Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 6 January 2022:
Genesis 4:8 — Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.
A theme for today’s readings is the heart of worship.
We read in Genesis that, after the Fall, Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. Abel was a herdsman and Cain was a farmer. Eventually, both Cain and Abel brought offerings to the LORD from their respective labors, Cain brought produce, and Abel brought a sacrificed animal. The Bible says, “And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So, Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” (Genesis 4:4, 5)
Now the Bible doesn’t specifically say in Genesis 4 why the LORD found Cain’s sacrifice unacceptable, but it does specifically record Cain’s response – anger, which gives us a clue to what the actual problem was. Some have assumed the problem with Cain’s sacrifice was that it was produce and not a blood sacrifice. However, throughout the Old Testament, we will see that both animal sacrifices and first fruit sacrifices are at times accepted and at times rejected by the Lord, and ultimately neither sacrifice atones for sin –
– Jeremiah 6:20 — What use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba, or sweet cane from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing to me.
– Isaiah 1:11-15 — What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
– Amos 5:21-23 — I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
– Hebrews 10:4 — For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
The issue with Cain’s unacceptable sacrifice wasn’t the type of offering presented to the LORD but rather the heart behind it. Cain was going through the motions of worship (ascribing worth and honor to the LORD) without a genuine heart of worship. Outwardly, the ‘religious’ activities of Cain and Abel looked very similar, but inwardly they were completely different. Abel sought to humbly honor the LORD, while Cain offered to the LORD from a heart of pride and expectation (“I did something for you, so you should do something for me. Now, I deserve your blessing.”) Abel was celebrating the worthiness of God, while Cain was attempting to show God his own worthiness. God was first in Abel’s life, but Cain was first in Cain’s life, and while Abel sought to serve and honor God, Cain wanted God to serve and honor him. Jesus called such people “hypocrites,” which basically means stage actor, pretending to worship God for profit.
So, when his sacrifice was not accepted, Cain became angry, and he directed that anger towards Abel in the form of envy. The deadly passion of envy incited Cain to murder Abel just as it incited the chief priests to murder Jesus – “For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.” (Mark 15:10) Envy is resentment of God projected towards others because God has given them what the envious thought they deserved and didn’t receive. James explains, we quarrel and murder because we want what others have, and we don’t have because we don’t ask God for it, and when we do ask God for it, we ask for the wrong reasons, we ask selfishly rather than selflessly. (James 4:1-10) Simply stated, anger, envy, and jealously are contrary to true worship and signal a pride which defies the Sovereignty of the LORD.
Hebrews 11:4 tells us, “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain….” Abel’s sacrifice was merely an outward sign of the faith, hope, and love he had in his heart before the LORD, and God knew his heart. Conversely, 1 John 3:11, 12 says, “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” Cain’s offering was unacceptable before he ever approached the alter because he didn’t have a heart for God or others, he was unloving and self-centered.
In Genesis, the LORD warns Abel, “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” As we will see throughout the entire Bible and as we clearly observe in life, sin is never satisfied, and it grows like a forest fire from a spark. Cain’s anger resulted in fratricide, which impacted Cain’s entire lineage. Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander…. You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 15:19; 5:21-24) We must “rule over” sin by seeking the LORD with all of our heart, not simply going through outward religious activities but rather growing in love for the LORD day by day, a love which is outwardly expressed by loving others wholeheartedly. James goes on to tell us, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:7-10) Jesus said the greatest, the ultimate commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) True worship is continuous and starts and ends with love –
– Romans 12:1 — I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
– Psalm 51:17 — The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
– Hebrews 13:15-17 — Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
– Ephesians 5:2 — And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
– Philippians 4:18 — I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.
– Hosea 6:6 — For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
In today’s readings in Matthew 4, Jesus is tempted by the devil (tempted outwardly but never inwardly). Notice how Satan tempted Jesus: He attempted to distort God’s word and attempted to get Jesus to “put the LORD to the test,” by having the LORD (the Father) serve Him, rather than vice versa. He attempted to have Jesus put Himself first, to demand blessings and recognition (honor) from the Father. Consider the parallels here with how Satan tempted Adam and Eve. Note that while in perfect conditions, paradise, Adam and Eve submitted to Satan’s temptations, much like Cain surrendered to sin, while Jesus in the desert after forty days without food, resisted Satan’s temptations. Our circumstances, our environment, our education, our family, or any other external factors don’t cause us to sin, our heart does. We are controlled by what we love most. If we love self most, our actions will ultimately be selfish and self-centered. If we love the LORD most, our actions will be selfless and loving, blessings to the LORD and to others as acts of worship to the LORD. Jesus’ overcame temptation through genuine love for the Father, and everything Jesus did was genuine worship, regardless the conditions or circumstances – “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.” (Matthew 4:10)
Acceptable worship is love. Love obeys God, not out of fear or expectation but out of a genuine desire to honor the KING and to serve Him. Love also obeys God for the benefit of others because all sin hurts others. Acceptable worship is loving others as God loves them for His glory. Is your worship acceptable?
– John 14:15, 21 — If you love me, you will keep my commandments…. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him…. If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.
– 1 John 5:3 — For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
– 1 John 3:24 — Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
– 1 John 3:9 — No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.
– 1 Timothy 1:5 — The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
– James 1:27 — Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) — 6 Jan 22: Today, pray that God will increase in you a heart of genuine worship and seek to honor God and serve others in all you do today as acts of worship acceptable to the LORD.