By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – Genesis 4:9
There was a term we used when I was growing up: “my brother’s keeper.” It’s been a while since I was a little kid, yet I remember what we meant by that term back in the “old” days.
Thinking about this term now makes me wonder...what does being “my brother’s keeper” look like today in our 21st-century society?
Has this Bible verse meaning changed? Or has how we apply the meaning changed? Let’s consider these questions and more as we look at this story in Scripture.
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Where Is ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ in the Bible?
Some people may not be aware, but this phrase has its origins in Scripture. The story behind this quote involves the first two brothers recorded in human history, Cain and Abel. To refresh your memory here is the story:
Two brothers are born to Adam and Eve. Cain was a farmer and Abel raised livestock. They both bring offerings to God. Cain chose some vegetables from his harvest to bring as an offering. Abel brought the very best of his livestock as an offering to God. God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s.
In his anger, Cain killed his brother.
As familiar as I am with this story, it still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that Cain killed his brother, not over that. I guess that proves that when sin enters your heart you are prone to do irrational things.
After killing his brother, God stepped in and began a conversation with Cain, here is that conversation,
“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – Genesis 4:9
What’s fascinating is the first time this term is used has nothing to do with the way we use it today. Cain was being cynical, showing no regard or genuine concern for his brother, after all—he had just killed him. This is very different, the exact opposite of the spirit with which we use this phrase today, which is to look out for your brother.
Other Translations of Genesis 4:9
When you read this verse in some of the other translations, you also notice Cain's lack of concern for the actions he just took.
NLT - “I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”
The Message - He said, “How should I know? Am I his babysitter?”
The Living Bible - “How should I know?” Cain retorted. “Am I supposed to keep track of him wherever he goes?”
ERV - Cain answered, “I don’t know. Is it my job to watch over my brother?”
Clearly, Cain wasn’t the type of older brother he should have been for Abel.
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What Does the Bible Say about Brotherhood?
Let’s turn the page forward because the goal is to understand what does being “my brother’s keeper” look like today. Not surprisingly the bible has a lot to say about this topic. Here are a few scriptures to speak to this point:
Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. - Hebrews 13:1
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. – 1 John 4:20-21
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. – 1 John 3:16
For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. – Galatians 5:13 (NLT)
As you can see, the Bible speaks volumes about how we treat each other and our responsibility to each other.
There are so many verses in the Bible about loving each other. Caring for each other. Looking out for others' interests. Far too many to fit into one article. Jesus summed it up best in Mark 12:31 “…Love your neighbor as yourself…” That is the heart and crux of the matter.
In fact, Jesus said in John 13:35, that the identifying mark for everyone who is my disciple will be the way you love one another. Oh, that we the church would take this to heart and always display true brotherly love towards each other.
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4 Biblical Ways to Be Your Brother's Keeper Today
The responsibility of caring for your brother is something that will never go away. So, what does being 'my brother’s keeper' look like today? Let’s consider some ways and areas we can look out for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
1. Represent Christ on Social Media
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors… – 2 Corinthians 5:20
One of the biggest ways we can look out for each other is by watching what we project on social media. We must remind each other that we represent Christ.
An ambassador is someone who has been sent by one country to be its official representative to another foreign country. Christ has sent you to be his representative to a world that is lost and needs him. You are his agent.
Sometimes we get on the pages of social media and we forget this fact. If we are going to really care about our brothers and sisters and be their keeper, let’s remind them that even in this space we must still shine the light and show the love of Christ.
2. Practice Discipleship
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. – Matthew 28:19-10
Jesus gave us two commands before he left. One was to preach the gospel and the other was to make disciples. When we preach or share the gospel we don’t control the outcome. All we can do is share it.
However, he told us to make disciples. If we can make them, then we can play a greater role in the desired outcome.
At the heart of discipleship is one word that Jesus used…teach. To make a disciple requires that you invest time in a person’s development. You have to teach them the word of God. You also have to allow them time to learn how to walk out God’s word in their everyday life.
Therefore, discipleship is a commitment you must make if you really want to be your brother’s keeper. Thankfully, there are many different ways to make this happen. Let’s be sure we take the time to get it done. Your brothers and sisters deserve it.
3. Create No-Judgment Zones
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. – Galatians 6:1
If we are going to be our brother’s keeper then we have to create no-judgment zones. This means letting people know that they won’t be condemned for their struggle. Let’s be honest, we all have areas of weakness and temptation. Some are more visible than others, but we all have them. We have to allow people to share their struggle without fear of judgment. Let me be clear, no judgment doesn’t mean no correction, but it means no condemnation.
If someone is sincerely seeking help to break free from whatever is holding them back, or from a poor decision that led to sinful activity, we need to help them. Galatians 6:2 says:
Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
When someone comes to you with a burden, let’s make sure we are carrying it and not making it heavier for them. If we do that, we will be fulfilling the law of Christ which is to love your neighbor (which includes your brothers and sisters) as yourself.
4. Keep Others’ Confidence
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. – James 1:26
One of the greatest fears people have is that they would share their “business” and it somehow ends up all over the church. Unfortunately, I have heard pastors preach people’s “stuff” from the pulpit. It’s funny how this happens and then we wonder why people don’t want to reveal their struggle. People should have full confidence in you that if they tell you it will go no further.
You have probably seen a scenario like this. Someone tells a person something in confidence. That person then goes to someone else and says I will tell you, but you can’t tell anyone else.
By the time this cycle has finished, everyone knows what’s going on. So much for telling someone in confidence.
In John 4, Jesus engages in a conversation with a Samaritan woman. In the midst of the conversation, her “stuff” comes up. Actually, Jesus brings it up. When the disciples finally returned, you don’t see Jesus telling them all about this woman.
He kept her “stuff” in confidence. We must do the same.
If we are going to look out for people and care for them the right way they have to feel safe knowing that whatever they share with you will go no further.
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Even If Cain Wasn’t a Brother’s Keeper, We Are Still Called to Be
When you wonder what does being ‘my brother’s keeper’ look like today...the thought has the same meaning it has always had: to look out for my brother.
The irony is that Abel didn’t say it because he was looking out for his brother. As we have seen, it was quite the contrary.
Nevertheless, if we are going to impact the world...if we are going to preach the gospel and make disciples...then we have to take this phrase seriously. Truthfully, the world watches how we who carry the name of Christ interact with each other. They pay attention to the way we treat those who don’t know Jesus. If they don’t see the love of God flowing through us, how on earth will they ever be attracted to our wonderful savior?
How you treat your brothers and sisters matters. If I was to ask you today: "are you your brother’s keeper?" I hope you would see the answer is a resounding yes. It’s the same answer it’s always been. And the same answer it will always be.
A Simple Prayer for Us All to Be ‘Brother’s Keepers’
Fill me with the love that only you can give so I can love my brothers and sisters the way you want me to love them. Amen.
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