He Ain't Heavy
The song was first recorded in 1969 by Kelly Gordon, but made popular later that same year by the recording done by the Hollies. The lyrics speak of having a caring attitude toward one’s fellow man as we travel this road of life and, if you are old enough [like me], you remember hearing the song by the Hollies and maybe you have even sung the well-known title line from the chorus: “He Ain’t Heavy — He’s My Brother.”
The concept promoted by this song is one we should embrace; none of us lives entirely of self, without help from someone, and in spiritual matters, this is all the more true. This attitude of caring for one’s brother stands in stark contrast to the attitude of Cain, for when he was asked by God, “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain replied with that now-infamous reply, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). Cain, of course, said this after having already killed Abel his brother, angry because Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God and his was not.
I hope we know that this reply was unacceptable to God then, and it is just as unacceptable today. God has always wanted man to care about his fellow man, and even more so amongst His people, whether it was the Israelites under the Old Law, or Christians living under the New Testament. Under the Old Law, it was commanded, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18), and reiterated by Jesus as the second great commandment (Matt. 22:39); in the New Testament, Jesus stated plainly, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). It would be impossible for God’s people to be pleasing to Him if they did not love their neighbor; pleasing God was always more than just self.
The concept of caring for our fellow man is, again, an expectation of man that God had from the beginning — highlighted by the example of Cain and his apparent indifference. When God codified His laws and expectations for the Israelites, within those commands were numerous references to their daily interactions with their fellow man and which implied [and demanded] concern for others, more than just concern for self. For example: The Israelites were commanded, “You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him” (Exod. 22:21); or, “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray, and hide yourself from them; you shall certainly bring them back to your brother” (Deut. 22:1). The motive behind these and many other laws could be summed up in the greater command to love one’s neighbor as yourself.
Concern for one’s brother or fellow man did not cease being an expectation for God’s people when the New Testament was made effective by the death of Jesus, either. As we noted earlier, Jesus gave a new command that, in fact, elevated that concern to a higher level! Love and concern for our brother is implied in the rhetorical question of John when he asked, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). The clear inference here is that love should motivate us to help our brother whenever we see him in need. In other words, “Yes, I am my brother’s keeper!”
We see the proper attitude of concern for a brother in the early disciples, of whom it was said “had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44, 45), and, “they had all things in common…Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need” (Acts 4:32-35). It is evident that they, too, saw themselves as their “brother’s keeper,” and their duties toward their brethren was not too ‘heavy’ for them to bear.
One of Paul’s charges to the Christians in Rome was that they be “distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality” (Rom. 12:13), and this can only come from a genuine concern for one’s brother or fellow man. Peter’s admonition to the early disciples added, “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet. 4:9). We will make a pitiful example of love if, while we are showing hospitality, we are complaining every step of the way and begrudgingly ‘helping.’ True concern and love does not consider the cost of our help; consider the example of the Samaritan in the story Jesus told, and the fact he was a prime example of following the command to love one’s neighbor (Luke 10:35).
As Jesus also noted in the Sermon on the Mount, our concern is not to be restricted to those just like us, or even to just those we prefer. His command was clear: “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away” (Matt. 5:42); please note the lack of any qualifying terminology there! Whoever asks of us, we are to give!
Our concern should, of course, be demonstrated most often in concern for the spiritual condition of others. Just as John inferred a love of God should motivate us to help a brother in need of material things, when we see one who has a spiritual need, should that not move us even more to act to fulfill that need? After all, if Jesus was willing to leave behind the glories of heaven and the glory and honor of being deity to lower Himself to come to the earth in the form of lowly man, and to suffer such a cruel death to pay the price for our sins, is it too much to ask to put forth our greatest effort to reach the lost souls for whom He died?
The apostle Paul believed he should be doing whatever he could for the spiritual concerns of others, revealing to us, “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more” (1 Cor. 9:19), and, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). To Paul, pointing others to Christ and the salvation He made possible was more important than his own personal comforts and desires. He would also write, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Phil. 4:11, 12). It should be noted that Paul suffered all these conditions because he was going about preaching the gospel to lost souls; their eternal salvation was more important than his personal comfort. How about us?
Paul’s admonition to the Christians of the region of Galatia pointed to the need for helping whoever had need — and let us note the context was speaking of spiritual matters. To them, he wrote, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:9, 10). The “good” here [in context] is speaking of spiritual things; just as Jesus commanded we give to whoever asks, we must be willing to provide the spiritual needs of whoever we find in need, without reservation.
While we may not actually say or think our brother is too ‘heavy,’ the fact is, we often find lots of excuses why we do not step up when we have the opportunity. We may not think our brother is too ‘heavy,’ but he sure can be inconvenient. — Steven Harper