The story of Cain and Abel comes straight after the fall of mankind. Adam and Eve failed to trust God and His Word and instead chose to believe the lies of the evil serpent who twisted God’s Word. And on the heels of their great distrust is this story of the birth of two sons. One of their sons, Abel, has a great moment of faith, so great it gets him enlisted into the ‘Hall of Faith’ in Hebrews 11. This great moment of faith has to do with how he worshiped God. Let’s read verses 3-5 of Genesis 4 in the NLT: “When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the LORD. Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The LORD accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift.”
We need to understand if we are offering our lives “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” as Romans 12:1 tells us to, then our lives will increasingly display that God is our number one priority - in our finances, relationships, recreation, work, Church & personal matters. It also means we will be learning to worship & trust God through all the trials which life throws at us. This trust is based upon who God is, upon His character & what He has revealed to us in His Word by His Spirit. This trust is what the Bible calls faith. Hebrews 11:4 tells us; “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” Abel has something to say to us today!
Both Cain & Abel worked hard. Cain possibly worked even harder since he worked the ground, but working harder is not what pleases God. Both sons brought an offering to God from their work. But only Abel’s was accepted. Why? Hebrews 11:4 tells us the answer: Abel offered a “more acceptable sacrifice.” It was a “more acceptable” in at least 3 ways.
Firstly, Abel’s offering was more acceptable because he gave God priority.
Genesis 4:4 tells us that Abel offered to God the firstborn of his flocks. This reveals the priority of his heart. His was a heart that put God first. It is also very possible, since we are in Genesis (the book of beginnings), that this was the very first time Abel’s flocks had ever given birth, and that Cain had ever harvested. If this is the case then there would have been a lot of excitement. It would be kind of like when you got your first ever pay check. I remember the day I got my first pay check. My parents told me that since it was my first I could keep it all, but in future I’d have to give some of what I earn towards housekeeping. When I got the cheque I have to be honest, tithes and offerings did not even cross my mind. Hi-fi system crossed my mind. Levis Jean’s, red tag, crossed my mind - they were the coolest jeans in the 90s. But for Abel the first thing on his mind when he got his first wage, if you like, was God. The challenge being: what we put first reveals and exposes our heart. The first thing we do, our default, what we run to reveals our priority. Jesus said “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). As Christians we are called to make Christ and his kingdom our first priority. One of the ways we do this is with our finances. Money is a big part of our lives and how we prioritise it reflects what is most important to us. You've perhaps heard the statement that “the last part of a man to be converted is his pocket.” As God’s people the Bible teaches us the principle of tithing, of giving to God one tenth of what we earn. And it also teaches us about offerings - giving beyond one tenth if we are able. That’s why we take up the tithes and offerings every Sunday morning. It is part of our worship. It is part of living as people of faith. It’s one of the ways we make God the priority of our lives.
When we look at this story in the context of tithes and offerings, which it does lead us to think about, it shows us that God is looking more at how we give than what we give. God is not comparing what Abel gave with what Cain gave. Rather, God is comparing how Abel gave with how Cain gave. In other words he is looking at the heart attitude of the giver just like Jesus did in the story of the widow who put two copper coins in the treasury in the gospel’s... God is not impressed with big offerings; he is impressed with big hearts! Hearts that put him first!
Proverbs 3:9-10 says “Honour the LORD with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” Malachi 3:10 says “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour for you a blessing until there is no more need.” Recession and financial difficulty is not an excuse to ignore such teaching... it’s an opportunity to show greater faith and prove to the world that our God truly is Jehovah Jireh, the LORD who provides for his people! If we are to see God’s blessing in our lives, church and nation then we need to embrace the challenges and trust the promises of God. I don’t believe in the prosperity gospel, but nor do I believe in a poverty gospel, I believe in the provision gospel. That as we put God first he will provide all our needs according to his riches in glory! Didn't he provide for our greatest need when he sent Jesus to be our Saviour! Can we not then trust him to provide for all our lesser needs? Jesus said. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things (talking of our earthly needs, not greed’s) will be added.”
To help us apply this, imagine this. All the bills are sitting on the table, unopened. You know there may well be a few surprises in those envelopes. Maybe you haven’t checked the oil in a while and you suspect it might be low... Perhaps the car is making a funny noise... The kids have a school trip... All these things are going through your mind. The temptation is to pay all the bills, check the oil tank, get the car checked and hope there is something left to tithe. But the way of worship and faith is to always write your first cheque to God. To make Him the priority and trust Him to provide for whatever financial surprises the week may throw at you, that’s faith and such faith pleases God!
We not only do this with our finances, we do it in all areas of our lives. Like with our time. Martin Luther is known to have said that he was so busy, that he had so many things to do, that he had to spend the first three hours of the day with God. He gave God first priority & then He trusted God to enable him to achieve what he had to achieve during the day. That’s the attitude of worship & faith. Pastor and writer Britt Merrick writes these challenging words; “Two things are the most telltale in our lives: finances & time. You can tell everything you ever wanted to know about peoples’ hearts, passions & priorities from the way they spend their money & how they spend their time. You simply cannot argue with that.”
Secondly, Abel’s offering was more acceptable because he gave God his best.
Abel gave God the best, not just whatever was left. The contrast in the story is that “Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the LORD”, while “Abel... brought... the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock.” Not only did Abel bring the first to God, but he brought the best. God desires our best, He deserves our best, and He demands our best. We learn from this story that from the beginning of time it has been clear that some offerings are acceptable to God and some are not. It’s easy to fill ourselves up with what we need (or even with what we don’t really need), and then offer a mere token to God; but that’s not acceptable. This story teaches us that acceptable worship is giving God the best of what we have, not just some of what we have.
Another passage in the Bible that drives this point home is Malachi chapter 1:8-14. In verse 3 of the next chapter God says to his priests “I will... splatter you faces with the manure from your festival sacrifices, and I will throw you on the manure pile” (NLT). This is what God thinks of being given leftovers by His people whom He loves... The book of Malachi opens by saying “I have always loved you” (NLT). God is speaking to those He loves! These priests in Malachi’s day assumed God was pleased because they sacrificed something, but God described their offerings as evil. From God’s perspective to give Him less that our best is evil! From God’s perspective no worship is better than apathetic worship. From God’s perspective leftover offerings are only fit for the manure pile. To come before the holy God who created us in His image, who loves us with an everlasting love, who decides whether or not we take another breath, who has given us all things to richly enjoy. To come before Him with anything less than our best is just not acceptable. This may anger you like it did Cain. But instead of getting angry you should just do what is right and give God what He deserves! God said to Cain “Why are you angry... Why do you look dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
See either we’re driven by a desire for God’s glory or we give in to sin. The best way to avoid a life of sin is to offer God your best! Cain didn’t listen to God and went down in history as the human inventor of murder. Abel did what was right before God and went down in history as the first worshipper! Sin is crouching at our door when we do not offer God first and best. In this story Abel stands as a positive example of how people of faith ought to live, while Cain stands as a negative example of how people ought not to. Are we offering God our best, or our leftovers?
Thirdly, Abel’s offering was more acceptable because he trusted God more.
Abel’s offering also testified that he trusted God more. Firstly it shows that He trusted God to provide the rest. And secondly it shows he trusted God more than his own logic and reasoning. Raising sheep was his livelihood. It’s what made provision for his family. For Abel to offer his first born to God was a risk, an act of faith. He was trusting that the rest would follow because there’s always that unknown element to the future. It wouldn't have taken any faith for Abel to wait until all the animals had finished giving birth, take what he needed, and then give to God out of what was left. But it did take faith to give God first and then trust Him to provide the rest and meet his needs.
Faith runs contrary to the thinking of the world and to our human nature. The way of the world and human nature says, ‘Make sure you’re sorted and then consider giving to other things and other people.’ But the way of faith is, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”, and then trust God to meet your needs. Abel’s offering displayed this kind of faith in God. We are prone to play it safe instead of trusting God to provide. If a person lives a life of self-preservation, they give after. If a person lives a life of greed they never give at all. But if a person lives a life of faith they give God first, they give God best, and they entrust their future to God!
Cain only presented some of his crops to God. Abel on the other hand trusted God enough to give Him first and best and God accepted his offering but not Cain’s. This teaches us that faith pleases God in a way nothing else can. In fact Hebrews 11:6 says; “without faith it is impossible to please him.”
Abel’s More Acceptable Sacrifice Points to the Most Acceptable Sacrifice
Some point to the fact that Abel’s gift was a blood offering and it was the blood that made Abel’s offering pleasing to God. If Cain and Abel had the Pentateuch at this time this may have been a possibility, but they didn’t. Their offerings came before the Law. So this is not likely a sacrifice of atonement. Abel’s wasn’t a sin offering. There’s no hint of it in the story. It was simply act of sacrificial worship flowing from a heart that loved and trusted God above all. However, with that said, there are no accidents in the Bible. For this reason Abel’s more acceptable sacrifice, which happened to be a blood sacrifice, does help point us to the most acceptable sacrifice of Christ on the cross (which was the once and for all blood sacrifice for sin)! This is what God does with the lives of people of selfless, sacrificial faith. He takes their offerings and uses them to point to the Person and work of Christ. He wants to do so with our offerings...
We can see what Abel couldn’t see. We know that ultimately it is the perfect once and for all blood sacrifice of Jesus that makes all our imperfect offerings acceptable to God. Even our best offering are imperfect (filthy rages...). Knowing all this in no way excuses us from giving our best, it simply gives us the greatest reason to give God our best! Let us remember that God gave his first and best for us. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son...” (John 3:16). His best is infinitely better that all our bests put together because Jesus is infinitely more valuable and perfect than anything we can ever offer. His offering can never be matched. His offering is the only completely acceptable sacrifice, the only perfect sacrifice. His offering is so acceptable it makes all our imperfect sacrifices acceptable to God.
In all our giving, offering and sacrificing we must understand deeply that we can never out-give God. He offered for us what is more precious than anything and most precious to Him - His only begotten Son! This great news is the breeding ground of all true offerings! We love Him because He first loved us. We give Him our best because He first gave us His best! That’s the only way it works—our best can only be good enough because He gave His best on our behalf!
The question is: How are we going to respond to the One who gave His best for us? Are we going to just offer Him our leftovers, our leftover finances, time, talent etc? Or are we going to give him our first-fruits? Are we going to just offer Him something or are we going to offer Him our best? You see ultimately God does not want our money, our time, or our stuff... Ultimately he wants our heart’s, he wants us, all of us! These things simply testify as to whether He really has us or not. Is God getting your first and best? Or is He getting leftovers? Imagine a church where everyone gives God first and best. Now imagine a church where everyone just gives God their leftovers. Which church do you want to be a part off? Which church are we called to be? How we as individuals prioritise our time, money and life helps determine which church we become. None of us are called to minimum commitment Christianity. All of us are called to be living sacrifices! Jesus didn't die on the cross so we could over God leftovers, or live lives of half-hearted commitment, but so we could present ourselves as living sacrifices, holy & acceptable to God (Rom 12:1). Sligo doesn't need Christians who only offer leftovers. It needs disciples who give their first and best for Christ and his kingdom!