should be even more obvious, but is it? Is that first commandment from the beginning obeyed better now than at any time in human history? Jesus had said "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." (John 13.34). Jesus showed love in action in the story of the Good Samaritan and the love of the Father in Heaven in the parable of the Prodigal Son. To that may be added many stories from the Old and New Testament, and further to them are countless stories from the lives of Christians, many of them from Christian missionaries. They make wonderful reading and leave us feeling that we still need much growth in grace in our own lives for us to keep Jesus' commandment.
We must learn to think in terms of love. We must want the highest and best for others, all others. We can go on protecting our own interests or good name but love is the sacrifice of self. That is how Jesus taught it and demonstrated it. Contrition not pride; willingness to give and not count the cost; others rather than self; answering genuinely the question, What would Jesus do?
So we must come back to the question 'Am I my brother's (or sister's) keeper? It's all very well to talk about loving one's brother but if we follow the example of some in the Corinthian Church in the first century as reported by Chloe's people (1 Corinthians 1.11), what opportunity do we have to express our love in Christ for our brethren. Does not division within the Church preclude that privilege Ö. except that we can pray for one another? How often is separation from brethren in Christ due to lack of love? We need to think about this question very carefully and how we think and speak of others who claim to be following Christ. Is our 'judgment' of them as Christians based on intellectual knowledge, or upon the way they live their lives in their profession to follow Christ?
'Love in Christ' is not a matter of words and questions but of genuine desire and action. Ultimately, we have to face every situation in company with Christ and in doing so we must respect love in each other. The answer to the original question is quite definitely that we are our brother's (and sister's keeper). We must take every possible opportunity to express that brotherly and sisterly love and we are spiritually poorer for not doing so. We will be heading in one of two directions ‑ to the righteous way in Christ or the unrighteous way in Satan.
Constant fellowship with God will dispel any fear of failure in love. God does not want us to fear. He knows the influence of Satan and is patient. He truly and really is love, and just waits for us to turn to Him. He is utterly patient with 'the prodigal son (or daughter). Let us not fear or worry or wonder if we can 'make it'. Let us all be positive; we can reach the goal of our hopes ‑ because God is on our side; and the 'tender shepherd' to whom many of us prayed as little children ‑ is still more tender than we can ever imagine. Saying that we are sorry is not weakness ‑ it is the fruit of strong love. But love is not a natural quality in the children of Adam. It has to be learnt in the school of Christ.