By Rob Beames
Sin was officially here to stay when Cain pulled off the first murder in history, using deception and lies to kill his brother. God shortly intervened after the deed and asked, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:8-10).
If the answer to that question wasn’t completely obvious, it was later explained in detail by Jesus saying, “I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22). So, of course, Cain was his brother’s keeper and so are we. Not only are we not to kill our brothers, we are to love them unconditionally as did Jesus, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). It’s clear that we not only have an obligation to the male members of our biological family, but to anyone who is spiritually related to us through Christ, and given the rest of Scripture, we have no right to limit the recipients of our love, kindness and mercy.
However, we don’t have to feel the burn of guilt because we don’t do this very well. At least, not for long. Christ took care of all of our guilt, but we should seize the opportunity to love our brother whenever possible due to the massive love shown to us by the same act of Jesus which wiped away our guilt. It’s our calling and privilege, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
In his book The Prodigal God, Tim Keller brings a unique insight to the most famous parable Jesus told. It forces us to evaluate whether our hearts currently resonate with the younger son or with the elder brother. Keller asks who it was that sought after the younger, prodigal brother, and similarly, the lost sheep and the lost coin in the two parables preceding this one. Although we know it is the father who runs to meet the younger son as he returns, Keller rightly points out that the older brother should have risked everything to go out and bring his brother back home where he always belonged regardless of what was said or done. But instead, the elder son breeds a heart of self-righteousness as he compares his actions, which have the appearance of responsibility, to the foolishness of his brother. The elder brother begins to feel that he has earned the love of his father by his loyalty and diligent efforts, while his idiot brother has traded all that he had for the love of prostitutes. It is easy to relate to the older brother and his objections, living in our reward-based society. The older brother is exposed for providing the appearance of service, love and devotion only to get what he believes is coming to him for his hard work. The point of the story is that neither brother returned the father’s love and generosity: neither by outward rebellion nor by self-serving motives cloaked as righteousness. The one showed he didn’t love the father because he demanded what he wanted from him. The other proved his heart was essentially of the same composition by his secrete expectancy to be rewarded with that which he dare not ask of his father.
So, we know we shouldn’t kill our brother. That’s usually doable, but what keeps us from loving our little brothers who openly spit in the face of Christ or who might show contempt for God’s rule and authority? What stops us from showing compassion to our big brothers who have born the weight of doing the right thing every day, but in their pride curse God when things don’t go their way? How do we avoid condemning ourselves when we fall into either of these extremes?
With the clear direction to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper, there’s only one way we can be motivated to show love to hearts shackled by the grip of following after something which isn’t God. Over and over again, God beckons His sons and daughters to come back home to him. We are told to “taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8). We can always expect a consistent and lavish response from the Father. No matter how far our efforts to run away from home have taken us or how long our journey has kept us away, our Father speaks to us with kind words, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3).
The fear of losing our inheritance will only move us to action for so long. Guilt over the many ways we have failed God and others is a powerful motive for repentance, but can quickly become a burden too heavy for us to carry. If these are the only things which motivate us, perhaps we need to let God love us a little more, find His compassion at a greater depth and discover His grace for a longer time. Whenever we struggle with these conditions of the heart, we should allow him to convince us of His deep love directed toward us. Whenever we feel that God is unfair to us, we should allow Him to remind us how ridiculously wrong that is. He is so good to us even while we are miles away from home, face down in the pig slop. He continues to love us although while we grudgingly go through the motions, taking for granted the great privilege of being near him and possessing everything He has.
In the end we will respond with genuine motivations by His grace as we focus, not on our perceived worthiness to be loved, nor on the worthless identity we used to have in our sin, but rather on His unconditional, indescribable goodness and love for us.
(I believe He wanted me to remind you of this.)