Sunday, January 29, 2017

Lessons from Cain and Abel

At a cursory glance there would seem to be little to glean from the account of Cain and Abel aside from the most basic of lessons.  To many, the “moral of the story” may merely be: Murder is wrong.

However, a deeper study can reveal further insights.  Through this account we can learn about God’s attitude toward worship, the nature of sin, and more.

Let us turn our attention to the account of Cain and Abel once again to see what wisdom we can attain from it.

Not All Worship is Acceptable to God

Notice that Cain becomes angry with Abel when he realizes that God respects Abel’s offering, but not his own.

Genesis 4:3-5 And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.

Apparently there was something wrong with Cain’s offering.  Was it the offering itself or was it the attitude of Cain?  Throughout the Old Testament we read that God commanded blood sacrifice from various livestock.  Abel supplied such an offering from his flock while Cain, a “worker of the ground”, offered some manner of fruit or vegetable.  Cain was disappointed to find that what he deemed an acceptable offering to God was not actually acceptable in the eyes of God.

If we’re not careful, we can make the same mistake today…  God’s Word gives us clear instructions for the manner in which we ought to worship.  If we deviate from God’s pattern, God is not pleased.  It was true in the Old Testament, it remains true in the New Testament.

Matthew 15:9  And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
The commandments of God are what matter, not the commandments of men.  We must understand that regardless of what mankind may reckon to be acceptable to God, if it is outside of God’s pattern He will not be pleased.  Our worship can be in vain if we are not following God’s pattern.

The Faith of Abel

What was it that made Abel’s offering so pleasing to God?

Hebrews 11:4  By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.

The Hebrew writer tells us that Abel’s faith was an integral component in God recognizing his offering as pleasing.  It was Abel’s faith that guided him into righteousness in God’s sight.  We can follow in Abel’s footsteps today.  How?

Romans 10:17  So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Faith in God’s Word provides us with all the instruction we need in how we ought to worship and live righteously.

Faith is essential for pleasing God.

Hebrews 11:6  And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.

Faith is essential for salvation.

John 8:24  Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.

If we desire to please God and attain His salvation, faith like Abel’s is vital!

You Cannot Worship with the Wrong Attitude

We have already discussed the possibility that Cain’s offering was not pleasing to God because it went against His instructions for proper sacrifice.  But further study reveals that this was just part of Cain’s problems…

1 John 3:12  …Not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.

Here Cain’s works are called evil.  Even before Cain murdered His brother, we see that his heart was not in the right place.  God speaks to Him and warns him of future sin.

Genesis 4:7  If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.

Our method of worship is important, but the attitude that accompanies that worship is just as important!

John 4:24  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

It’s not enough to worship God “in truth”, adhering to God’s pattern of worship detailed in Scripture, but we must also worship God “in spirit”; We must have the proper attitude.  Cain did not exemplify the proper attitude when it came to worship.

Mark 11:25-26  And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.

Cain was jealous of his brother and angry with him while seeking to worship God.  Are we guilty of the same?  Are we coming to worship God with sin in our heart?

Sin is Avoidable

It is important to realize that the story of Cain and Abel did not have to play out the way that it did.  Cain could have avoided sin altogether.  In fact, we read that God actually encouraged Cain to do the right thing and reminded him that he had the power to overcome temptation.

Genesis 4:7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.

Cain, had free will, just as we all do today.  It is only when we succumb to temptation that we engage in sin.

Matthew 26:41  Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

To avoid sin we must seek the strength of God.  Only in doing so can we overcome the weakness of the flesh.

1 Corinthians 10:13  No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

God offers to help us avoid temptation and sin, but we have to be actively involved with a willing spirit.

The Progression of Sin

The account of Cain and Abel clearly illustrates the progressive nature of sin.  At first, Cain was merely jealous of Abel.  He was angry that Abel’s offering was pleasing to God while his own offering was not.  This anger escalated to the point that Cain lashed out at his brother in a murderous rage.

Jesus tells us that all sin – murder included – begins in the heart.

Matthew 5:21-22  You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.

The argument of the proverbial “slippery slope” is a very unpopular one, but that is the way sin works!

James 1:13-16  Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.  Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

The unfortunate, ultimate conclusion of sin is spiritual death, eternal separation from God.  It all begins when we allow sin to have even the slightest foothold in our heart.  We must strive to avoid temptation at all cost!

You Can’t Hide Sin from God

Sometimes we read of God asking questions to which He already knows the answers.

This is a phenomenon that I understood somewhat as a teacher, but now have a much better understanding of as a parent;  When one of my students or my child does something wrong, one of the first things I do is ask them what they did, not because I don’t know, but because I want them to understand the seriousness of the misdeed they chose to engage in.

In the same manner God confronts Cain with his own sinful deed, helping him understand the gravity of the situation…

Genesis 4:10  And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.

Whether it’s Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:9), Cain, King David (2 Samuel 12:1-15), Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), or us today…  God knows when we commit sin.  We cannot hide any wrongdoing from His sight.

Numbers 32:33  But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out.

We know that we will be judged according to our works.

Ecclesiastes 12:14  For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.

We Are Our Brother’s Keeper

In the course of being confronted by God - standing condemned of the horrible sin of killing his brother - Cain actually has the nerve to ask Him, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

God doesn’t bother to answer Cain’s evasive inquiry, but a Christian knows that the answer to that question is “Yes!”

James 2:15-17  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

We cannot ignore the needs of those around us.  Christians are obligated to care for others!
While this is certainly true in the physical sense, it is also true in the spiritual sense.  The spiritual well-being of others must also be our concern!

Galatians 6:1  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.

As Christians, we are to love all.  This particularly applies to those within the church, but we are charged with looking out for the well-being of all we come into contact with.  We must love our neighbor!

1 John 4:20-21  If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

God Still Loved Cain

Of course, the story of Cain does not end with the murder of his brother.  After God confronts Cain with his sin, Cain is given his sentence.  We read that Cain is cursed to be an exile for the rest of his days, wandering the Earth as a fugitive.  Subsequently, Cain becomes fearful and worries that he will be killed.

There seems to be no evidence that Cain was ever remorseful for his sin nor that he ever repented.  His name actually became synonymous with rebellion (Jude 1:11).

However, in spite of all this, we see that God still cared for Cain.

Genesis 4:15  Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.

In the same way, Christ cares for us today.

Romans 5:8  For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

We have all been guilty of sin.  For such rebellion we deserve death.  We certainly do not deserve forgiveness.  But Christ loves us so much that He was willing to die for us anyway and make forgiveness – the remission of sin – possible.

What are we willing to give in return for this indescribable, unrepayable gift?

Let’s strive to be better than Cain and take a cue from the faithful offering of Abel.

Psalm 51:16-19  For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—  These, O God, You will not despise.  Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion;  Build the walls of Jerusalem.  Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, With burnt offering and whole burnt offering;  Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.

Based on a lesson by John Baxter

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