I’m planning to preach tomorrow on the murder by Cain of Abel. Time is pressing on so I’ll try to be fairly brief.
John brings out Cain’s main motive for his murderous act, in 1 John 3.12:
“We should not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s were righteous!”
The word ‘RIGHTEOUS’ shows us that the deeds of Abel conformed to the standard God set, whereas, in comparison, in the case of Cain, they fell woefully far short.
The problem with Cain’s offering?
The problem with the gift was neither that it was cereal, nor just a token expression (this common popular interpretation is probably a part but not the heart of the matter), nor even because there was no blood (blood, of course, was required for without death of a sacrificial victim there is no pardon or acceptance – Moses is teaching Israel, in Genesis, during their wilderness wanderings, so mention of gifts, lambs and fat parts assumes some kind of knowledge of the Old Testament sacrificial system): have there not been many false religions in history that offered blood of sacrificial victims to appease their ‘gods’ but could never procure God’s favor? Blood is vital but it is not the primary point here!
The chief reason, then, for the rejection of Cain’s gift was that his offering was marked by unbelief in, and rejection of, the true revealed religion of Scripture. Both these men knew what true worship required. Whether Cain learnt this from his parents (surely he had been taught the truths contained in Genesis 1-3), or both boys received personal revelations (less likely), Cain rejected this one way of approach, by grace, through faith, in Christ, and thereby received reproach: Cain’s sin is unbelief in the revealed religion of the Gospel which requires propitiation through a Mediator – Abel believed God’s Word of faith and, in obtaining promised favor, showed Cain’s religion up as false!
Cain’s unprovoked Assault
Cain got mad with God and so decided to bump off Abel: John tells us why – he simply could not bear to have his own sinful unbelief and rejection shown up by His brother. He could not bear to be compared alongside this believer. He could not stand in the same company as Abel and be exposed as a wicked fraud. The bright light of the knowledge, seriousness, humility, godliness, reverence, confession, obedience and faith of Abel’s practical religion showed up Cain’s own mind, heart, will as polluted, faithless and dark – so Cain determined to extinguish the light of the shining testimony of the one who he could not bear to be compared to!
Hatred is Crouching at your Door
Let’s assume that most who read this blog are probably true believers: does experience not teach us that we still need warned against this sin – in fact, John, in his first letter, is writing to the church, and wants to sound a warning to those who profess faith in Christ.
By implication this means this sin is more common and subtle than we think. I haven’t heard of anyone recently who has literally murdered a brother because he didn’t like being shown up or couldn’t stick the heat or pace. Yet are there not many examples readily at hand, where this temptation can creep in unawares, like a lion crouching in wait, and capture us unawares, and put hatred in our hearts?
Just for Starters
Think for example of the way I hear so many Christian criticize godly brothers and sisters because they are ‘home-schoolers’ (by the way I’m not and hope I don’t). Now it maybe because they think there are too fanatical, or excessive and over the top, or have particular, justified, genuine concerns! I can’t help wonder sometimes, however, by the strength and volume of attack, that part of the problem sometimes might be that some godly parents expose our own overly strong attachment to the world, fear of what others think, lack of love for our children, or unwillingness to lose a salary. I’m not here trying to argue for one type or another of education, just saying the way some speak, betrays are hint of hatred of being shown up.
Another example might be a young person who stands apart from their peers in godliness, seriousness or devotion to the means of grace – they seem to sing the loudest, they always listen most keenly, they’ve started to read books, they are wise and holy beyond their years, they are kind, good and gracious – who attracts the mockery, laughter and alienation of other more worldly, lukewarm, erratic, uncommitted professing Christian young people! What often seems to be me to be at work is a hatred of being seen for what we really are when put aside another believer who excels us in faith by grace and exposes our own failures, halfheartedness or lukewarmness.
The apostle Paul, of course, is another prime example: as Sinclair Ferguson explained at a recent Banner of Truth conference, it was probably the fact that Stephen knew his bible better and exposed Saul of Tarsus’ biblical incompetence, that sent Saul into a rage, and make him nod when Stephen was stoned: his pride just couldn’t take to be shown up as blind!
Too much of Cain?
Have you been guilty of giving another brother a hard time because they show you up? Have you jumped on the bandwagon of criticism because other believers are more committed than you are? Have you tried to knock someone off their pedestal because they expose your own life-style as too affluent, hedonistic, carnal, selfish or worldly? The roots of every sin are present in our hearts – the sin of Cain is more common that we think – so we need to master it, confess the fault is ours, admit to our brother how we sinned, and pray for pardon from God, and seek the grace we need, to be the people we should, full of love and growing in grace.