In many cases the battles that wage inside of us are never seen by others. The Bible, however, gives us a few clues as to what might be going on inside our hearts.
A cheerful disposition can be the sign of a healthy heart according to Proverbs 15:13. Sometimes our appearance can show the darkness that has crept in.
Consider the following verses,
“And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” (Gen. 4.5-6).
God already knew what was in Cain’s heart, but notice how He tells Cain the outward signs of his inward struggles.
He’s angry and his countenance had fallen. In the following verses Cain ends up killing his own brother because that darkness had taken over.
God knows the heart. He knows every aspect of the heart.
In 1 Kings 12, Jeroboam has just become king over the Northern tribe of Israel. In the Southern kingdom they had the capital of Jerusalem where all the Israelites in that region would gather to sacrifice to the Lord. The Bible indicates to us the very plans that Jeroboam said in the “privacy” of his heart. He built his own place of worship and foolishly stood those golden calves up for his new kingdom to worship.
Jesus proves once again that He’s the son of God by reading the hearts of many individuals in the New Testament (Luke 16:15).
May we never forget that we serve a God who can read our hearts. There are things we can hide from every human on earth, but certainly not God. Let’s also never forget that we don’t have the ability to read hearts and attempting to do so is to pretend to be something other than human.
Who would answer “no” to that question? Who wants a worse life or a life that never gets better? But the better question is, “How do you get a better life?” Advertisers have so many answers to that, involving their currency or investment tool, their pill, diet, or workout routine, their travel agency or vacation destination, or product for your home, transportation, business, and the like. So many put so much into these promising plans, but still find their life wanting.
In religious matters, there is no room for subjective thought when it comes to what it takes to have a better life. We find ourselves often bobbing in a sea of religious confusion. Many groups claim to be the best religion and point to their ingredients as reasons for such claims. They point to their numeric size, number of programs they have, or how socially active they are. Our religious attitude ought to be one of humility, not boasting of our achievements or comparing ourselves with others (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12). Genesis 4:1-16 points us to the first recorded version where more than one kind of worship was offered to God and how God rated them. But this chapter also paints a picture of two ways of living life.
Cain is mentioned by three Bible writers after Moses writes about him in this chapter. The writer of Hebrews calls Abel’s offering more excellent than his (Heb. 11:4). John calls his works evil and his allegiance “of the wicked one” (1 John 3:12). Jude implies that the way of Cain is the wrong way to go (11). It seems that Genesis four shows us the better ingredients for a better way of living today.
Better living isn’t determined by age (1-2). Cain was the firstborn, a place of honor and privilege especially throughout the Old Testament. But under the New Covenent, there is no spiritual advantage because of birth order. It is not a matter of firstborn, but a matter of being born again (John 3:1-7). Growing older should mean growing wiser, but reaching a milestone on a calendar does not equate to better living.
Better living isn’t determined by occupation (2). Growing up, we might be tempted to see our occupation as the gateway to happiness and satisfaction, financial freedom and security, independence, and privilege. When we look at Cain and Abel, what they did for a living wasn’t the determiner of the quality of their lives. Some occupations can stand in the way of better living, whether the nature of the job or the quality of the people one works with. Some can let their jobs stand between them and their relationship with God and His church. But, one can do right in unfavorable work circumstances, staying faithful to God.
Better living is determined by worship (3-4). That statement may be offensive to our multicultural world that says there are no absolute rights or wrongs. Contrast our culture’s thinking on this matter with what we read in Genesis four. Both Cain and Abel brought an offering to the Lord. God responded to both offerings, but He accepted one while rejecting the other. While many make worship nothing more than taste, preference, and personal, we learn here that not all worship is equal. God “had regard for” Abel’s, but not for Cain’s. It does not say if Cain was sincere. It doesn’t seem to matter. We learn here that the worshipper and the worship offered rise and fall together. God regarded Abel and his offering, but rejected Cain and his offering. Can one offer God vain worship, and have God reject it but accept him? Apparently not.
Better living is determined by attitude (5-7). Cain reacts to having himself and his worship rejected by God. He was very angry. His insides burned! His countenance fell. He took on an ugly look. We’re not told how old he was, but it almost sounds like a temper tantrum. Whether home training, lack of discipline, poor stress management, pride, jealousy, or anything else leads us to lose our tempers, all of them are matters only we can control. When we don’t control them, we’re responsible! Ill-tempered people are not living the better life! A positive life doesn’t require prospering, education, or earthly success. But you can’t have a positive attitude without mastering self.
Better living is determined by action (8-16). The word “sin” is first used in Genesis 4:7, but God was looking ahead with perfect foresight to what Cain was going to do to his brother (cf. 1 John 3:11-15). Bible writers speak of his deeds, offering, and way. These are all action words. After his sin, he is rebuked and punished by God and separated from God. Sin will not deliver what it promises. All actions have consequences (Gal. 6:7-9).
Someone said, “The line of Cain gives us murder, cities, polygamy, musicians, metal workers, and poetry, but not one who walked with God. In fact, Cain’s legacy led to a repeat of his violent ways by a descendant (cf. 4:23). Abel leaves no physical lineage, but he leaves a great spiritual heritage (Heb. 11:4). We each get to choose what kind of life we’ll pursue. It matters which way we decide.
How often the matter gets discussed among preachers in churches of Christ, I cannot say. But, I know that it does. More members of the church than we might care to think do not have this matter settled in their minds, especially as it has to do with the state of those who have been immersed for the forgiveness of sins, submit to the authority of Christ in other areas of their lives, but who use the instrument in worship. Some have said they think its use is wrong and we have been right to argue against its use but do not think they can say it is a salvation or fellowship issue. It should be stated that many of these are sincere brethren who love the Lord and people nor are they change agents intent on trying to destroy the Lord’s body. Too often, we have lacked an environment where we could have healthy, constructive dialogue free of name-calling, suspicion, and visceral discussion. But failing to discuss and work through matters like these does not make them disappear.
Having said that, here are some hurdles I just cannot jump regarding this matter:
The presence of singing and absence of instruments in New Testament passages. The fact that every instance of singing in the context of the Christians’ activity together reveals singing (Greek is a precise language; ado means to utter words in a melodic pattern [Louw-Nida] and ). Psallo, according to Lexicographers, encompassed playing musical instruments at an earlier time in its linguistic history, but did not mean that in New Testament times (e.g., BDAG, 1094; TDNT, 8:494). Interestingly, the translators of English translations, beginning with the King James Version, were unanimously members of religious groups that used mechanical instruments in music. Despite their obvious bias in worship practice, they translate the Greek “singing and making melody in your hearts.”
The absence of instrumental music in worship in early church history.Though a member of the church of Christ, Everett Ferguson has the utmost respect from scholarship across the religious spectrum. In multiple volumes, Ferguson meticulously sets forth the case that instrumental music was absent in the church from its establishment until many centuries later. His studied conclusion is that this was neither incidental nor coincidental. He writes, “The historical argument is quite strong against early Christian use of instrumental music in church” (The Instrumental Music Issue, 98; the whole chapter is a worthwhile read). In another work, he states, “The testimony of early Christian literature is expressly to the absence of instruments from the church for approximately the first thousand years of Christian history” (The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, 272). John L. Girardeau, a Presbyterian scholar, devotes an entire, well-documented chapter to the historical case of only vocal music in Christian worship for many centuries and upon doctrinal grounds (see Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church, 86-100).
The examples of how God dealt with unauthorized worship throughout history. What do we make of what God does with Cain’s worship in Genesis 4, Nadab and Abihu’s worship in Leviticus 10, and Jeroboam’s worship in 1 Kings 12? Why would God care in the Patriarchal and Mosaic Dispensations that His commands for worship be followed per His instructions, but lose that desire under His Son’s covenant?
The fact that God draws definitive, doctrinal conclusions through the use of silence.The writer of Hebrews says, “For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests” (7:14). The argument shows that Jesus could become a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, but not under the Old Testament rule and covenant. Why? God specified Levi as the tribe for the high priest under the old law. It did not explicitly say that a high priest could not come from any other tribe, but it did not have to. What it specified was sufficient, an argument made in the New Testament.
The fact that authority can and must be tangibly determined. Why is it that we sing in worship at all? Is worship merely a matter of what we come up with and wish to offer? Few would argue such. The basis for worship arises from what the New Testament teaches. Nearly everyone, then, would say there are definitive, delineated boundaries. If there is and must be divine authority for worship, and thus “rules” that are objectively determined, there must be activity that falls out of those bounds. Where will we find the boundary markers if not in Scripture?
This list is not meant to be exhaustive and it cannot, in one brief article, be exhaustive. It is included here to show us the great pause that should exist in changing our minds or our teaching on a matter where God has been vocal and specific. The weight of that is not insignificant or inconsequential. May we lovingly and wisely approach this matter and take great care before we relegate a matter of divine importance to a mere matter of human preference.
We find ourselves often bobbing in a sea of religious confusion. Many groups claim to be the best religion and point to their ingredients as reasons for such claims. Several years ago, our boys played basketball in a league hosted by a huge community church in the Denver area. Their church’s campus includes a K-12 school, two restaurants, a gymnasium half the size of our church building, a coffee shop, and a hundred social program. Other groups would make their claim as “better” or “best” based on their numeric size, the number of programs they have, or how socially active they are.
Our religious attitude ought to be one of humility, which does not boast of our achievements or compare ourselves with others (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12). Genesis 4 is not just about two kinds of worship, but also about two ways of living life. Cain is mentioned by three Bible writers after Moses introduces him in Genesis. The writer of Hebrews calls Abel’s offering more excellent than his (Heb. 11:4). John calls Cain’s works evil and his allegiance “of the wicked one” (1 Jo. 3:12). Jude implies that the way of Cain is the wrong way to go (11). Let’s make a few brief observations from Genesis four and see if we can find the elements which make for a better way of living today.
BETTER LIVING IS NOT DETERMINED BY AGE (1-2). By birth order, Cain came first. He was the first person to be born in the natural order of childbirth. He was the very first newborn to be held in his mama’s arms. She didn’t realize that her cooing, sweet infant was a future murdering, and she was proud of him. She called him “a man child with the help of the Lord.” This depicts such a bright, optimistic future, and by contrast Scripture says, “Again, she gave birth to his brother, Abel” (2). Abel began in his brother’s shadow, first known to us as “his (Cain’s) brother.”
BETTER LIVING IS NOT DETERMINED BY OCCUPATION (2). When we look at these brothers, what they did for a living was not the determiner of the quality of their lives. While what they did had an indirect bearing on the events of this account, the fact of their occupation was spiritually neutral—Cain farmed and Abel tended sheep. One can reap blessings from tilling the ground (Heb. 6:7), but they may have to fight thorns, thistles, and weeds doing it (Gen. 3:18-19). Tending sheep may be done by slaves (Luke 17:17), kings (1 Sam. 17:34), or apostles (John 21:17). God’s pleasure or displeasure was not connected to either’s occupation.
BETTER LIVING IS DETERMINED BY WORSHIP (3-4). Moses says both brought an offering to the Lord. He also says God responded to bother offerings, accepting one and rejecting the other. That very notion is foreign to many people in our society today, even those in religion. Many make worship nothing more than taste, preference, and personal inclination. But, Moses shows us (1) Not all worship is equal: God had regard for Abel’s, but not Cain’s. The words “had respect to” signify in Hebrew to look at something with a very serious glance. God tells us how He wants worship done, in attitude and action; (2) The worshipper and the worship rise and fall together: God had regard for Abel AND his offering and did not for Cain AND his offering. That’s a sober reminder for me that my personal relationship with God is hindered or helped based on the way I worship God. Can I offer God vain and ignorant worship, and have God reject it but accept me? We are not earning God’s favor by getting worship right. At the same time, are we tempting God and hoping we stay in His favor while disobeying His commands for worship? People have tried to make this an “either-or” proposition, that Cain and Abel’s offering was either about getting the worship right or was about the nature of the person offering the worship. In other words, is it sincerity or obedience, our both sincerity and obedience? To thoughtfully ask the question is to answer it!
BETTER LIVING IS DETERMINED BY ATTITUDE (5-7). Cain reacts to having himself and his worship rejected by God by burning with anger and his face taking on an ugly look. He sounds like a small child in the throes of a tantrum or a teenager huffing and sulking in anger. God warns Cain of the recipe for disaster he was making through his attitude. He told Cain that his tempestuous attitude was an invitation for sin to pounce on him, but He told him he could master it! You can have a positive attitude without prosperity, education, or earthly success, but you cannot have a positive attitude without mastering self.
BETTER LIVING IS DETERMINED BY ACTION (8-16). Improper worship and attitude preceded and precipitated improper action. The first time “sin” is used (Gen. 4:7), God was looking ahead with perfect foresight to what Cain would do to his brother. He does the unthinkable, killing his own brother (cf. 1 Jo. 3:11-15). His deeds and ways were a recipe for disaster: He is rebuked by God, punished by God, and separated from God. Sin promises a good time and fulfillment, but it’s not true.
It’s been said that the lineage of Cain gave us murder, cities, polygamy, musicians, metal workers and poetry, but not one who walked with God! Thanks to his legacy, a descendant repeats his violent ways (Gen. 4:23). Abel seems to leave no physical lineage, but he still speaks after death. His was a life of faith, generosity, good works, righteousness, and obedience. We get to choose the kind of life we want to pursue. If we choose well, we will be satisfied, others will be blessed, and God will be pleased.