Which are we?

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:9 NKJV)?


“Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, ‘My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you” (Ruth 3:1)?

I overheard a conversation in Asia. One asked about how a certain work was going to be done. The reply was, “That is not our headache. It is the contractor’s responsibility; let him take care of it.” On one level, that is not an unreasonable response. We might have better stated it, “It is not really our business, let him do the job his way.” But in the context of the conversation the attitude of the responder was basically, “I don’t care – let them handle their own problems without my help.

Cain’s famous reply to the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, has stood from almost the beginning of time as the prime example of exactly the wrong attitude towards others. From God’s decision to create a companion for Adam because, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18), the imperative for each one to look towards the needs of others has been taught. Christians are commanded, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Naomi and Ruth are excellent models of concern for others. Ruth refused to be parted from her mother-in-law, regardless of cost to her own future (Ruth 1:16-17). In her turn Naomi took responsibility for Ruth’s future happiness and security (Ruth 3:1).

Ensuring that things are well for others is one of the key principles taught by Jesus. It is summed up in the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). By this he was not speaking of emotions or feelings, but rather of a commitment to the well-being of those around us. “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). This instruction follows and explains the command to “have the same love” (Philippians 2:2).

It is natural for one to assume that the opposite of love is hate. After all one is the most intense good will which one can feel for another while the other is the most intense ill will. Yet is that really the true opposite? If love is the possession of good will, is not its opposite the lack of feeling or concern? The opposite of love for others is total selfishness. Hate at least considers others, and is aware of them. In the estimation of the selfish person others don’t really even exist.

Cain’s professed indifference to Abel was a more telling comment upon his own character than if he had openly claimed to hate him. In his world, only Cain mattered. Abel was a non-entity, someone else’s problem to keep track of.

In today’s over-populated world, this kind of indifference to the rest of mankind is typical of far too many — “Let me take care of myself, and of that which belongs to me, and everyone else can worry about themselves.”

But Jesus continues to compel us to love one another, to seek others’ well-being. We are taught to be like Naomi, not Cain. Imagine how different this world would soon become if all those who claim to follow Christ would simply obey that commandment. Until we do, our claim to be his disciple is false (John 13:35).

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