Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on May 17, 2009.
"Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen. 4:9, RSV).
The topic of sibling rivalry is as old as Cain and Able and as fresh as today's news, but the answer to Cain's question, "Am I my brother's keeper" still eludes most of us. Countless sermons have admonished us to take care of our brothers and sisters. Of course, these needy folk are not limited to our birth families, but usually include people in our church congregations, or in times of disaster, the list is expanded to include our entire community or nation.
When God asked the question of Cain, the murderous deed was already done. Able was slain and thus, beyond any need of keeping. Clearly, the sin which God told Cain was "crouching at your door," had won; Cain had lost the battle to master it, and now was under a curse because he had murdered his brother Able (Gen. 4: 6-12). This story probably raises more questions than it answers as the account is sketchy in some important details, such as how Able knew to bring an animal sacrifice in worship to God, but Cain did not. Or perhaps, he did know, but decided since he was a farmer, he would bring the works of his own hands instead. If that were the case, it would be the second instance of man's self effort gone awry, the first one being Adam's decision to eat the fruit after being told specifically that the day he ate of it, he would surely die (Gen. 3:1-6). Like father, like son, both men received due recompense for their hasty and ill thought out decisions to go against the word of the Lord.
The question remains for most of us though, is it my responsibility to save my brother from himself? Must I die that he may live? Is his eternal salvation my job to secure? If he sins, will I be held accountable for it? In my early zealot days as a Christian, I would have answered, "Yes," and gotten an "A" from my Sunday School teacher, my mother and my grandmother. Now that I'm older and wiser, having taken many trips through the cactus patch and laps around Sinai, I believe the answer is "NO!" to all these questions. Each of us is accountable to God individually. Yes, we can be a blessing to others, but we do not bear the burden for them, according to Paul: "For every man shall bear his own burden" (Gal. 6:5, KJV). The mandate that runs through families and churches that we are responsible for each other is nothing more than "codependency run amok." As I've said before, codependency (a knee jerk compulsion to "fix" others' problems) is a very difficult compulsion/addiction to break because it is so encouraged by church and family leaders. In some families and churches, this addiction is viewed as supreme righteousness rather than a primary, progressive, chronic and fatal dis-ease.
Am I saying that if my brother is drowning I shouldn't throw him a rope? No, we save him when he needs temporary help, but we don't live his life and make his decisions for him. Here's the context of Paul's statement in the Phillips' translation: "Let every man learn to assess properly the value of his own work and he can then be rightly proud when he has done something worth doing, without depending on the approval of others. For every man must "shoulder his own pack" (Gal. 6:4-5, Phillips). We know instances where an adult child is never required to do anything to help himself, because the family suffers from the delusion that they are doing their Christian duty to rescue the one who seems unable to cope, without realizing that their efforts may be the very cause of their dependent's incapacity. If by your actions, you project onto a person that he is incapable of making it alone, and needs you to tell him or her what to do, he may very well believe it and act accordingly.
The Bible is full of stories of sibling rivalry which illustrate the point. The animosity between Ishmael and Isaac has come down to this day, as their descendants struggle for dominance in the Middle East. That sad fact is a direct consequence of Father Abraham trying to take matters into his own hand and help God keep His promise to provide an heir. That proved to be "self effort gone ballistic," you might say. Esau and Jacob come to mind here. In their case, the bad blood between them began at birth, when Jacob was born with his hand on his twin brother's heel. Reading the story, it is obvious that Esau was Isaac's favorite and Jacob was Rebekah's. The twin sons acted out the rivalry between Isaac and Rebekah as to who would control the family's destiny. By trickery and thievery, conniving and lying, some of it dreamed up by Rebekah, Jacob stole the birthright (Gen. 25:19-34), and obtained the blessing of the first born (Gen. 27: 1-41).
Though Esau was not a murderer like Cain, he did plot to kill Jacob when Isaac died, but was prevented from carrying it out because Jacob ran for his life to his mother's people in Padan Aram (Gen. 28-29). That was an "out of the frying pan into the fire" experience, because Jacob had to deal with a father-in-law more devious and rascally then himself. Brotherly love never manifested between Jacob and Esau except superficially, late in their lives at the only "family reunion" they had (Gen. 32-33:1-14). Terrified his brother would kill him, Jacob gave Esau lavish gifts to appease him. Not an ideal situation, one might conclude, and certainly not lasting friendship. There was mutual hostility between Jacob's descendants, the Israelites, and Esau's descendants, the Edomites, for generations.
Fast forward the tape to Jacob's children. He fathered 12 male children by two wives, Leah and Rachel, and their two maidservants. Of these, he showed favoritism to Joseph, Rachel's eldest son: "Now Israel (Jacob), loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age, and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him" (Gen. 37:1-3). Here you have a clear statement of how sibling rivalry sometimes begins with a parent's favoritism of one child over the other. The brothers plotted to kill Joseph, but Judah persuaded them to sell him to some Ishmaelites who were en route to Egypt (Gen. 37:12-36). They sold him for 20 pieces of silver. That has a familiar ring to it, doesn't it? (Gen. 38:28; Matt. 26:15). Interestingly, under the law, this amount was set as the price for dedicating a person as holy to God (Lev. 27:1-5).
Certainly, Joseph was set aside as holy to God, for as God had foreseen, he was to be the savior of his people. When a famine compelled his brothers to go to Egypt to buy grain, they encountered him again. It's one of the sweetest stories in the Bible of how he forgave them, and blessed them in spite of the terrible things they had done to him. When he revealed himself to them, they were terrified of reprisal, but he reassured them, "And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you...to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance" (Gen. 45: 1-11). Joseph is a foreshadowing of Christ, who gave His life to save the very men who nailed Him to a Roman cross:
"And we can see that it was at the very time that we were powerless to help ourselves that Christ died for sinful men. In human experience it is a rare thing for one man to give his life for another, even if the latter be a good man, though there have been a few who have had the courage to do it. Yet the proof of God's amazing love is this: that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:6-8, Phil). Salvation is for sinners, including Adam, Cain, Jacob, Esau, Judah, Ruben, all who betrayed Joseph, and all of us as well.
Sibling rivalry is generated by a lack of something, be it love, approval, wealth, power or control. Since there seems not to be enough to go around, the siblings fight each other for what little there is. With God, there is always enoughof what we need to go around. That He saves sinful men proves that we don't have to fight to get the goodies. His grace is for ALL MEN (Rom. 11:32).
Reading the Old Testament through the lens of Law, the way I did the first 25 years of my life, caused me to see only sin, corruption, and punishment, usually hell fire and damnation. To be shown grace instead of punishment, love rather than contempt and mercy triumphing over justice, is God's gift to His children by the Holy Spirit. It makes reading the Bible a thrilling testimony of our Father's unconditional love and enduring mercy. When Moses asked to see God's glory, he was put into the cleft of a rock and covered with the hand of God so that he could not see the face of the Lord. "The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Ex. 34:6).
Sibling rivalry accounts for many of the world's problems today. The Israelis struggle against the Palestinians and the other descendants of Ishmael; Americans struggle with the cultural and political divide between conservatives and liberals, which is sibling rivalry manifesting itself in both the self righteous elder brother and the prodigal son.
The Apostle John wrote, "And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also" (I John 4:21). How do we accomplish that? I maintain that we are POWERLESS to do it without God's help. A friend called last week to say that she is benefiting greatly from OA (Overeaters Anonymous), which is a 12-Step Program, based on the AA model. Lenny and I worked a Codependency Recovery Program based on the same model. When I recited Step One, "I am POWERLESS over the addiction," she protested, "But I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me." Good answer if she had understood fully what that meant, but I intuited that she probably thinks she should be able to do this on her own steam rather than depending upon Christ in her to do it through her.
If the Bible tells us anything about the affairs of men and women, it is that we can do nothing good on our own. It was "while we were still helpless, Christ at the right moment died for the ungodly" (Romans 6:5, Wey.). We are helpless, powerless, and totally incapable of serving God on our own. This is why even Jesus had to surrender all to His Father: "not my will but Thine be done!" (Luke 22:42). Until my friend triggered these thoughts, I hadn't equated the 12 Step Program to this series of writings, "Surrendering to God."
No matter what issues we face, what struggles we have or what hardships we endure, the only way out is surrendering our will to His will, for He alone can prevail, endure, and be victorious in us, for us, and through us. He has already done all things for us in Christ, in whom we continually abide and He in us.
Father, Your plan, written before the foundation of the world, never fails, nor falters nor disappoints. All praise and honor to You, now and forever as Your Kingdom is manifested in Your children. Amen. Jan Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Surrendering to God is harder than giving a cat a pill
Working for Jesus? Surrendering to God, II
Fighting the Good Fight? Surrendering to God, III
A Covenant With Death? Surrendering to God, IV
The Family Fix, Surrendering to God, V
Your Mortal Body, Surrendering to God, VI
Echoes From Sodom, Surrendering to God, VII
Judgment: His or Ours? Surrendering to God, VIII
Why did Christ have to die? Surrendering to God, IX
The Pearl of Great Price, Surrendering to God, X
Tested by Fiery Trials? Surrendering to God, XI
Sibling Rivalry, Surrendering to God, XII
When Parents and Churches Fail, Surrendering to God, XIII
The Blessed Hope of His Appearing, Surrendering to God, XIV
Does God Need Us? Surrendering to God, XV
Does God Need Our Faith? Surrendering to God, XVI
The Glory Road
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This site was created on 05/10/09
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister