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Brother’s Keeper

Have you heard the saying “I am my brother’s keeper”? This phrase is known to mean someone who keeps, or is responsible for, their brother or sister [1]. But what if one does not have physical siblings to protect? The Bible actually gives us a clear understanding of who can be their brother’s keeper. In the Old Testament, the account of Cain and Abel is where it all began as we begin to receive insight on this topic. In the New Testament, Jesus presents a deeper understanding on what it really means to be your brother’s keeper. What He says about it will challenge what we thought about loving not just our brothers but everyone around us, even our worst enemy.

The origin of this concept is conceived in the account of brothers Cain and Abel, the first children to Adam and Eve. Chapter 4 of Genesis sets the stage by informing the readers that “Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground” (Gen. 4:2) [2]. The brothers brought an offering to God according to their manner of work. Cain brought an offering of “fruit of the ground” (Gen. 4:3) [2], whereas Abel brought “the firstborn of his flock” (Gen. 4:4) [2]. The Bible says God received or respected Abel’s sacrifice, whereas He rejected Cain’s. Do you think that God is truly concerned with animal and food offerings? The book of Hebrews tells us, “sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin you did not desire, nor had pleasure in them” (Heb. 10:8) [2]. God really was looking at the heart posture, or attitude, of how their offerings were given, not what the offering specifically was. The Bible then says Cain was filled with anger and jealousy because God did not respect his offering. As a result, Cain killed Abel (Ref. Gen. 4:5-8) [2], and this is where the famous phrase was born. The Word says: 

Gen 4:6  So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 

Gen 4:7  If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” 

Gen 4:8  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. 

Gen 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?” [2] 

We see that the envy and jealousy of Cain provoked a spirit of murder against his brother Abel. The Word says murder is forbidden (Ref. Deu. 5:17), let alone murdering your sibling. Cain proclaimed that he indeed was not his brother’s keeper, as his heart was filled with hate and rage. God’s ultimate desire was for Cain to repent for what he did and present his offering to Him with a pure heart. 

Now, let’s take a look at what Jesus has to say in the New Testament about this subject. Jesus makes a shocking comparison in His sermon on the mount when it comes to this topic. He says: 

Mat 5:21  “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 

Mat 5:22  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. 

Mat 5:23  Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,

Mat 5:24  leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. [2]

Jesus makes a strikingly similar correlation with His teaching and the account of Cain and Abel in Genesis. He says that when there is anger in your heart against your brother  it is actually the same as murder. At this point you are unable to offer anything to the Lord, unless there is forgiveness and the anger is dealt with. When the scriptures refer to brothers, it is not just speaking about physical siblings but those within the body of Christ, as well as those in the world. Jesus says, “These things I command you, that you love one another” (Joh. 15:17) [2]. Jesus does not say to love only those you like but even those that you don’t like. Look at what He says to His disciples: 

Mat 5:43  “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 

Mat 5:44  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, [2]

When anyone comes against you, whether it be family, friends, or people you don’t know, Jesus clearly says you do not have a right to even dislike them. Even if they’ve hurt you or it seems justifiable to have an ought with them, Jesus says otherwise. This may appear impossible, but with God it is possible to have this heart (Ref. Mat. 19:26).

The Apostle John gives us some insight into how we can walk this out in our lives. 

1Jn 3:11  For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another,

1Jn 3:12  not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous. 

1Jn 3:13  Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.

1Jn 3:14  We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. 

1Jn 3:15  Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 

1Jn 3:16  By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. [2]

We become our brother’s keeper when, despite what those around us do, we show them love. But how do we really love others? Love is not a warm fuzzy feeling, and according to the Bible, we have true love for others when we walk in the light of His word and commandments. John says, “He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him” (1Jn. 2:9-10) [2]. John also says that if we walk in darkness we do not have any fellowship with God, and we are liars who do not practice the truth (Ref. 1Jn 1:5-6). It is so important to understand the only way to truly be our brother’s keeper is to walk in the light of the truth of God’s Word. God is calling all of His people to do this. His desire is for all to walk in His nature. He laid His life down through death on a cross to set us all free. The Bible says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8) [2]. In the same way Christ died for a world that he knew would reject Him, we must also show that same passion for others. When others say things that aren’t true about you or harm us in any way, we show the nature and love of Christ when we choose to forgive and continue to walk in righteousness through His Word. If you want to learn more about how to walk this process out in your life, please visit our V.O.D. library at https://voh.church/watch. Allow the Lord to change your heart toward others and learn how to become your brother’s keeper. 

References:

  1. “What Does My Brother’s/Sister’s Keeper Mean?” Quora, www.quora.com/What-does-my-brothers-sisters-keeper-mean.
  2. The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010.

Keywords:
Brother’s Keeper
Love one another
Bible verses about love
Brothers
Keeper
Cain and Abel


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