Who Is My Brother?
Immediately after Adam and Eve were driven from the garden of Eden, the story is given of the interaction between the first two brothers on earth. Genesis 4:8 records the sad account of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. When God asked Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”, he replied, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Jesus taught His disciples, “you are all brethren” (Matthew 23:8) as they endeavored to secure for themselves titles and positions of advantage in the anticipated kingdom. While Jesus certainly loved His earthly family, He emphasized the close spiritual family ties between Himself and His followers when told that His mother and His brothers were outside His audience and wished to speak with Him. “But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and 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
When we wish to avoid the responsibility we have toward others, we may be tempted to employ the tactic used by a certain lawyer mentioned in Luke’s gospel (Luke 10:25-37). He came to Jesus inquiring, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked him what was written in the law. The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27. Jesus then told him he had answered correctly and could live eternally if he would do those things. The lawyer then asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then told the story of the Good Samaritan, the point of which is that our neighbor is whoever God gives us the opportunity to help.
There is a tendency to think that one’s brother is someone much like ourselves. That is, our brother shares our nationality, social class, and speaks the same language as we speak. We should remember that neither Jesus nor the apostles spoke English, lived under a constitution such as ours, enjoyed our freedoms…the list could go on and on. How do we understand and deal with different kinds of brothers? Our happiness and usefulness in God’s Kingdom are at stake as we consider the question, “Who is my brother?” This article, and perhaps a second one, will deal with this question.
Our brother may be a “prodigal” who has come home to his father or our brother may be like the “elder brother” who stayed home in his father’s house (Luke 15:11-32). The son who took his father’s blessings and wasted those blessings in a shameful, wasteful, disrespectful manner of life is the brother who wanders far from God, repents and finally comes back to his father who receives him with great love. The other son in the story never leaves home or his father and is very proud of his good service. However, his heart is devoid of forgiveness toward his brother who has sinned so much. The father, at the end of the story, demonstrates that he loves both his sons very much. Let us hope that the “rest of the story”, if we but knew it, would reveal that his sons learned to love each other.
Our brother may be a poor, disadvantaged person with a bad background or an affluent brother who is held in great esteem by other brethren. The first brother’s name is Onesimus, the second one is Philemon. Onesimus needed a fresh start in life, and by the grace of God came in contact with a gospel preacher who was in prison himself, but was busy sharing the “good news” to all who somehow came in contact with him. Through this encounter and association with the apostle Paul, Onesimus is converted and is encouraged to return to his master Philemon. He is sent (perhaps with a letter from Paul, which we have as the book of Philemon) with the confidence that his master will receive his runaway slave with forgiveness and love. Our circle of brothers may include those of very bad background and low social status, and also brothers who are at the other end of the social/economic spectrum.
Our brother may be one who has erred from the truth he once knew (and perhaps taught to others) or the brother who is strong enough to help restore his brother to a correct understanding and to faithful service. James 5:19, 20 tells us of these two kinds of brothers: “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” Galatians 6:1 is a similar description of these brothers: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”
Let us pray that we will cultivate an understanding of “Who is my brother?” to the extent that we will respond to the needs of our brother and that we may expect that our brother(s) will quickly respond when we “wander from the truth”, or are “overtaken in a fault”! May God help us in the course of our lives for Him to be those who are ready to be our “brother’s keeper”!
When the apostle Paul finally landed at his destination, after a long and difficult journey, he was met by brethren who had heard of his arrival. Luke records: “When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.” (Acts 28:15b). The strength we gain from or give to others who are traveling the same spiritual road as we are is immeasurable. James Swain has written in his song “How Sweet, How Heavenly”:
“How sweet, how heavenly, is the sight,
When those that love the Lord
In one another’s peace delight,
And so fulfill the word.
When, free from envy, scorn and pride,
Our wishes all above,
Each can his brother’s failings hide,
And show a brother’s love”