“Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
The first human relationship we’re shown in Scripture, other than Adam and Eve, is Cain and Abel. It ends in murder and this simple response to God’s inquiry: “…am I my brother’s keeper?” The whole story of Israel reflects an oscillation between love and hatred of neighbor, with devastating consequences for Israel and her neighbors.
Thousands of years later, our response, though different in language in vocabulary, remains the same. We live as though our actions only affect us, and as if our brother’s actions only affect them. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
When we neglect time in prayer and in the Word, it affects us, yes. When we watch pornography, when we overeat, when we exalt the opinions of others, when we engage in sex before marriage…we immediately consider the short-term consequences for ME. Most of us see this and feel the nagging guilt. And somehow, we convince ourselves that it is okay as long as we are the only ones affected. We can handle the consequences. We are attuned to the “cause and effect” world that God has made.
But we are near-sighted, unable to see the effect on everyone around us: our spouse, our friends, our co-workers, our boss, our children. Suddenly, our sin kept in private is unleashed, devouring everyone around us. In the same way that a small act of kindness is “passed on,” small acts of evil are passed to everyone we touch.
But this attitude doesn’t stop there. In the same way, when we see our brother, sister, spouse, family member…giving in to the deceitfulness of sin, we look the other way. Left to myself, I am a “peacemaker,” valuing the comfort of staying out of conflict much more than the potentially uncomfortable consequences of rocking the boat and telling a brother or sister something they don’t want to hear. This is a constant battle for me. But if I truly consider myself my brother’s keeper, this is not an option, it is an obligation. Sure, it may not affect me directly, but it affects my sister, her spouse, her children, her co-workers…the consequences are endless. God’s pronouncement is that it is not good for man to be alone. He has created us FOR each other: for each other’s flourishing.
In the Kingdom of God, we ARE our brother’s keeper. This is a central part of our identity as we seek to fulfill the greatest commands to love God and love our neighbor. God’s very design demands that we consider our brother, and even prefer him. Consider Jesus. If he had preferred his reputation over love, he would not have reached out to the “untouchables” of society. And if he had preferred his comfort over love, he would never have subjected himself to the excruciating pain of the cross. The ripple effect of his choice to be his brother’s keeper has changed the course of history. And as partakers in the new creation and kingdom that Jesus instituted, we too embrace our calling to be our brother’s keeper.
Instead of choosing solitude, we choose the gathering of the saints. Instead of choosing to keep our sins to ourselves, we choose to bring them into the light, eliciting the encouragement and accountability of those around us. We choose to surround ourselves by true friends, those that love our holiness over our comfort. We choose to fight against the individualistic tendencies of this generation, choosing instead to be a hospitable people, welcoming and inviting. And as we embrace our true identity, our true humanity as our brother’s keeper, we serve as a fragrance of the knowledge of God to those around us.