“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:7
What is the greatest privilege that we have in our lives? Any human being at any time in human history can worship his or her Creator, the Almighty God. There is no greater act that a human being can give or do than to fall humbly before his or her Maker and offer a gift. We are going to begin a new series discussing the battles that get in the way of us doing the most important thing in life. Your lifestyle should be a 24/7 worship experience before our Almighty God, giving Him your best with the right attitude.
Genesis chapter 4 has the first recorded worship experience in the Bible. There are a lot of “firsts” in this chapter. We have the first child ever born into the human race, the first son, the first parents, the first earliest professions in the world: crop farming and shepherding. We have the first recorded blood sacrifice, first really angry person, first murder, and first bold disrespect against God. It is incredible! In the very first worship experience we have our very first “worship war.” There is a huge disagreement between Cain and God that resulted in war in which Cain killed his brother. We have had worship wars from Genesis chapter 4 to this very day.
Here is how the story begins. Eve got pregnant. She had a baby named Cain. The name Cain means “to acquire, to get.” With the help of the Lord, Eve “got” him and gave him this name. Sometime later Cain’s brother Abel came along. His name meant “breath, vapor, vanity.” It was so descriptive of him. Back in Bible times, people lived a LONG time–600 to 900 years. He no sooner got out of the gate of life than he was gone. His short life was such a stark reminder of the curse mentioned in Genesis chapter 3, which says that the major consequence of sin is death. There is no mention of Cain and Abel in the Bible other than this experience in chapter 4. This is the only place we get a glimpse into the lives of Cain and Abel. God told Abel that He loved him and his way of worship, and He told Cain that He had a hard time with Him and His way of worship. This is what caused this worship war. God had a conversation with Cain and told Him that He didn’t like his way of worship, and Cain had a bad attitude that didn’t resolve itself. Cain got very angry, and invited his brother for a walk in the field. There Cain ambushed Abel and killed him. God came a second time and told Cain to change his way of worship. Cain refused to repent and turn his heart around, so God punished him severely. Cain had to leave his home and profession and enter a strange land. For the rest of his life he lived as a fugitive and vagabond. What was it that God didn’t like about Cain’s offering, and what did He like about Abel’s offering?
Worship is not something we do once a week at church and then go out and live our lives. Going back to the first worship experience is perhaps the most powerful instruction on worship we will find anywhere in the entire Bible! In Genesis 4:3 it says, “Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground.” This sounds pretty nice. Next thing you know, God isn’t happy, Cain is angry, and Cain then kills his brother Abel and is banished. To understand what is going on in this verse, we have to go to the Old Testament sacrifices, get a little help from the New Testament, and work that backwards into the story.
True worship means that we must worship God on His terms, and not on our terms. That was the issue in this story, and that is the issue throughout history. The propensity of human beings is to worship God on our terms and not God’s terms. God is telling us here that we cannot do this and please Him. God wants to be worshipped on His terms and in a way that pleases Him. In this story, Cain shows us how not to worship and Abel shows us the proper way to worship the Lord. One way is right and the other is wrong.
We should not worship God according to the way of Cain. In the book of Jude, he talks about people who come to church, who are religious and look spiritual, but are out for their own agenda the rest of the week. Much of the time they are greedy about life and even sensual. Jude tells the people this is bad news. In Jude 1:11 he calls their lifestyle “the way of Cain.” The way of Cain has to do with a sub-par offering, and a bad attitude. This way will bring a person into pseudo-worship, and he will live his lifestyle outside of the will of God. We have no idea in Genesis chapter 4 how many times offerings by Cain and Abel were previously brought before God. The story centers on one particular instance. Cain was a crop farmer who brought God an offering from his harvest. The Hebrew word for offering is “minhah,” which means in secular language, “a gift of allegiance and honor.” The Hebrew people in their worship gave a special offering to God of gratitude for all that He did and as an act of reconciliation. They wanted to be sure that they were right with God. Cain brought his minhah before God, and God was not happy with Cain nor his offering. Back then, Cain and Abel could have conservations with God just like Adam and Eve had with Him. We obviously do not have those same kind of conversations today. God probably instructed Cain and Abel during His conversations with them how to please Him. Cain and Abel knew what they were doing when they worshipped before the Lord. Later on in the Old Testament, God wrote down laws about the minhah. Proverbs 3:9 says, “Honor the Lord with the firstfruits of your produce.” Cain failed to bring the firstfruits of his offering. This was the first mistake in the way of Cain. He brought an offering he knew would not please God. In Hebrews 4 the Bible says that Cain’s offering was not accepted or commended as righteous before God. In 1 John 3:12 it says that Cain’s offering was evil, and Abel’s was righteous. Cain simply refused to bring God what pleased Him. Cain knew better! Cain brought God what pleases himself. God clearly tells us in the Bible what pleases Him.
We have to remember to worship God not according to what we like to do, but what we know pleases God. Some people like old hymns and some people like contemporary hymns; some like formal services and some like casual services; some like organs and some like guitars; some like silent reverence and some like celebration and sound. Here is the mistake: We come to worship and we think that God’s preferences are the same as ours. We think that what pleases us pleases God too. Since when is worship about offering God what pleases us? Worship should be about offering God what pleases Him. God tells us in the Bible what pleases Him. There is far more that pleases God than what we can even fathom. We often place God in this narrow slice of what we like and what pleases us, and God simply is not there. God wants us to liberate Him from what pleases us to what pleases Him. God wants us to come outside of the box.
The second mistake Cain made was worshipping with a bad attitude. Cain’s attitude was dismissing of God. He took God for granted, and he did not take God seriously. God does not appreciate dismissing attitudes with Him. Cain’s attitude was captured by anger. This anger got a lethal grip on him that ended up in murder. Cain’s attitude was disrespectful towards God. Cain gave a smart aleck answer to God when God asked him where was his brother. He bantered with God, and he started to argue with God about his punishment. Cain had a lot of nerve, and no fear at all towards God. Cain’s attitude was unrepentant. He could have confessed his sin and repented, but he refused. This meant God had to pass judgment on the attitude that caused his behavior. Cain started to quibble with God about his punishment and his sin. How often we do that as Christians! We come under the hearing of the Word of God, God speaks to our hearts, we refuse to hear what He tells us, things happen and then we get angry at God at the consequences. Instead we should be saying, “God, my attitude stinks. I need to repent.” Cain refused to do this at all. To go further into the way of Cain is to go further into unrepentance. The way of Cain is giving God something that does not please Him in worship. Worship is not something we do only in church on Sunday mornings. Worship should be our lifestyle. The way of Cain is having a stinking attitude when God speaks to us, and we refuse to come His way. If you recognize anything in your heart and in your spirit that reflects anything about the way of Cain, you have a very dangerous posture before Him.
The good news is that you can instead worship in the way of Abel. Abel was a shepherd who tended sheep. Abel brought God an offering out of His livelihood–a sheep. While Cain brought a common offering, Abel brought the firstborn. He knew better than to bring God second best. The point is not that Abel brought a blood sacrifice and Cain did not; the point is that Abel brought his best gift, and Cain did not. Isaiah said the same thing in chapter 1. Malachi chapter 1 also says the same thing. You can offer God fruit as an offering, but do not give God common or polluted fruit! Abel could have given God regular and blemished animals. Then God would have had to speak with Abel as He did to Cain. The word for offering in Isaiah and Malachi is the same as in Genesis chapter 4, minhah. Not matter what time period or in what location you find yourself in today, you need to bring to God your minhah–your very best. God doesn’t want the same kind of thing as someone else gave or the cheap thing in life. God is pleased with our very best. Where is YOUR stance when it comes to worshipping before God? Hebrews 11 tells us that by faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain through which he was commended as righteous. God commended Him by accepting His gift. Abel gave an offering in the right attitude. Faith means to believe God for what He has said, even though it sometimes seems difficult or impossible. We need to have an attitude of faith.
There are two different things developing in Genesis chapter 4: the line of godlessness is society (Cain) and the line of God’s people (Abel). We are the people of God. We definitely do not want to be the people of Cain! In Genesis chapter 4 we see the beginnings of the way of worship–the way of Cain and the way of Abel. Worship wars are over preferences: Our ways versus God’s ways. Genesis 4:7 says, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it. ” Think of sin as a crouching, pouncing animal at your door waiting to devour you. If you do well in worship, you can rule over the monster of sin in your life. If you do not do well in worship, that monster will take over some area of your life. You will be defeated in some area of your life. It is critical that we worship well! Do you desire to tame the monster of sin in your life? When we worship God in the way of Cain, we lose the battle of sin in our lives. When we worship God, we get victory over sin that we cannot get in any other way. These are the stakes of life. Do a quick evaluation in your heart right now. Do you identify with any of the ways of Cain, or are you more like Abel? Which path are you following? Don’t give to God halfheartedly your second best! Give to God the very best you have to offer with a right heart. Gain victory over sin in your life today! It is revolutionary to know which way you worship.