Am I my brother’s keeper?

Dear BPCWA worshipper, When asked by God “Where is Abel thy brother?” Cain replied with callousness and impudence, “. . . I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9). Yet, Cain knew precisely what had happened to Abel for he had murdered him in cold blood earlier. This was despite God’s prior warning to Cain about the state of his heart “Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?” and that “. . . sin lieth at the door.” (Gen 4:6,7). We will not go into the discussion of what motivated the first murder in mankind’s history, but I want to consider today Cain’s defiant question to God. Am I indeed my brother’s keeper?  Am I expected to care about my brother’s well-being?

Don’t blame me. Am I supposed to be concerned about how my life may affect others? Why should I? It is my life. This was last week’s pastoral, where we saw how the natural man wants to pursue their own pursuits. This week, I want to take it a step further. We need to see another aspect this attitude leads to – since it’s my life, I do not want nor see it necessary that my life should be “crimped” by anything or anyone. For example, if my disobedience to God’s commands in my life will adversely affect someone else spiritually, I do not care. I do what I feel is “necessary” by my own standards and preferences. When God’s Word, whether through preaching or other means, corrects us on areas that are what we feel are our arena or our “private” life outside of the appearances at church, we inwardly bristle in anger at the intrusion into our privacy and personal rights of our own life. It may be about my family, what I decide to do, how I will spend the resources that God gives me – what has anyone to do with it? It’s my life! But what if God happens to be that “One” that commands otherwise? If what you want to do affects another or others negatively, how will you react? Will we still go ahead with it, after all it’s my life and what have they got to do with it? I can still reluctantly accept if I am judged for my actions, but why must I be held responsible for another’s actions? They can take care of themselves. After all, doesn’t the Bible say “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son” (Eze 18:20)? So, we think defiantly in our hearts, “Don’t blame their sin on me, I don’t control their actions!”

My life affects others. We live in a society where individualism is encouraged, and conformity is despised in many ways. The sad reality is, the more one stands out, the more one is admired. Social media hits rise exponentially when one posts something radically different from others. How will it influence others to take the same risks is not of concern at all. But inwardly, a Christian knows that this is not necessarily the right attitude from a Christian’s perspective. We know that what we do can adversely influence and affect others. So, we should be concerned about our brother’s spiritual well-being resulting from our actions. Let’s take family life as a good example. If the older child does something, the younger typically follows suit.  We often see the younger sibling mimicking almost everything the older one does. Parents preparing for additions to their family hence often encourage their oldest child to be a good example to the younger ones. If the older child runs amok, chances are the younger will be following along too, albeit at their own pace. Younger children will excuse their copycat actions by saying that if the older sibling could do it, why can’t they? In this light, parents must realise that they bear an even greater responsibility by their examples to their children. What parents do, they will inevitably teach their children to do by how they live. This is why the 2nd commandment ends with a warning that God will be “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” (Ex 20:5). You are the one who taught them to sin by your actions. You say you care about your children. Then, you need to care about your choices and actions. God warns that the sins of parents often have an increasing ripple effect on their children who learn their sins. These sins may continue as the children then teach their children the same sins. The earlier statement in Ezekiel 18:20 about personal accountability was in response to the children feigning innocence and saying that they were suffering for their forefathers’ sins (Eze 18:2). In God’s longsuffering, He explains to them that they have practiced the sins of their fathers (verses 10-13) and thus cannot excuse themselves (v19-20). Ultimately, whether you are a parent or an individual, each person has the potential to be an influence for good or for evil. The effect extends even beyond the family life. Why do we discourage children from associating with bad company? Because bad habits are easily learned but difficult to be rid of. Teachers may bear witness to this – a child in a class wants to go to the toilet and suddenly the whole class needs the toilet. Another wants to eat an ice cream and other children have a sudden craving for ice cream too. Though we don’t want to admit it, this happens in the adult world too. Even the unbelieving courtiers in the book of Esther realised this when they advised their king that “Likewise shall the ladies of Persia and Media say this day unto all the king’s princes, which have heard of the deed of the queen. Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath” (Es 1:18). Even when it comes down to fashion, why would some want to dress or look a certain way if not for the fact that they see others doing it and want to follow, to be part of that crowd?  

Christ’s warning. We must not be nonchalant. Christ gives a serious warning about causing others to sin, “It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” (Lu 17:1-2). Does it sound extreme to you? The word “offend” means “to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall”. It means causing one to be enticed to sin and “to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey”. This passage not only shows Christ’s jealous care for the weaker ones. Let us not be the ones that will lead others into temptation because we have chosen to sin, thinking that after all, it’s my life. It also shows Christ’s intense anger against those who stumble others. So, yes, we are our brother’s keeper in this aspect. We cannot impudently feel that it’s my life so I don’t care if what I do causes others to offend. Again, God’s commands will seem very extreme to the world.  Christ makes it clear that my life can cause others to stumble and sin. While we should not blame others for our sins, we must know that we can cause others to sin. Yes, we should not blame others when we sin, which is why when the children of Israel claimed to be righteous and that they were being punished for their parents’ sin in Ezekiel 18:20, it was not a valid excuse.  Yet, we must also not forget that God holds guilty one who teaches another to sin. What we are warned about others being influenced to sin from our sins in Exodus 20:5 is mirrored by other verses in Exodus 34:7 and Numbers 14:18. What is mentioned in Luke 17:1-2 about stumbling others is mirrored by Matthew 18:6 and Mark 9:42. The Bible has repeated warnings about these aspects as seen in these examples alone. Hence, those who choose to sin are warned to be careful that they do not teach and lead others to offend because they “shall receive the greater condemnation” (Jas 3:1). And we can teach others by our actions, though we may not be teachers of the Word.

Individual responsibility to the corporate body. The Bible teaches both the individual and corporate aspects of our identity in Christ. We exist as individuals in Christ’s body, which is why Paul says that “when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.” (1Co 8:12). “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Gal 5:9, 1Co 5:6).  Your sin can be that leaven for those who are affected by you. Instead, let us seek to be commended by our King when we meet Him, to be a positive influence toward holiness, justness, goodness, truthfulness, righteousness, i.e. Christlikeness, motivated by love for Christ, for the building up of His body, the church, which He redeemed with His blood. What will your life be?

Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. (1 Tim 4:12)

Yours in our Lord’s service,