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Am I my brother's keeper?

Keeping others from temptation by considerate behaviour

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother, Abel?” “I don’t know”, he replied “Am I my brother’s keeper?”(Gen 3:9)  Of course, Cain knew exactly where his brother was, but the question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” rings down the ages.

Within the Body of Christ, we have a family responsibility to one another as God’s children. Paul talks about this in Romans 14 and in 1 Corinthians 10:23-33. The context of both passages seems to be eating and drinking, but in 1 Corinthians 10:32, he states, “Do not cause anyone to stumble.”  These passages clearly indicate that we do have a responsibility before God for our brothers and sisters in Christ – and, indeed, as a witness to those outside the Kingdom.  

As TFT members, our focus on obvious sexual sins can perhaps make us blind to more hidden sins (especially pride and selfishness) that are so often the root of other problems in our lives.  Because we know and experience a level of freedom in Christ (John 8:36), it is easy to ignore the effect our actions can have on others. But sometimes when we reflect honestly, our actions might be exposed as fundamentally selfish.  How much do we really think of others more than ourselves (see Jesus’ example in Philippians 2:3-4)? How often do we use our freedom as an excuse to put ourselves first?

Eating and drinking may seem to us to a fairly trivial issue in the 21st century.  Nevertheless, many of us might have wondered how a person who abstains from alcohol (perhaps due to a previous addiction) could be reacting to our freedom to drink.  With practice, we probably come to a conclusion on what course to take in each situation, and hopefully it is appropriate.

How often do we use our freedom as an excuse to put ourselves first?”

When we start to think about our position in the Body of Christ, it becomes apparent that we firstly have a responsibility to all of our fellow members and, secondly, that the principles apply to a wide range of behaviours. How much are we challenged by what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:26: “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it”?  I was convicted a few years ago by what Watchman Nee wrote in his book (“What should this man do?”), implying “if one part sins, every part is affected.”  It made me realise that because of the unity we have in Christ, any sin I commit affects the health of the whole body.  That is quite a heavy responsibility if we take it to heart: rather like the butterfly effect, do we take the effect of our actions on the rest of the Body seriously enough?  How much do we recognise that we are one in Christ Jesus?

A simple example: do we think carefully about what we wear in certain situations?  Are we being provocative or modest? Instructions such as 1 Timothy 2:9 (“Women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing”) needn’t be limited to women.

These verses are deeply challenging to all of us who struggle with sexual temptation:

 “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality;  that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable,  not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God;  and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.”  – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6

We can easily fail to realise that what we are doing or saying may be taking advantage of someone. It can be all too easy when sharing our own stories to become a stumbling block for others through flirting, hugging, graphic descriptions of behaviours/fantasies, taking others to gay bars etc. Even when we feel that we are strong in these areas, mentioning such things could be triggers for someone else. Are we guarding our tongues in conversations (real or virtual)? Paul cautions us, “it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret” (Ephesians 5:12). How we behave and what we say in these areas has consequences for fellowship.  Friendships have been broken, and feelings hurt.  Above all, the Body of Christ has suffered.     

It is not my intention to bring us all into condemnation but to make us think and remind us of our debt of love to one another. I know I have fallen short in these areas on a number of occasions.  However, God encourages us to high standards: Peter writes, “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16). A key part of that is making efforts to encourage and edify our brothers and sisters rather than being a stumbling block in any way.

Let us encourage and edify our brothers and sisters rather than being a stumbling block”

In conclusion, I have realised that I have not used the word “church” in this article.  I have stuck to the phrase Body of Christ, because that is who we are.  We are individually and corporately responsible for being Jesus in the world today, and how we treat each other is vital to that witness. In John 13:35, Jesus commands us to love one another other and makes clear that is how He wants His Church to be known:

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

This article was published in the Christmas 2018 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend, under the title, "Am I my brother's keeper?".