One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the Cain and Able narrative. The story shows us what God wants from us, that it isn’t the type of offering that we give Him, but the heart behind our offering. The narrative also shows God’s unconditional love for us, even when we sin.
Cain and Able both brought separate and different offerings unto God. Able brought the firstborn of his flock as an offering and Cain brought the fruit of the ground. I have heard some people teach that Able’s sacrifice was accepted over Cain’s because God prefers blood sacrifices and made the connection with the Law of Moses, which led to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus at the cross. I can see how this viewpoint can make a great postmodern sermon, however it is not in Biblical context of the Cain and Able narrative. The plain fact is both of these offerings were perfectly acceptable in regards to types of offerings.
NOTE: Before the Law and during the Law, giving the first fruits of the ground were acceptable offerings to God (Leviticus 2:12-14).
Cain’s was angry and upset that God didn’t accept his offering. God went to Cain and asked him why he was angry and upset, and explained to Cain that if he did what was right, he would be accepted (note that being accepted by God is different than being loved by God). God also warned Cain that sin was knocking at his door and warned him to get a handle on it, or it would overcome him. What we find here is that God was not concerned with the type of offering Cain gave, but with the condition of his heart and sin that was on the verge of overcoming him.
Let’s apply this to praise and worship; our offering of praise and worship unto God should be a personal offering from our hearts. This means our personal offering of worship is between God and us, thus our measure will be different than another’s measure. By the same token, if we force worship on our congregations and beat worship out of them, then their worship will cease to be an offering and will become a burden and a tax upon God’s people (Jesus didn’t come to burden us with works and religion, but free to us from its burden – Matthew 11:28-3). When we put ourselves between the worshipper and God by passing judgment and trying to put conditions on another’s offering and replace it with our own offering, we take away from their offering and taint the offering that was meant for Jesus.
Now let’s get back to the Cain and Able narrative.
It is important to note here that despite Cain’s anger, and the condition of his heart, God still came to Cain to speak with him and advise him. God was trying to help Cain understand that He wanted Cain’s heart over the offering of meat or fruit. Cain obviously didn’t listen to God’s warning and Cain allowed the sin in his heart to overcome him, which led him to kill his brother Able.
After Cain committed the sin of murder, God went to Cain to speak to him. God told Cain that he would be a fugitive and a wanderer and that the ground would no longer yield for him. Cain made a plea to God for mercy because God’s judgment was more than he could bear. Cain also feared for his life from those who would seek vengeance for the murder he had committed. God heard Cain’s plea and showed him mercy, but more than mercy God entered into a covenant with Cain by marking him and declaring that if anybody should kill Cain, God’s wrath upon them will be sevenfold.
From this narrative we see the measure of God’s abundant and unconditional love for us. Just think, we don’t have to earn God’s love, He already loves us. We also see that God is more concerned with the condition of our hearts, not the condition of our offering. God’s grace is given freely through the cross; an amazing gift that we don’t have to earn – Romans 3:22-25. Religion makes serving God about what we can do, rather than what God has done. This is why God hates religion because it separates us from His love and denies His grace.