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Am I My Brother's Keeper? (Part 1. Jesus' Mandate: Love the Brethren)
Although this article is in a series, it is a Complete study on its own. (1 of 3 in Series)
* all [bracketed] words in Scripture verses are mine *
Have you read the story of Cain and Abel lately? This Biblical story is where you find the quote, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Though it was a rhetorical question when asked, the account gives us many points to ponder.
"Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, 'I have acquired a man from the Lord.' Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel.
[It may be interesting to note that Eve conceived once and bore twice. The wording here is saying that Cain and Abel were twins. Also, her statement "I have received a man from the Lord" was a direct reference to her hope that Cain, her firstborn, would be the Promised One to come who would crush the head of the Serpent.]
Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time, it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of the flock and of their fat.
[I would like to point out here how a particular time was set aside to make offerings. It seems by the context that both are obliged to make one at this time.This was way before the Law specified a time to make sacrifices for sin and by what manner they were to be made.]
And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. So the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you so angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And it's desire is for you, but you should rule over it."
[It is clear that God was warning Cain regarding his offering. God, being omniscient, knew that Cain was aware of what would constitute a proper offering. His offering was improper and God gave Cain the opportunity to change, to repent. This particular usage of the word "desire" was also in the curse placed upon marriage that God imposed at the fall. He spoke to Eve and said "her desire would be for her husband" but "he would rule her." The implication being, that Eve would begin to strive with her mate and he would try to push that struggle for power away from himself and dominate her. Cain had that same striving for control between he and his sin. Sin's desire was to control him but Cain "should rule over it" or, in other words, exercise control over it.]
Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
[The Hebrew word here says Cain "murdered," quite literally butchered his brother.]
Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother? He said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" And He said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand." (Genesis 4:1-11)
[This same sense of the ground being involved with blood is found in the specifics of the Law where the blood of the sacrifice was to be sprinkled seven times and also was to be poured out onto the ground at the side of the altar. That was how God received the value of a blood sacrifice. Though the Hebrew word used for the murder is translated "slew" and has the connotation of butchering of an animal, God uses words to show that He thought of it as if Cain offered up his brother. It was as if Cain, in defiance of God, said, "You want a blood sacrifice. I'll give You a blood sacrifice!"]
I have to confess, this story had me scratching my head for a long time until I dug a little deeper and connected some dots. A little history, a little grammar, and a little contextual integrity goes a long way. God had always talked to Adam in the garden in the cool of the day, probably early evening. The sun was beginning to set and the work of caring for the garden was over, most of which was done in the early morning. In these chats, Adam had talked to God about his loneliness and that there was none like him in all the earth.
God created Eve and the conversations had to have changed. No longer was there talk of loneliness, but now of family and children. Adam and Eve must have begun to think about what it may mean to have and bear offspring, to raise them up to love God and love to each other. The man and the woman realized that mankind was different than the animals, in that, he does not move by instinct but by spirit and conscience. Animals were having babies all the time and I imagine them wondering at the process for themselves. They watched animals care for their young and must have pondered on what parenthood would be like for them, what would it be like to bear children. They were, at this time, sinless and probably asked God lots of questions. And God walked and talked with them, answering what questions He saw fit. Adam and Eve did not have children right away for the account says that Adam did not even have sex with his wife until after the fall.
In these discussions with God began the oral tradition about creation. This oral tradition plus the Holy Spirit inspiring Moses gave us the Genesis account.
So what topics came up in those meetings between God and the newly-weds, Adam and Eve? I would think that it was that of worship and that of praise for what God had done. I would think that it would be about God's holiness and how God was sovereign, deserving of obedience. They probably thought on the wonders of creation and the stars and planets. Remember, though Adam and Eve were relatively new to the world, they were not stupid. They were perfect in mind and body, highly intelligent, and lived on a perfect planet without any sin to muddy the waters of reason. Everything that has shown up in the Genesis account was told Adam and Eve and it was passed father to son in the oral tradition. He told them to love the Lord their God with their whole heart and to train their children to do the same. He told them to love one another forever and to train their children to do the same. God was patient with them and answered every question in love. It was a good time.
Then came the temptation, the sin, and the fall. We were given part of the conversation between God and Adam. The account starts from the first question to Adam exposing his nakedness that demonstrated sin was in him and his bride.
"Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, 'Where are you?' So he said, 'I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.' And He said, 'Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?' Then the man said, 'The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.' And the LORD God said to the woman, 'What is this you have done?' The woman said, 'The serpent deceived me, and I ate.' So the LORD God said to the serpent, 'Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heal.' To the woman He said, 'I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.' Then to Adam He said, 'Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust, you shall return.' And Adam called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. Also, for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them." (Genesis 3:7-21)
Now I have to think that it was at this time the principle of blood to "pay for" sin was given them. How do I know this? I know this first because Messiah was mentioned. (In the passage where Satan was receiving his fate, "He [Jesus, the Messiah] will bruise you [Satan] in the head.") I also know that blood was mentioned because the fig leaves were removed from them and clothes made from the skins of animals were given. These were not just any skins but they were coats of animals slain in sacrifice. God did this to show them the payment for sin was in the shedding of innocent blood. Remember, at this time man did not eat animals nor kill them for any purpose. God did something here that must have seemed revolting, offensive, the killing of an innocent lamb. Because of their evil, another died. This act must have made the pain of their guilt so much worse.
I can imagine the line of thinking: "You mean this innocent lamb must die so I may have my sins covered? This animal's blood will cover my sin but does not take it away? That means I have to keep sacrificing, keep spilling the blood of animals to remain declared righteous?" Of course, the answer to all these questions is yes. This sacrifice would have to be done until the foretold "Seed of the woman" came to crush the head of the Serpent. The continued sacrifices served to focus all their attention on the coming Christ who would do this same thing with His Own Blood, once for all time. Animal sacrifices began then and would continue. Abel understood that. At certain times, sacrifice would be done by each individual for their sin. Most likely the same words used throughout Scripture were used by God at this time. These words would be told and retold in the oral tradition and later included in Scripture: "Without the shedding of blood is no remission of sin."
Sin was new. The fact that their bodies had become sinful flesh was going to be a constant factor in each of their lives. They would want to sin now, "sin's desire was for them" but they would have to fight it. They would have to keep to God's principles in their minds or things would go horribly wrong.
As you read the story, God had warned Cain that sin was "crouching at the door." It shone on his face and anger was in his heart. The reason given that he was angry was because God had respect for Abel and had none for him. Cain didn't like the fact that all his hard work was not enough to cover his sin. After all, he was doing the best he could. He worked as hard as Abel, perhaps harder because the ground was cursed. The ground gave up her fruit reluctantly and he gave the best he had, the fruits of his labor. That wasn't good enough for God and Cain resented it. Abel had a correct attitude about the blood involved in covering his sin, while Cain did not.
We Christians, using the benefit of hindsight, have a very clear picture. (Hebrews 9:22, 11:4; Gen. 3:17) We see how very improper it was and Cain realized it too because God Himself had warned him. Cain had to change his thinking and then he would have God's respect as Abel had. Cain was fully aware that blood was necessary and his answer was not to repent but to slaughter his brother.
God then asked him an interesting question, "Where is Abel thy brother?" God knew the answer to the question. Abel was now residing in God's loving hands in a place called Paradise. The question was proposed to gain Cain's response. That response raises an issue for us to consider. Cain replied facetiously (or even sarcastically), "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?"
The Holy Spirit of God is pointing to more than a simple account of a murder here. The issue that we are responsible for our brother is plainly visible in this account and subsequently throughout the whole of Scripture. We are to do God's will and love our brothers. We are to be justified by the blood of Christ with God and to be responsible for our brother. We are to be our brother's keeper.
We know Abel was a good and just man. (justified, saved, i.e. eagerly looking for the Messiah) He probably tried to reason with Cain. He may have asked him to be reasonable, to think about what he was doing. Can you hear him speaking with Cain? Do you hear him saying, "Here brother, what are you doing? You need a blood sacrifice. You know that. Here take a lamb, have any in my pasture." To which Cain would then reply, "I don't need anything from you! I've worked hard and done the best I can. That will have to be good enough."
Can you imagine the rage rising forth against someone that God had expected he would love, help and care for him? He took up the knife used to slaughter the lambs in sacrifice and slit the throat of his brother Abel.
Abel may have even done what so many martyrs have done as they were being killed and said, "Lay not this sin to his charge."
We now have our two types of relationship and behavior between family, that of Abel, who knew how to love God and Cain who cared not for God nor his brother. If we examine ourselves, who do we most resemble? Do we do anything for our brothers?
We also have what God expected of brothers, implied here in his non-answer to Cain. Yes, he was to love his brother. He was to help care for him and if need be, be his keeper.
But what do we do? We think to devote the "lion's share" of our time to our own family circle and its maintenance, but most of the time actually goes to our job and financial pursuits, with a good portion to the of fulfilling what our own fleshly wants. We may leave a few moments for God Himself and leave virtually no time for our brothers, others of our extended family.
Fast forward now, to the New Testament and to our Lord Jesus and the things He taught that fulfilled all of the Old Testament. What did Jesus say about how we are to treat our brothers?
Cain's unresponsive question to God may have been in Jesus' mind as He stated these words: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another, as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." (John 13:34)
Jesus' strong statement regarding this commandment of love must have seemed strange. Just what did Jesus expect of them anyway? It was obvious that this "new commandment" was going to be a radically different concept than was their custom. It was going to take those watching by surprise, even defining those who would love this way with Jesus. All would know soon that they were His disciples merely by this caring, loving attitude displayed between brothers and sisters in the faith.
For three years Jesus had been showing His deity to His disciples. The fact that He was God became ever more concrete in their minds. Imagine their confusion when at supper one day He put a towel around Himself and washed their dirty feet.
"Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. And supper being ended, the devil already having put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciple's feet, and wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, "Lord, are you washing my feet?" Jesus answered and said to Him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this." Peter said to Him, "You shall never wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me." Simon said to Him, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to Him, "He who is bathed need only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you." For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, "You are not all clean." So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?" (John 13:1-12)
No human king would do such a thing, and this was the King of the universe! They were undoubtedly confused at Jesus' role in this lowly service done for them. Jesus did not want His station to make them miss the important point so He asked, "Do you know what I have done for you?" (vs 12) He was saying, don't you realize I show you this to illustrate a critical point for your spiritual health and strength? Now pay attention, you disciples. Watch me carefully and learn. You must love, serve, and care for each other.
"Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For as I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, "The servant is not greater than His Lord; neither He that is sent than He that sent Him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." (John 13:13-17)
1). Jesus commanded: Don't play Church. Too few people see the true importance of fellowship with the body of believers. They may have one or two good reasons for going to church beyond just hearing the preaching, but then never fulfill those reasons for being there. Go to church with purpose:
Community Worship Of God.
We must let people see our love for God so that it might strengthen them. That strengthening is vital for the strength and cohesion of the body. Without the element of community worship, the focus has the tendency to remain on oneself and what the assembly can do for me instead of how I can be a strength to edify my brother in the faith.
We must let people see us busy serving God to the end of winning the lost. It gives people purpose and inspires action. Clubs and associations grow because of this powerful social principle that is in our nature. We imitate what we see. We enjoy belonging and working for a good cause. And this is more than just a cause, it is a divine calling. God commands us all to serve Him so that our brothers can be strengthened by our example.
Share Our Strengths - Share Our Weaknesses.
There is an accountability factor that we have to our brothers. God has given spiritual gifts for the body's spiritual health and the ultimate goal of winning the lost. There is a human factor that is answered in the gathering of ourselves together properly. In doing so, we are strengthened against sin, shown our blind spots regarding sin, and saved much pain because of the prevention of sin. In every family, there are weak members and there are strong members. It is our duty, commanded by God, to confess our sin to one another, should we be weak, thereby becoming strong.
Do not neglect so great a salvation by allowing our assembly to be so weak that it can not reproduce itself. Am I my brother's keeper? The answer is a resounding yes!
In part 2 of this series, we will discuss what real fellowship means. How important is fellowship? Why should I take moments away from my family to serve others? Just how much should I love my brothers anyway? Don't I need to concentrate on my own life to serve God the best? These questions and others we will consider in the next two parts of this study.
It is possible as you read this article that you could not relate to the elements of family, friends, community or fellowship. Maybe you are a loner or one that has not given much thought to God or a body of believers that need you among its number. Well, know that God is calling to you to come to Him. Maybe you are one that has seen much hypocrisy in church and has bad feelings about religion. I, too, hate religion and have written articles explaining that what I talk about here is, in fact, not religion but a relationship with God.
Do you know Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? Have you at any time in your life come to the end of yourself and realized you need a Savior and called out to God to save you? If not, it is not a hard thing to do. With a couple of things in place, such as belief and faith, you can call to Him in prayer and ask Him to come inside your heart forever.
First, you must look inward, inside of yourself and your beliefs. Do you believe that God came to earth in human flesh to die for the sins of all mankind, including yours? Do you believe that sinners here on earth killed Him and that He was dead three days in a tomb? Do you believe that He was raised on the third day to sit at God's right hand? If you do then we can go on to what you believe about yourself.
Do you believe that you are a sinner and you need a Savior? The Bible says that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." That does include me and you. I called out to him out of my sin and asked Him into my heart and you can too. Pray this:
Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a condemned sinner and I am in desperate need of You to save me. I call out to You from the midst of my sin and ask You to save me. I believe in the Gospel which is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and I am willing to turn from my sin to You as the only way of salvation. I promise to follow You and Your will all the days of my life. Thank You for saving me for I pray this in Jesus' holy name. Amen.
Others in this series of independent articles: