An Attitude of Worship
Sermon Text: Genesis 4:1-16
Sermon Theme: A wrong attitude about the worship of the LORD will show in how we treat others. And yet, the LORD’s grace abounds.
When Cain was born, Eve said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. Perhaps she thought that this was the promised seed. If so, she was woefully disappointed. Abel signifies vanity: when she thought she had the promised seed in Cain, whose name signifies possession, she was so taken up with him that another son was as vanity to her. Observe, each son had a calling. It is the will of God for everyone to have something to do in this world. Parents ought to bring up their children to work. Give them a Bible and a calling, said good Mr. Dod, and God be with them. We may believe that God commanded Adam, after the fall, to shed the blood of innocent animals, and after their death to burn part or the whole of their bodies by fire. Thus, that punishment which sinners deserve, even the death of the body, and the wrath of God, of which fire is a well-known emblem, and also the sufferings of Christ, were prefigured. Observe that the religious worship of God is no new invention. It was from the beginning; it is the good old way, Jeremiah 6:16. The offerings of Cain and Abel were different. Cain showed a proud, unbelieving heart. Therefore, he and his offering were rejected. Abel came as a sinner, and according to God’s appointment, by his sacrifice expressing humility, sincerity, and believing obedience. Thus, seeking the benefit of the new covenant of mercy, through the promised Seed, his sacrifice had a token that God accepted it. Abel offered in faith, and Cain did not, Hebrews 11:4. In all ages there have been two sorts of worshippers, such as Cain and Abel; namely, proud, hardened despisers of the gospel method of salvation, who attempt to please God in ways of their own devising; and humble believers, who draw near to him in the way he has revealed. Cain indulged malignant anger against Abel. He harbored an evil spirit of discontent and rebellion against God. God notices all our sinful passions and discontents. There is not an angry, envious, or fretful look, that escapes his observing eye. The Lord reasoned with this rebellious man; if he came in the right way, he should be accepted. Some understand this as an intimation of mercy. “If thou doest not well, sin, that is, the sin-offering, lies at the door, and thou mayest take the benefit of it.” The same word signifies sin, and a sacrifice for sin. “Though thou hast not done well, yet do not despair; the remedy is at hand.” Christ, the great sin-offering, is said to stand at the door, Revelation 3:20. And those well deserve to perish in their sins, that will not go to the door to ask for the benefit of this sin-offering. God’s acceptance of Abel’s offering did not change the birthright, and make it his; why then should Cain be so angry? Sinful heats and disquiets vanish before a strict and fair inquiry into the cause.
Malice in the heart ends in murder by the hands. Cain slew Abel, his own brother, his own mother’s son, whom he ought to have loved; his younger brother, whom he ought to have protected; a good brother, who had never done him any wrong. What fatal effects were these of our first parents’ sin, and how must their hearts have been filled with anguish! Observe the pride, unbelief, and impenitence of Cain. He denies the crime, as if he could conceal it from God. He tries to cover a deliberate murder with a deliberate lie. Murder is a crying sin. Blood calls for blood, the blood of the murdered for the blood of the murderer. Who knows the extent and weight of a Divine curse, how far it reaches, how deep it pierces? Only in Christ are believers saved from it, and inherit the blessing. Cain was cursed from the earth. He found his punishment there where he chose his portion, and set his heart. Every creature is to us what God makes it, a comfort or a cross, a blessing or a curse. The wickedness of the wicked brings a curse upon all they do, and all they have. Cain complains not of his sin, but of his punishment. It shows great hardness of heart to be more concerned about our sufferings than our sins. God has wise and holy ends in prolonging the lives even of very wicked men. It is in vain to inquire what was the mark set upon Cain. It was doubtless known, both as a brand of infamy on Cain, and a token from God that they should not kill him. Abel, being dead, yet speaks. He tells the heinous guilt of murder, and warns us to stifle the first risings of wrath, and teaches us that persecution must be expected by the righteous. Also, that there is a future state, and an eternal recompense to be enjoyed, through faith in Christ and his atoning sacrifice. And he tells us the excellency of faith in the atoning sacrifice and blood of the Lamb of God. Cain slew his brother, because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous, 1 John 3:12. In consequence of the enmity put between the Seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, the war broke out, which has been waged ever since. In this war we are all concerned, none are neuter; our Captain has declared, He that is not with me is against me. Let us decidedly, yet in meekness, support the cause of truth and righteousness against Satan.
[From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary]
- Since we don’t live under the Old Covenant, what are the spiritual sacrifices you are offering to the LORD today? For 1 Peter 2:5 tells you that “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Peter was writing to Christians to encourage them to remain strong in the faith, even through persecution (1 Peter 1:6). He reminded them that they were highly significant in the sight of God and urged them to live holy lives (1 Peter 1:15–16). Under the New Covenant, every believer in Jesus Christ is a holy priest. As priests, they offer spiritual sacrifices through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). Spiritual sacrifices replace the material sacrifices of the Old Covenant (Exodus 29:36). No longer are priests a separate class, and no longer do they offer bulls, goats and lambs on the altar (Hebrews 10:1–11). Not only do believers constitute the new priesthood, but they are the “living stones” forming the spiritual temple of God (1 Peter 2:5). Our worship today involves the offering of spiritual sacrifices. For spiritual sacrifices include the believer’s prayers, praises, will, bodies, time, and talents. Such sacrifices are made acceptable to God only through Jesus Christ, the great High Priest. Thus, we can say that spiritual sacrifices are any words or deeds motivated by a desire to glorify God alone. Jesus promised us rewards for every kind action done in His name (Mark 9:41; Revelation 22:12). But we don’t offer spiritual sacrifices for what we will get out of it. We offer them without strings attached because our hearts long to live in close fellowship with God. Sacrifice is part and parcel of worship. Christians offer sacrifices of the heart.
- Do we believe that all who worship God are acceptable worshippers? Are we creating a religion of our own making? Do not follow Cain in his self-will that led him, even in his worship, to insult Him whom he professed to worship. All forms of worship, however sincere, are not equally acceptable. For no form of worship is acceptable which does not recognize the guilt of sin and the need of blood for its expiation. See the spiritual effect of the religion of faith and the religion of reason upon the moral character as exemplified in Cain and Abel. How vain is the sinner’s hope to escape either the eye or the hand of a just and holy God. It is plain from Hebrews 11:4 that both a right feeling and a right thing are needed to constitute an acceptable sacrifice. The right sacrifice without faith, or faith without the right sacrifice, would have failed. The presence of both made the sacrifice of Abel more acceptable than Cain’s. For the LORD is pleased to accept the offerings of righteousness — He refuses to recognize the sacrifices of sin. Let us first realize that rectitude of heart and life, without which all outward efforts at pleasing will be of no avail. And realizing this, we shall be prepared to offer our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service (Romans 12:1).
- What is it to do well? Are not those who do well securing Devine acceptance? We must not suffer our judgments to be biased by the opinions of men. To do well, with some, is to succeed in business — “He is doing very well,” is a common phrase applied to a successful worker. Jonah thought he did well to be angry even unto death. To do well, in the sense in which the expression must be understood here is — to bring an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord and to offer it in an acceptable manner.
- What is it to not do well? Are not those who neglect to do well have only themselves to blame for it? For those that neglect to do well only offer sacrifices which are unacceptable to God — sinners offer to God nothing but insults. Their tongue and their doings are against the LORD, to provoke the eyes of His glory; their souls and bodies, time and talents, are all desecrated from their original purpose (Isaiah 3:8). God’s expostulation with Cain reminds us of His willingness to save sinners through His saving grace (Similar sentiments may be found in Ezekiel 18:29-31; Hosea 11:8; Matthew 23:37). Is not God’s mercy serving as a ground of encouragement for those who have been doing ill but wish to do better. For if you do well, will you not be accepted? Let not the evil actions of the former part of your life discourage you and leave you without reasonable excuse. John Piper puts it this way in Future Grace: Every sinner who comes to God in Christ, with all his needs, finds God coming to him in Christ, with all his promises. When a sinful person meets the holy God in Christ what he hears is Yes. God, do you love me? Yes. Will you forgive me? Yes. Will you accept me? Yes. Will you help me change? Yes. Will you give me power to serve you? Yes. Will you keep me? Yes. Will you show me your glory? Yes. All the promises of God — all the blessings of God in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3) — are Yes in Christ Jesus. Jesus is God’s decisive Yes to all who believe.
- Is sin and anger crouching at your door? Maybe God’s admonishment is causing you to fight Him and His ways? Our sins act towards us as if they desired to draw our love to themselves. When once a man has done a wrong thing it has an awful power of attracting him and making him hunger to do it again. All sin is linked together in a slimy tangle, like a field of seaweed, so that the man once caught in its oozy fingers is almost sure to be drowned. It is as Pogo said in one of his memorable utterances, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” There is a reminder of the right course of action: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” If Cain was admonished to do the right thing, it was because the right had been made known to him. Consequently, he rejected the right, not for lack of knowledge, but for lack of humility, faith, and obedience. He refused to come with the sacrifice because he considered the confession of his need demeaning. The cause of Cain’s anger was sin, and sin was about to master him. Is that not our case also? Sin is always crouching at our door; indeed, it is sometimes even across the threshold, and it desires to master us and in many cases has. We must master it. But how? How can we drive the demons of sin out and cleanse this old house in which we live? We cannot do it ourselves. The Lord once told a story of a man who was possessed of a devil and drove the devil out. But the devil went and found seven other devils, returned and took possession and “the final condition of that man is worse than the first” (Matthew 12:43–45). We are inadequate for such things. If we would master sin, we must first be mastered by Him who mastered it —we must be the Master’s. Have we asked the question: “Why don’t we allow ourselves to be mastered by God?”
- Are you being held back from a true relationship with the LORD and your fellow Christians by anger, though you might not call it that? You think you are a paragon of virtue, but the very fact that you think so poorly of Christians should be a warning that all is not right with you and that you are encumbered with far more irritations and animosities than you imagine. Anger is a terrible thing. You do not possess it; it possesses you. It is truly the sin crouching at the door that desires to master the home’s inhabitant. Again, there are resentment and self-pity. No one likes these things in others, but no one is so blind to anything as these when they occur in himself or herself. Cain had killed a man, his own brother. But he was so possessed with resentment against God and others that he could not see the enormity of his crime and so actually felt sorry for himself when God punished him with far less of a judgment than he deserved. Can we ask ourselves when our heart is in a bitter state, “Why are you wrathful?” They are not angry with themselves, as they ought to be, but angry with God; and often they are angry with God’s chosen, and envious of them, even as Cain was malicious and vindictive towards Abel. Can you not sense your danger? Sin is driving you from God, whom you think to be the cause of your misery. You are failing to see that he is actually being good to you and that his goodness is given precisely so that it might lead you to repentance. The way of Cain is hard. One commentator writes, “He started with human reason as opposed to divine revelation; he continued in human willfulness instead of divine will; he opposed human pride to divine humility; he sank to human hatred instead of rising to divine love; he presented human excuses instead of seeking divine grace; he went into wandering instead of seeking to return; he ended in human loneliness instead of in divine fellowship. To be alone without God is the worst thing that earth can hold, to go thus into eternity is, indeed, the second death.” Cain “went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16). Do not let it be true of you that you “went out from the LORD’s presence.” Flee to him and find in him the One you have needed all along. For God gives none up until they fatally resolve to give themselves up, and even then, His good Spirit strives with them as long as it is possible to do so, consistently with His holiness.
What is meant by: Then the LORD said, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
Following the crime comes the divine investigation… God’s question is quite legitimate: Where is Abel your brother? The first part of Cain’s response is a lie: I do not know. The second part of that response is a rejection of God’s question as an inappropriate one: Am I my brother’s guardian? The word we have translated guardian (“keeper” in most versions) is a participle, šōmēr, and Daube has suggested that this is a legal term for a person entrusted with the custody and care of an object. So then, Cain’s rejoinder may impute legal responsibility to Cain. A study of the verb šāmar in the OT suggests to some that the answer to Cain’s question is no. Nobody is ever charged with the responsibility of being “his brother’s keeper.” Nothing in Scripture tells us to “keep” our brother. This verb often appears in the OT to describe God’s relationship to Israel. He is its keeper and as such he never slumbers or sleeps (Psalms 121:4–8, where 5 times God is called the one who “keeps” Israel). Moses’ prayer for the people of Israel is that the Lord bless them and keep them (Numbers 6:24). To keep means not only to preserve and sustain but to control, regulate, exercise authority over. For this reason, today we say that zoos and prisons have keepers, that is, certain individuals who have authority over the occupants. Cain is called to be his brother’s lover, claims Riemann, not his brother’s keeper. We are not convinced, however, that šāmar must carry the nuance of “have authority over” in this verse. It may be that Cain is but disclaiming responsibility for knowing Abel’s whereabouts. Thus, he is a liar, evasive and indifferent, when questioned by Yahweh. [New International Commentary]
Cain was his brother’s keeper in the sense that he had a responsibility to honor and protect him, not to despise and murder him.
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