It’s popular in both religious and non-religious circles. You’ll find the phrase frequently used in men’s groups and in pop culture magazines. It’s been used as the title of multiple cinematic and literary works and even if you’ve never cracked open a Bible, you likely know that the term, “Brother’s Keeper” originated within its pages.
God asked a masterful question to Cain. “Where is your brother, Abel?” It may not seem like a profound question not he surface, but it elicited the self-condemning response He was after. Cain suspected he’d skirt the question with another question, hoping God would just move on, but all it did was further show how disconnected His relationship was with his creator. In that moment, He wrongly assumed God’s feedback loop was limited.
Of course, God knew Abel’s location, and Cain’s response proved that he knew his brother’s location as well. “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” It was a pain filled response. It was a response of regret and his language exposed his shame.
In the Old Testament, “to keep” means to watch over, too guard. The role of a “keeper” is the role of a bodyguard. A protector. An overwatch. Cain’s use of the word was not in context with the question. Cain gave the worst response possible. He could have said, “I last saw him on the hillside,” or “He was tending to the sheep.” Both of those would have been lies, but they would not have been self-condemning.
In using the word, “keeper”, Cain showed he was aware of harm that had happened to Abel. “Am I his body guard? Am I responsible for keeping him from harm? I am I supposed to watch over him every second of every day to ensure he doesn’t get hurt?”
In saying he “did not know” Abel’s location, he unknowingly admitted he was the offender. God asked for a location, Cain gave Him a confession. How do we know it was a confession? Because of God’s follow-up question, “What have you done?”
God does not question us for His understanding, but for ours. He leads us to search out our inner demons and expose them so that we may be free. He uncovers our motives and presents us with an opportunity to deal with them.
Cain’s response condemned him but empowers us. God never directly answered Cain’s question. He did not say, “Yes, Cain, you are your brother’s keeper,” but He made his intention clear through Cain’s harsh punishment. To answer the question, yes, you are your brother’s (or sister’s) keeper. You are to be their overwatch, to guard them, to protect them.
In a self-serving world it is not uncommon to use your brother or sister as as stepping stone to your own advancement. It’s not uncommon in the business world, or even the church world, to throw them under the proverbial bus. It may make you look better, wiser, or more loyal, but what you leave behind is a pain soaked trail, littered with relational roadkill.
There are times when the assault on your brother or sister is intentional. There are times where it is done out of ignorance. If you serve a discerning leader, they’ll know the difference. They have an uncanny ability to see through the noise. When all one brings is bad news about their brother or sister, chances are, you’re dealing with a Cain spirit. If they exalt themselves by disparaging others, you might be dealing with a Cain spirit. If they downplay their successes and promote their shortcomings, you might be dealing with a Cain spirit.
Unfortunately, gossip is often rewarded with proximity. There is nothing to be personally gained by shielding your brother or sister’s shortcomings and proclaiming their successes. Nothing of this earth, anyway. But it certainly matters to God.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” – Philippians 2:4
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8
“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and evil.” – Luke 6:35
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2
God is a rewarder. He rewarded Abel when he brought the proper sacrifice. He rewards those who ultimately “keep” their brother or sister as well. Yes, IT IS your responsibility to guard your brother and sister. After all, it’s much better to align yourself with Abel and give your life, then to align yourself with Cain and take a life that doesn’t belong to you.
Thankfully, Jesus felt the same way when He gave his life instead of taking ours.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13.