Thursday, November 1, 2007

My Brother's Keeper

“And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel, thy brother? and he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen.4:9)

Notwithstanding the fact that he lied (he knew exactly where his brother was), Cain asked a very astute question. In essence, “How responsible am I for other people?” Whether we take it in its original setting-a blood relation, or a fellow believer, or just another human being, the question is still relevant today. In Cain’s case, it was rhetorical, with the obvious answer (at least, in his mind) being, “No.” To which God, if He had been so disposed, could have replied, “Just because you’re not his keeper doesn’t mean you can be his killer!” Fortunately, God does not share my bent for sarcasm.

Obviously, there are many who, if they were honest, would have to answer the question the same way. Not that they approve of murder, it’s just that their philosophy of “Live and let live” could more accurately be characterized as “Live and let die.” Either literally by failing to speak out against such sins as abortion, euthanasia, drug trafficking, etc; or spiritually, by failing to share the Gospel in whatever way they can with people who will spend eternity in either heaven or hell. One does not have to be a zealot or a crusader, but as the wise man says, “[A] word spoken in due season, how good it is” (Pro.15:23b). Whether it is a word of encouragement, warning, or rebuke, failing to speak when the occasion and the Holy Spirit’s prompting call for it, indicates someone who neglects not only the keeping of his brother, but the keeping of his own character.

But, on the other hand, there are those whose answer to the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” would be a quick, “You bet, I am!” This is the man or woman who seems to have assumed responsibility for the conduct, choices, and convictions of everyone within his or her sphere of influence. This includes, first and foremost, family members; but friends, co-workers, and subordinates are vulnerable, too. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this phenomenon is its built in immunity from criticism, the appearance of an apparent benevolent motivation. But whether the motive is admirable or simply advantageous, the result is still the same; stunted spiritual growth—for everyone involved.

What then do I owe my “brothers and sisters,” whatever their connection to me? Well, Paul felt that he owed a debt to all men that could only be paid by proclaiming the Gospel (Rom.1:14-16). And, beyond this, he acknowledged one other obligation: “Owe no man anything, but to love one another” (Rom.13:8a). If I truly love people, I will neither overlook them nor overshadow them. I will acknowledge sin, while at the same time proclaiming the Savior; and I will never seek to have dominion over someone else’s faith (2Cor.1:24), knowing that to do so would be to judge another man’s servant, and “to his own master he standeth or falleth” (Rom.13:4).

Am my brother’s keeper? Yes, but no more than he is mine.

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