How to Make Sure God Will Receive Our Worship

After they were cast out from the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had two sons named Cain and Abel. When these boys came of age “in the process of time,” they offered worship to God: Cain by bringing “an offering of the fruit of the ground,” and Abel by bringing “of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat” (Genesis 4:3-4). The Bible says that God “respected [had regard for – ESV; “looked with favor on” – NIV] Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering” (Genesis 4:4-5). Why didn’t God look favorably upon what was ultimately an act of worship to Him?

This text has troubled many scholars and produced a wide variety of opinions. Unfortunately, some see in this text an opportunity, as one scholar suggested, to discuss “a God who authors… mysterious and inequitable acts of choosing,” by saying that God simply arbitrarily chose Abel and rejected Cain. This ignores the obvious context in which God told Cain that he could “do well” and “be accepted” (Genesis 4:7). God does not show favoritism or partiality but receives the obedient (Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11).

Most correctly see that Cain didn’t “do well” with his sacrifice. But what did he do wrong? Some suggest that Cain’s offering was wrong because it came from the earth; even though God would later receive grain offerings from the Jews, perhaps He did not in the time of Cain and Abel. Some think Cain’s offering was inferior because while Abel brought “the firstborn… and fat” nothing is said of the quality of Cain’s offering. Some argue that Cain had a poor attitude or made his offering with some other fault in his character. A few say that he might have offered at the wrong time (applying the “time” statement of Genesis 4:3 to only him) or in the wrong way (Genesis 4:7 in one of the Greek translations accuses Cain of not “dividing” his sacrifice).

Those willing to look outside of the text of Genesis 4 though find both a solution to this problem of understanding and a challenge for worshippers today. Hebrews 11:4 says, “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” That’s the difference: Abel’s offering was by faith. Whether Cain’s unfaithfulness was a lack of heartfelt trust and belief in God within or a lack of obedience without can’t be known, but what can be known is that if my offering to God is not “by faith” it won’t be received. And, since faith comes by hearing God’s word (cf. Romans 10:17), as a worshipper I must allow God’s word to guide both my attitude and my actions.  

As you prepare for your next occasion of worship, please take seriously the fact that worship must be offered “by faith” to be received by God. Indeed, “the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).
-Patrick Swayne
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