How does God handle our attempts to honor Him when we’re not quite sure of what He’s expecting from us? Will we be acceptable as long as we’re sincere? Let’s take a lesson from a very early example:
In Genesis 4, we are introduced to a man who sought to bring to God something he personally valued. Cain was a tiller of the ground, in contrast to his brother Abel, who was a keeper of flocks (Genesis 4:3). The crops brought forth by the sweat of Cain’s brow were the first thing he thought to offer to God. It makes sense, doesn’t it? There is debate about whether God had already communicated to them about what He desired in the form of sacrifice. But one way or the other, this first attempt to please God with what each brother desired to bring Him sheds a lot of light on how God deals with worship attempts that are “right on target” and those that aren’t.
Notice that Cain was the first to bring an offering to the Lord. He wasn’t trying to “one-up” or compete with his brother – he was sincerely seeking to please the Lord. It says that the Lord “had regard for Abel and his offering.” The Hebrew word for “regard” literally means “look toward.” The offering that Abel gave got God’s attention, as it were. But it says that “for Cain and for his offering He had no regard.” Try to picture it in your mind. God is a parent who is aware that His two children have each come to Him, saying eagerly, “Father, I brought you something!” Cain arrives first… and God doesn’t look in his direction. Abel arrives next and God smiles, showing appreciation for the gift.
Wait a minute, though… how is that fair? If Cain is a tiller of the ground, what does God expect? Here is the key. God gives Cain a chance to understand in verses 6 and 7:
“The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.'”
The reason God did not show appreciation for Cain’s offering is that He desired something else: an offering from the flock. The neat part about this is that God did not condemn Cain’s offering… He just didn’t accept it. This becomes very applicable to every generation that would follow Cain: we do not show love for God when we only offer to Him what WE would desire or expect. We demonstrate true love for God when we take the time to find out what it is HE desires and expects! What would have happened if Cain had said, “Ooooh, I get it. Okay, Father!” and came back with an offering of sheep? This is profound, ladies! This is why I get frustrated when people say that worshiping with a band up front is simply a matter of our preference, or that we can assemble to worship on Saturday if it’s more convenient for us than on the first day of the week as we find in Scripture. If we do not “do well” (a.k.a. learn from our error instead of continuing in error), sin is sneaking up on us because we are seeking to meet our own expectations and not God’s. Not a big deal? What about Cain? Let’s take a look at Cain’s response and see if we can learn why this is such a big deal:
“Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” (4:8).
Why did this happen? It was the proof: Cain’s first error provided a moment of decision for him. He could either humble himself and correct his error, choosing to make the necessary changes to honor God, or he could become defensive and not change. “But why isn’t my offering as good as Abel’s? That isn’t fair!” It’s very clear how quickly we become the “victims” when we are not accepted “just as we are.” When we are expected to make a change, the positive aspect of improvement is forgotten when we choose to look at it with Cain’s attitude. Notice that God did not reject Cain – His words in verse 6 make this evident: “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” This is future tense! God rejected his worship, but was not denying him the opportunity to do the right thing. Rather, He was showing how willing He was to accept him if he learned from his mistake.
We know the rest of the historical event. Cain killed his brother Abel. It was the proof of God’s statement – if we are unwilling to learn from an honest mistake, sin is the next step in the natural progression. Consider it a practical psychology lesson from God.
This is the lesson: be teachable. Do not view correction, rebuke, or even gentle reproof as a rejection of who you are. If we play the victim and choose to remain as we are, we display Cain’s attitude – the attitude that says “This is just the way I am! I shouldn’t have to change anything about myself!” Blatantly refusing to change who we are to conform to our Creator’s expectations is the launch pad for all kinds of sinful behavior. Attitudes like this are the reason we have so much pain to deal with in the world. Cain bore a punishment that was painful to him; God pulled everything he cherished out of his life and made him a fugitive. Eve lost a son, and her words in verse 25 show that Cain’s actions hurt more than just himself: “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.”
We should not be surprised when we learn we are not perfect. God doesn’t condemn us for not being perfect – the purpose of the Scriptures is to help us identify imperfections so we can correct them. God helps us in our walk with Him, testifying about when we do the right thing and pointing it out to us when we do not. Here’s the application: when you read God’s Word and you discover an attitude, action or behavior in your life that is contrary to what you read about God’s expectations, don’t play the victim and get defensive or argumentative! Choose to make a change. Be proactive. Listen to His favorable statements about those who did well. Choose to imitate them and enjoy the blessing of acceptance.
“By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.” – Hebrews 11:4
By Keeley Rollert
Keeley and her husband David are current students at the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver. They are planning to graduate next year. Find this and other great posts on her blog at http://wifeofapreacher.wordpress.com.