‘Am I my brother’s keeper?

cain-and-god1Genesis 4:9: Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

From the book of Hebrews, we read: let brotherly love continue (Hebrews 13:1). This is contrary to the thoughts of Cain who in the throes of deep envy and hatred caused the death of his brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-12). That is why we are enjoined not to envy to swallow us up in our interactions with those the members of the body of Christ (Galatians 5:26, James 3:16, Romans 13:13). We are not supposed to allow any divisions to develop (1Corinthians 1:10) among us.

Division in the body of Christ is counterproductive. Jesus, nearing the death on the cross, prayed that those who will believe in him will be one (John 17:11), so that we would be marked by the love of God.

Let brotherly love continue means each part of the body looks out for the others. We should realise that we exist within the context of relationships in the church.

Even while Jesus was alive, there were moments where division wanted to rear its ugly head among the apostle, which he quickly nipped in the bud.

There was a time John and James came to him with their mother demanding special seats in the coming kingdom (Matthew 20:20-28). After he answered them that such decisions were reserved for his father, the other disciples became very angry at the way they brought their mother, wanted to curry favour from Jesus.

But Jesus immediately stopped those expressions of ambition from the whole group, telling them that it is the one willing to do the work of an ignoble servant that would be the greatest. In another place we read that the disciples where busy “with their pen and paper analysing” who will take what position in the coming kingdom. Jesus frowned against that (Luke 22:24-30, (Mark 9:33-37)). He didn’t want them getting all political on him.

It seems to me, from the evidence of scriptures, that being ambitious and having the love of position are doors through which rancor, envy and bitterness comes into the body of Christ. Therefore Jesus took his time to show that the disciples should not adopt the principle of the world in the kingdom, showing them that sacrifice and service and humility are the only things that qualify for greatness in the kingdom of God.

When John and James came to Jesus and said that they want to seat on his right hand and left in the kingdom, that was nothing less than political posturing. Jesus asked them if they can drink the cup of suffering that he was going to drink, they said yes without thinking.

They did not really know at he was referring to his suffering. The school of suffering qualifies you for leadership, not how well you can dress, speak, or how good you are with people, or negotiate for position.

He needed the disciples to know that what is important is service, what you do to help others, adding spiritual, physical and psychological value to them.

The relationship of the members of the body of Christ to each other is to be marked by love. Love makes you your brother’s keeper. But when there is a spirit of competition, love goes out through the window, and then it is everyman for himself. That is a dangerous state of things.

Paul wrote about Timothy to a church (Philippians 2:19-23), saying he does not know of any other person who will naturally care for their state, showing you can’t really be sent to a people until you exhibit care for them, until you are ready to see yourself as being responsible for them and care for them accordingly. That is what is called being your brother’s keeper.

We need to express care for each other, not because of what we are going to get in return but as channels of the love of God, an extension His sacrificial love, the agape love, considering others ahead of ourselves.

We need a change in our approach to life; that your value in really based on the value you can add to other people’s life.

There was a woman called Dorcas who died in the book of Acts (9:36-43). She had a great reputation with the Christian folks around the area. The people refused to let her go to heaven because of the impact she has had in selfless service to them, in expressions of care and service to the people, and in a consistent manner too.

It there is any area that you should stand out it is in good works. Jesus said that we should let our light shine before men that when they see our good works they would glorify our father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

We are not supposed to be a dam but a river flowing to other when it comes to doing.

Abraham was his brother’s keeper, or shall we say his nephew-keeper (Genesis 14:11-17)?

When Lot was in trouble, (the city where he was staying was invaded and he was taken captive), Abraham did not fold his hand and just hoped for the best. He took up arms and round up his standing army (a crop of elite combatants), a few hundred in number and rescued Lot. He refused to consider the circumstances that resulted in their separation in the first instance, but was up in arms when he found out that Lot was in trouble.

The New Testament church is replete with tales of being our brother’s keeper. At a time, there was a church-wide welfare programme. They sold their landed properties to fund it (Acts 4:34-37).

Then in a latter part of the book of Acts (11:28-30), after prophet Agabus prophesied about a coming earth-wide  famine, the Antioch church decided to send contributions to the church in Judea. This is the principle of being your brother’s keeper put to work as a church.

We are admonished by scriptures to let no man think just about himself but about how to benefit others (Philippians 2:4).

There are three dimensions of care that we can bring to others that come across our path; there is the spiritual benefit, the psychological/emotion benefit and the physical benefit. And we should be able to be our brother’s keeper in these three ways.

When we see the gifts of the God mentioned in Romans 12 (1-10), we can see them as means of being our brother’s keeper.

There is prophecy (spiritual), ministry (physical), teaching (spiritual), exhortation (psychological), giving (physical) rule (psychological), mercy (physical). Note that these different aspects of help have effects on others, so that one is not less than the other. It’s all about faithfulness (1Corinthians 4:2).

All of them are means of adding value to others, of being your brother’s keeper. And the foundation for their expression is love.


6 thoughts on “‘Am I my brother’s keeper?

  1. Thank you for reminding us all that we are our brothers’ keepers.

    We are not supposed to be a dam but a river flowing to other when it comes to doing.
    May we do that and be united. May the Lord bless you for all your posts, they show your care for us.


  2. This concept can be a bit confusing to me. Serving, caring for and loving others is crystal clear. It’s the psychological aspect that seems to often cause a myriad of wrongful criticism, judgmental mistaken assumptions, misapplied advice and damaged relationships. It’s almost impossible to continue having much contact with a person that insists they know what is best for others (especially when they are incorrect). An outsider’s perspective is quite limited and the proverb about walking in someone’s shoes before judging them often gets forgotten.

    So how do we function under these conditions? How do we continue to work side by side in a loving fashion with fellow believers who mean well and think they know what is best for us; despite the fact that their “guidance” contradicts what the Holy Spirit, God’s Word, and other trusted counselors have been teaching us? Isn’t mutual respect an important part of loving one another and being each others’ keepers? Rifts and division hurt productivity, harmony and unity in God’s kingdom. Yet how do we draw boundaries in order to carry out God’s clear instructions for our lives when they contradict the expectations that others sometimes have for us. If they’re not willing to respect our ability to comprehend God’s will for our decisions (assuming they’re Biblically sound), how can we work closely with them.

    I’m not dealing with any of this presently, but these challenges have occurred over the years and I’ve never been able to fully comprehend God’s way of fixing what’s broken, so to speak. Hopefully I’m not straying too far from your original focus of this topic. Thanks again for running these thoughts past us. Maybe a serendipitous understanding will occur for me at last.


    1. I do not claim to fully grasp all the issues you raised, but I sure am not saying being one’s brother’s keeper means there will be no conflict about what the interpretation of the will of God is, or what it doesn’t.
      The relationship between Paul and Barnabas is a case in point. They were a team but sharply disagreed at one point as to the best point of action they should take and that caused a division between them. No believer or leader has the right to act as your conscience. In the final analysis you will stand before the judgment seat of Christ on your own. The thought shared in that piece does not present the church as it is, but as it can be. I see you recognised that.
      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.


      1. Thanks for the additional confirmation with, “No believer or leader has the right to act as your conscience. In the final analysis you will stand before the judgment seat of Christ on your own”. Lord knows why I solicit more of it. There’s been plenty already from trusted advisors. Also, I hope my response didn’t sound like I didn’t agree with you. That simply isn’t the case. Nice discussion.


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