Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

By Scarlett Stough

 

Soon after Cain killed his brother Abel, he sullenly answered God with this question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The short answer is, we are.

The LORD said to Moses, “…Do not hate your brother in your heart….” (Leviticus 19:1, 17)

Jesus taught: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘you fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

And we think Moses was tough!

Peter left us a list of characteristics that he, inspired by God, exhorts Christians to increase in their lives. One of those is brotherly kindness. The Greek word philadelphia refers to fraternal affection. In the King James Version, it is translated as brotherly love in Romans 12:10, I Thessalonians 4:9, and Hebrews 13:1. It is translated brotherly kindness twice in II Peter 1:7, and love of the brethren in I Peter 1:22.

We might ask, “Who is my brother?” Jesus answered this question: “Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Matthew 12:48-50)

The Apostle John reminds us, “…now we are children of God….” (I John 3:2) Since God is our Heavenly Father, all of us who belong to Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit are brothers and sisters, members of the same spiritual family. We all know that brothers and sisters fight, compete, and often dislike one another in our human families. In some families, affection and blood ties keep the relationship strong as the siblings forgive and put up with each other. In other families, old resentments and neglect weaken or destroy the family bond. This can happen among Christians. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other,” Paul warned the church in Galatia. (Galatians 5:15)

How do we maintain and increase affection for one another? We have to spend time together sharing our joys, our sorrows and our labors. We make allowances for differences of opinions. We put up with whatever is annoying to us. We repent and forgive. We don’t allow anything to sever that bond. This works in our human families and it works in our church families. God does not allow anything to destroy his love for us. So must our love endure, both for him and each other. (Galatians 5:13-16; I Peter 2:17)

The New Testament has many instructions and admonitions on how Christians ought to treat one another. Jesus and the Apostles refer often to the Old Testament in their teachings. See Matthew 22:37-40; Matthew 5:17-20; II Timothy 3:16-17.

God has given us some specific instructions on acts of brotherly kindness in the book of Leviticus:

  • Share your food. Leviticus 19:9-10
  • Don’t steal from one another, lie to or deceive each other. Leviticus 19:11
  • Don’t defraud or rob. 19:13
  • Don’t withhold wages. 19:13
  • Don’t take advantage of those who are physically disabled. 19:14
  • Don’t pervert justice; judge fairly without partiality. 19:15
  • Don’t slander or do anything else that endangers your brother’s life. 19:16
  • Don’t seek revenge or bear a grudge. 19:18
  • Love your neighbor (which includes your brother) as yourself. 19:18

Further instructions are recorded in Deuteronomy:

  • Cancel any debt a brother owes, which occurred during that era every seventh year. 15:3
  • Don’t be hardhearted or tightfisted toward a poor brother. 15:7-11
  • Return a brother’s lost property if you find it. 22:1-4
  • Consider the foreign born to be your brother. 23:7
  • Don’t charge a brother interest. 23:19

One of the things God hates is “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16, 19) On the other hand, God praises unity among brothers. (Psalm 133:1) Jesus prayed for unity among his followers. The apostles rebuked and warned against people who caused divisions within the brotherhood of believers.

Many New Testament scriptures reinforce the principles behind these ancient laws given to Israel by God.

For example, Paul gives an admonition against putting stumbling blocks in front of a fellow believer, a brother in the faith, which echoes and broadens the law against placing stumbling blocks in front of a blind person. (See Romans 14.) He also gave a warning against enabling sinful behavior in a brother. (I Corinthians 5:11-13; 8:9-13; Leviticus 19:17b; II Thessalonians 3:6, 15)

Jesus is not ashamed to claim Christians as his brothers (and none of us can claim to be without sin). Neither should we be ashamed to call our fellow Christians brothers in spite of our conflicts and disagreements.

Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (Hebrews 2:11)

Our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ must be sincere and be given from the heart with acts of kindness, not just sentimental feelings. Warmth, smiles and hugs are important, but so are meeting real needs. (I Peter 1:22; 3:8-9; James 2:14-19)

 

For the Scripture References and related Bible Study Guide, go to Bible Study Guide: And to Godliness, Brotherly Kindness.

 

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