Cain, Part 1 (Genesis 4:1-7)

God is not obligated to approve of our wrongdoing.

(1) TWO SONS (1-2)

God said to Adam and Eve:  “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with human beings.”  They obeyed and they had their firstborn son, Cain.  (Fun fact:  Cain was the first human being to be born.  Adam and Eve were both created directly by God, not born from a woman’s womb.)  Then they had another son, Abel.  And here we have the first historical family.  

Cain was a farmer and worked the ground while his younger brother Abel was a shepherd who kept flocks.  These are two primary occupations instituted at Creation.  In 1:28 God said, “Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”  I’d put shepherding in that category.  The other primary employment of man was what Cain entered into:  farming.:  

  • In chapter Adam was put in the Garden to work it and take care of it.
  • In chapter 3, God cursed the ground and kicks Adam out to “work the ground from which he had been taken.”  

So its here we find Cain the farmer, post-Fall, post-curse, sweat on his brow, battling thorns and thistles, trying to get the ground to produce for him.

(2)  TWO OFFERINGS (3-5)

Now the story moves from work to worship.  God has made us for both work and worship.  

The fruit of Cain and Abel’s  labor was given to God as an offering.  Their occupation provided for their worship.  They had different occupations and so their offerings were different.  The offerings they brought specifically came from what their jobs produced.

There is an idea some commentators have that Cain’s offering was rejected because it was not a blood sacrifice.  But there are all kinds of bloodless sacrifices.  The Mosaic Law had numerous bloodless sacrifices.  We as the Church today are told to offer sacrifices that are in the form of prayer, service, financial gifts, material help, obedience etc.  

But even here in the passage I don’t think the context supports the thought that God rejected Cain’s offering because it was bloodless.  We see how the text immediately identifies their respective occupations.  Then their offerings came from their specific occupations.  It wasn’t the kind of offering – blood or bloodless – that mattered.  As we’re going to see, it was the quality of what they brought.  Abel brought the best, but Cain brought less.

So work and worship.  Both of them worked.  Both of them worshipped.  Both of them brought God an offering.  But only one offering was accepted.  What happened?  Why did God accept Abel’s offering and reject Cain’s?  The answers to these questions are important for us to know if we are the kind of people who care that our worship is accepted by God.  Remember Paul’s affirmation of the Philippians’ help?  He said it was “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” (Php 4:18).  That’s what we want said about our worship, isn’t it? Here are four things from Cain’s rejected worship to learn:

First, worship of God means giving Him the best we have to offer.  Cain didn’t do this.  You can tell by the description of Abel’s offering.  Abel offered the fat portions from some of the firstborn out of his flock.  It doesn’t get any better than that.  He gave the best part of his best animals. (It’s like giving God the back straps from your first deer of the season)  

APPLICATION:  Give God worthy worship.  Not all worship is the same.  God does not accept every act of worship.  Some He approves of, others He rejects.  Worship God in a way that He approves of.

Second, worship God the right way.  Cain didn’t – and the text indicates he knew that he didn’t.  Look at verse 7, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not [do what is right]….”  God doesn’t describe “the right” way to worship and the fact that He doesn’t indicates Cain already knew it.  It means that it wasn’t out of ignorance that Cain brought an inferior offering.  He knew when He brought it to God it wasn’t the right kind of offering.  But for some reason it didn’t matter to Cain.  That’s a problem.  

Third, worship God from faith.  Turn to Hebrews 11:4 with me.  This chapter, you might know, is the Faith Hall of Fame.  And here Abel and Cain are mentioned.  Abel favorably, Cain not.  [Read].  

Again, like in Genesis, Abel’s superior sacrifice is described and presented as a contrast to the inferior sacrifice of Cain.  In other words, what is true of Abel’s sacrifice is NOT true of Cain’s.  Abel offered his sacrifice “by faith” the text says.  Cain’s was not offered “by faith”.  What Abel gave to God was motivated by His faith in God.  His offering and his faith went together because it was his faith that made him give the kind of offering he did.  Without that faith that kind of offering would not have been given – he would have offered something like Cain did.  

Faith means loving God most.  The offering of Abel meant a lot to God because He knows it meant a lot to Abel.  Again it was not the size or amount of the offering.  Abel’s offering wasn’t better because the market value of his sheep was higher than the market value of Cain’s food.  That’s not what made God approve of it.  It was how much it meant to Abel.

APPLICATION:  When we worship God from faith we take what is valuable to us and give it to God – to show God He is more valuable…MOST valuable.    Abraham gave Isaac.  The poor widow gave her last 2 cents.  The woman gave the expensive perfume.  King David said, “I will not give to God anything that costs me nothing.”  Why?  Because of the very principle we are seeing in Abel’s offering:  we give God valuable offerings, which are a sacrifice to us personally, in order to demonstrate that God is more valuable to us than that valuable thing we gave up.  Man may look at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart.  God could see in the offering of Cain and the heart of Cain.  He knew Cain was not coming in faith to worship.

APPLICATION:  What we give God shows what we think of God. Whether God thinks our offering is “worthy” depends on how much that gift is worth to us.  The “worthiness” of our gift to Him shows how worthy we think He is.  Or isn’t.  Every time we gather on Sunday for “worship” the point of what we are doing is to show how WORTHY our God is.  How worthy is God to you?  The point of sacrificial offerings was to offer something – to sacrifice something – that was valuable to you that showed God was more valuable than that thing…than ANYTHING.

What is valuable to you?  You may think this is about money.  And it is.  Money is the number one idol, “You can’t serve two Masters – you can’t serve both God and money.”  But it is far more than money.  It’s time.  Is God worth your time?  It’s effort.  Is God worth doing the best job you can at whatever you are doing (“Do everything as unto the Lord” Colossians 4 says)?   Maybe its a person.  If you’re not married are you disobeying God by setting your heart on an someone you shouldn’t?  If you’re married are you setting your heart on someone other than your spouse?

Fourth, worship must be backed up by righteousness.  Worship God with your best, worship Him the right way, worship Him in faith, and fourthly, worship Him with righteousness.

Cain seemed to be living unrighteously, and thus his worship was affected.  Turn with me to 1 John 3:12…[read] 

Here we get a forceful picture that Cain was not a man of righteousness.  His life was not concerned with doing right in the eyes of God.  He hated his own brother Abel because Abel’s actions were righteous and his were evil.  This is typical:  evil people will hate righteous people.  Cain was a man who walked in the ways of evil, who despised righteousness.  

The very next verse tells us “Do not be surprised if the world hates you”.  The two boys give us a picture of the two types of people in the world:  those who belong to God and those who belong to Satan; those who love evil and those who love righteousness.  And those who love evil will hate righteousness and anyone who is righteous.  

Notice the scary fact that although Cain offered worship to God, he belonged to Satan.  Genesis says he brought an offering to God, but John tells us that he belonged to Satan.  

How many in church today belong to the Devil?  How many come to sing songs, listen to prayers and Scripture and sermons, come up to the Communion table, give money and even serve in various ways but they DON’T belong to God!  

  • “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord’, didn’t we cast out demons in your name and in your name utter prophecies and in your name do this and that?”  And Jesus will say, “Away from me, I never knew you.”  And then it says he will shut them out into the place of eternal torment where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  
  • The very leaders of Israel who knew the Scriptures better than anyone in Israel Jesus said belonged to Satan and that he was their father.  Just like Cain.  
  • There will be chaff among the wheat, false mixed in with the true, fraudulent “Christians” integrated with real Christians.  It’s just how it is.  

APPLICATION:  Do you belong to God?  Learn from Abel and give God worship that is right, and best and from faith 


Now we see two paths.  Cain can respond either by repenting, or by resenting.  Cain can either keep on the path he’s on and end up mastered by sin, or, he can change course and master his sin.  

There are some important lessons to draw out from this section.  Some insight on sin, temptation, obedience, heart-attitude are all here.  

First, God is not obligated to approve of our wrongdoing.  He is holy and will not change His standard for sinners.  Look how Cain is upset and yet he has no right to be.  He is in the wrong but he’s acting like he’s the one being wronged.  Cain is mad that God didn’t approve his offering.  As though the obligation was on God to accept whatever Cain brought.  As though God, the Creator, the Judge, the Almighty, THE ONE BEING WORSHIPPED, somehow shouldn’t have any say in how He is worshipped.  Cain is the one in the wrong but he’s mad and acting as though God is in the wrong because God did not accept his worship.  

His face said it all:  he was “downcast” and he was “very angry.”  Angry there means burning hot, a furious rage.  It reminds me of James 1:20, “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”  

Anger is an emotion that we feel when we think something unfair has been done.  It’s a sense of justice that we have, since we’re made in God’s image.  But the problem is this:  being that we’re sinful our view of justice is often flawed.  And being that we’re sinful we often blowup in anger more out of pettiness and pride and selfishness and inconvenience and impatience and not getting our way.  What James is telling us is that so much of our anger is unjustified, unholy and sinful.  Therefore we ought to be slow to become angry because fast anger is foolish.  

Cain is upset and yet Cain has no right to be.  Here’s the point:  The obligation is not on God to approve of our wrongdoing.  It is our obligation to do right.  Cain can either repent, or, he can resent.

APPLICATION:  If God convicts you of wrongdoing, either in a sermon, from a friend, a verse, or whatever, repent.  Don’t get mad at everyone else.  David said, “Let a righteous man strike me, 

A second point here is this:  Master Your Sin.  Look at verse 7 again….[read]  God’s warning to Cain tells us something about sin:  Sin is a nasty Master.  It enslaves.  “Whoever sins is a slave to sin” (Jn 8:34).  Sin corrupts utterly, “But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment [not to covet], produced in me every kind of covetous desire” (Romans 7:8).  Sin lives within and it is your worst enemy.  What God said to Cain pertains to every one of us as well.  The NT is stuffed with commands like this:

  • Paul said, “I beat my body and make it my slave..” (1 Cor. 9:27)
  • Earlier in that same letter he said, “I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12)
  • “Self-control” is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23)
  • “It is God’s will” Paul told the believers “that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable” (1 Thess. 4:4)
  • “Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5)
  • “For sin shall not be your master” (Romans 6:14).  

Over and over the NT commands us Christians to master our sin and not be mastered by it.  As God’s holy people we must be holy in all that we do, just as He is holy.  Our Lord put a finish to sin at the cross and we have been crucified with Him.  We are done with sin.  We are set free and born again to live for God.  I’ll say it like this:  we are to master our sin, and we should be mastered by righteousness.  

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