Summary: How we relate to God affects how we relate to others: Because Cain didn't have a right relationship with God, his relationship with his brother Abel was not right either.
For a number of years, one of my favorite TV shows was "Murder, She Wrote" with Angela Lansbury. Now, I could never figure out how so many murders could happen in that little New England village of Cabot Cove, but there was something captivating about trying to figure out "who done it" before the end of the episode. And, once in a while I would guess right. I also like to play the board game "Clue" and try to determine, "Was it really Colonel Mustard who committed the murder in the Billiard Room with the candlestick?" Well, today we are going to look at Genesis Chapter 4 and see Murder #1, the first murder in history, when Cain kills his brother Abel. This is not a murder mystery, however. Moses tells us right away that Cain is the killer, and even if he had not, there really were not many other suspects around. Yet, though it may lack suspense, the story of Cain and Abel is important because it contains significant lessons for us. As we look at this tale of two brothers, let's ask the Lord to help us learn from the tragic account of Cain and Abel.
Our story begins as Abel and Cain bring their sacrifices to the Lord. The first two verses of Genesis 4 give us some back-ground. We learn that Adam and Eve have a baby, a little boy named Cain. Eve is excited. Though, because of disobedience to God, childbirth had become painful, God in His grace allows Adam and Eve to be fruitful and replenish the earth. Then a second son, Abel, is born. He has an interesting name. In Hebrew Abel means breath or temporary which foreshadows that Abel's life will be cut short. The two boys grow up and choose different careers. Abel becomes a shepherd with flocks, while Cain becomes a farmer with crops. Genesis 4:3,4a In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. Adam and Eve were probably proud of their sons. Both were doing their religious duty. But...4:4b,5 The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.
Many folks ask, "Why?" Why did God like Abel's sacrifice? Why did He reject Cain's? I used to feel sorry for Cain. He brings an offering to God only to be told it is not good enough. Talk about getting your bubble burst. Over the years, different Bible scholars have speculated as to why God rejected Cain's offering. The Schofield Bible says God expected a blood sacrifice, which was a sin offering, signifying atonement of sin. Others speculate that God must have told Cain that a grain offering was not acceptable, but that Cain ignored what the Lord said. Yet, when we go to the rest of the Pentateuch, the first five books of Moses, we find that grain offerings are very appropriate. As a farmer, it seems Cain should have brought the first fruit of his crop as an offering to the Lord. So what was the problem? I believe the answer to this question is found in the New Testament, Hebrews 11:4a By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. What pleased God about Abel's offering was not so much that it was a blood sacrifice, but that it was an offering given in faith. I think the big difference between Cain and Abel is not the kind of offering they brought, but the attitude or motive behind their offering. Cain's problem was a bad attitude. I'm not sure what his motives were, but they were obviously not focused on worshiping the Lord.
That is our first lesson from our text. Motives matter to God. God is not impressed with those who do the right thing for the wrong reason. This truth is taught throughout the Bible. Matthew 15:8, Jesus looks at the Pharisees and quotes Isaiah, "These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me." Sometimes people can have very bad motives for doing good things. There is a story about a man who was riding in a New York City taxi. He noticed the cab driver slowed down to avoid hitting a pedestrian. Trying to compliment the driver's action, he said, "I noticed you slowed down for that fellow." The driver responded, "Yeah, if you hit them, you have got to fill out a report." I would stay out of the way of that cab if I were walking in New York.
Friends, what are our motives for serving the Lord? Every so often we need to do a motive checkup and ask ourselves: Why am I nice to other people? Why do I put money in the offering plate? Why do I work in Club on Wednesday night? The lesson from Cain and Abel is that God does care about our motives. Let's focus on one question: Why did you decide to come to church today? What was your motivation? Did you come because you wanted to worship God with other believers? Did you come to receive instruction from God's Word? Some of you are thinking, "Well, yes, of course that is why I'm here." But there are other reasons that people come to church. When I was in seminary, my room-mate and I sometimes visited different churches on Sunday evenings in order to meet the single girls who went to those churches. Remember, this was before I was married. There are folks who go to church to make new business contacts. Some go to impress other people. Other folks show up on Sunday out of habit, duty, or because they get a good feeling when they sit in church. Maybe you remember the song from a few years ago called Mr. Simon. "Every Sunday morning, when the bell begins to ring, Mr. Simon's at the church, that's where he does his thing." It ends, "He loved the church, he loved the crowd." However, he did not really love God, and that is the motive that counts.