Summary: Cain’s offering and Abel’s offering look similar on the surface but are distinguished from one another on the basis of the faith in their hearts. The great question this story asks is where our offerings fall, closer to Cain’s or closer to Abel’s?
Pentecost 17 A
A Tale of Two Offerings
The powerful, faith assuring epistle of Romans which we have been reading this past summer and from which our epistle is taken today, draws near to its close with the following words of chapter 15. “everything that is written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
Today we turn to one of the earliest of these lessons that was recorded to teach us the way to go, to encourage us to stay the course and to instill in us a hope that empowers us to follow through.
It’s a tale of two offerings, two offerings that look very similar and commendable on the surface. Each of them takes a healthy portion of what God has given them and returned it to the Lord from whom it had been given. God is given a full share, not just what was left. “3In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel brought the fat portions (that is the best) from some of the firstborn of his flock.”
Another interesting feature of these offerings is the fact that neither of them is commanded by God. Such a command is never given until much later in the scripture. So there’s no sense of obligation driving their giving. Neither of them is motivated out of a sense of duty.
Nevertheless their motivations are not the same, and herein lays the difference in how our Lord reacts to each.
What is it that makes a difference as we stand before God? What is it that determines us to be acceptable or unacceptable in His sight? Even as OT scriptures reveal that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness, (Genesis 15:6) so our Lord has it repeated again in Hebrews 10. “But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him."
One offering, Abel’s offering, was offered in faith; a faith that acknowledges the overwhelming blessings that come from God’s hands, a faith that demonstrates trust in our Lord’s loving care that far outweighs anything we can give in return.
The other offering, Cain’s offering, is given as something else. Not as a humble gift in recognition of God’s greatness, but as an arrogant attempt to purchase God’s attention. It’s given, not as an acknowledgment of God’s rule and authority, but as a proud conclusion that God is small enough to be manipulated and controlled by man. It’s not given so much in modest faith, as it is in an attempt to save face. A tale of two offerings, two offerings at opposing poles, one faithful and the other faithless.
Of course, the question posed for us by the lesson is not so much about how Cain or Abel fared, but how our offerings of time and talents and gifts compare. Are they closer to Cain’s or more like Abel’s? Where do fall on this imaginary line of faithfulness? Are they closer to Cain or Abel when we use our offerings or lack of them in order to throw our weight around and get what we want in comparison to the rest? Where do our gifts fall when our Lord Jesus’ work is last thing we think of when it comes to our time, our skills and financial gifts? Where do our gifts fall when we ignore the great price our Lord Jesus gave to save us by neglecting to live out this life He won for us in service to His great commission of making disciples of every nation? Are our offerings of a variety that is closer to Cain’s or Abel’s when we let our neighbors level of giving determine ours rather than the great gift of love that our Lord Jesus has shown on the cross?
It stings, doesn’t it – that comparison between our giving and our Lord’s - and yet therein lies the solution, the healing balm we need today to change our Cain-like attitudes and actions.
No one is here to question your faith this morning. But let’s admit that outward evidence of our faith and Christian life is less than consistent. Our faith needs to grow, not remain stagnant. It needs to be fed, encouraged, coaxed. It continues to need to be disciplined, corrected, trained and made fit.
We started today with Romans 15:4. Allow me to read it again. “…everything that is written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Our Lord has graciously had this history of his people recorded that we might learn its lessons, that we might avoid the sins of those who went before us or recognize how we are making similar mistakes and repent of them before reaching their obvious result. Our Lord has given us his Word for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). He’s even gone to the trouble of sending His Word in the flesh of His own Son, Jesus Christ, to show us first hand that the nature of true giving is that of faith done in service to our God and King. Yes, He’s given us His word as a guide, as an example of offering our lives as living sacrifices to our Lord’s work and will. His word shows us how to give, and yet it does more.