Sunday, February 18, 2007

Render to God

"In the course of time Cain brought an offering to the LORD from the fruit of the soil, while Abel, for his part, brought one of the best firstlings of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not. " (Genesis 4: 3-5)

What does God want from us?

He wants our best.


David said...

According to the text, Adam and Eve have just been driven out of the garden of Eden. Maybe a few months have passed; maybe a hundred years. We don't know. What we do know is that it is long before God has revealed anything like the 10 commandments etc. He certainly has not yet told man to love one another.

Moreover, we don't really know what God had told Adam nor what he may have passed on to his children about sacrifices. What we do know is that according to Hebrews 11:4 Abel's offering was a better one than Cain's offering (Abel-best firstling of his flock; Cain-fruit of the soil). One was choice; one was ordinary. According to 1 John 3:12 Cain was of the evil one and his deeds were evil. Well, might this mean that when he came before God to offer a sacrifice he had unrepentent sin? This alone would have been reason enough for God to not look on Cain or his offering with favor. And, finally according to Jude 10-11 Cain reviled the things he did not understand and unthinkingly followed his instincts just like an animal. This way of living leads to destruction according to Jude.

So, what was Cain's problem? According to Genesis 4:7, he had not done well. What does it take to do well? Obey God. It appears God believed that Cain should have known what Abel apparently knew. Cain's problem was sin; he had disobeyed God in some manner. And, God told him exactly how he could once more 'lift his countenance.' Sadly, Cain continued to disobey.

So, what is our best? Obedience. And what has he told us 21 century Christians to do? Love One Another! (The definition of love intended here is: to unselfishly seek the true welfare of the other.)

David said...

First, let's see what we can simply observe from the text. Man has just been driven out of Eden. Whether it is now a month later or several years later is not made known. At any rate, they had children, Cain and Abel. Each brother picked a different vocation and neither of these 'careers' seems to be preferred or more 'Godly' than the other. So, it is not their work that is the focus here.

God looked favorably on Abel and his offering. Abel chose to give the best (firstling of his flock) of what he had to God. God had no regard for Cain or his offering. Cain just chose an ordinary sample of his crops (fruit of the ground) to offer to God. Cain knew somehow what God thought about him and his offering and reacted with anger and disappointment. In choosing to give God an ordinary offering he had not done well; but, God told him that this could all be fixed if he did well. Apparently, God believed that the two brothers had known how to do well and that it was in their power to do so.

However, it is not what they did that is really the determining factor in God's acceptance or rejection here. According to Hebrews 11:4 it is their faith that is key. Abel gave his offering by faith; Cain did not. That is what made the difference.

So, what is faith? Hebrews 11:1 tells us. My summary: it is believing God. God knows if we believe Him regardless of what we may say or do. God had 'apparently' made known to mankind, even at this early stage, what was an acceptable sacrifice. Abel believed Him and followed through with the right sacrifice. Cain did not believe Him and just gave what was handy. It is not that Abel chose to give the firstling of his flock that is key; it is that in believing God, he gave the firstling of his flock because that is what God had told him to do. He believed God; he obeyed God.

So, what has God told us to do? Well, if one is a non-Christian, then the only thing that God has told him/her to do is to believe what He has said about Jesus. If one is a believer, then the only thing that God has told him/her to do is to love one another. What could be simpler?

David said...

> Abel is a foreshadowing of Christ whereas Cain is a foreshadowing of the sinner.

I agree; mostly. This gets into the tricky area of 'types' and 'anti-types.' It turns out that Cain was described in 1 John 3:12 as being of the evil one and having evil deeds. Sounds like the description of a sinner all right. Abel was also described as righteous because of his righteous deeds. But, then we get to how one gets to be called righteous by God. Is it because of works or faith?

> His (Cain's) attachment is to the earth is something that we should avoid (i.e. Worldly Things)

Again, I agree; mostly. Clearly we are told in many places in Scripture not to value the things of this earth too much. Certainly, in contrast with the things of God or the things above. However, does that also include not being a farmer? I don't know what I would do without people raising crops for me to eat. I can see how one might infer this from Genesis 4; but, it seems to require some reading into the text what may not be there. For example, is a farmer any more 'earthly' than say an auto mechanic?

> God wants us focused on Him and only Him. Not on what the Joneses are doing/wearing/giving. I personally need to remember this.

I too must confess this sin.

> You ask what is faith and answer it by citing Hebrews 11:1. You also talk about how it's about "believing God." Well, a question that arises from that is "believe what about God?"

I think the Scriptures make a hard distinction between 'believing about God' and 'believing God.' For example, in Mark 1:34 is talks about the demons believing that Jesus was the Son of God and in James 2:19 is also talks about how the demons know who God is (and they tremble). So, what one believes about God is not conclusive of their situation (vis-a-vis righteousness).

When I say that faith is believing God what I mean is that when God says something (whatever it may be) then the person says to themselves "OK, that is true." Of course they should then make sure that their lives line up with what they have now understood to be true. But, that is another matter for another time.

During the time when there was no Bible, it appears God had a way of talking to people that didn't involve writing. I think that today, it is the Bible that is the primary way that God brings His message to each person. Now, please don't jump to the conclusion that I am in any way trying to put a box around what God can or can not do. He can talk to people in anyway that He wishes. There is just so much in the Bible that is clearly God talking to people that we have a long way to go before we have exhausted what He has already told us.

> For me, faith is believing that God loves you and responding to that love.

Well, I think here we are in complete and total agreement. We are just using different words, I think. I say faith is believing God. Well, how do I know that God loves me? I think I have to go to the Bible to see what He says about His love to find this truth. But, I still have a choice of not believing that He loves me. And, of course, if one truly grasps what it means to say that God loves me, then there is really only one way to respond. I think that this is the linkage between faith and works. Works is the response of the one who knows he is loved. HOWEVER, one who doesn't know the truth concerning love can also do works that look to the human eye just like the words done in faith.

> I think it's that Abel had total love for God and Cain didn't. Cain's focus was not on God. He was obedient (i.e. he made an "offering" to God as God required him) but it wasn't out of love.

Love is a key word in the Scriptures. I think it is important to know what we mean when we use this word. So, to put my cards on the table, here is what I think it means: love is the unselfish seeking of the true welfare of the other. Love is an action, a decision, a sacrifice; it is not an emotion. Greek has 4 different words for love; all mean slightly different things. We have only one word in English and so we lump all of those meanings into that one word. I think this leads to confusion on our part when we hear the word love.

1 John 5:3 gives one of the most direct definitions of what it means to love God that I know of: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments . . ." So, was Cain obedient or was he 'partially' obedient? I say 'partially' and that is the same as fully disobedient as far as loving God is concerned. I think God had made it clear (we have no written record) as to what constituted an acceptable sacrifice. Abel understood; Cain chose something else. I don't think God intended that only shepherds would be able to give Him the right sacrifice; even farmers could do it if they wanted to obey.

> Here's something to contemplate...Abel showed his love for God by offering "the best firstlings of his flock." God showed His love for us by offering what? (John 3:16)


> A priest/friend of mine asked me once if I've ever contemplated what Jesus did for the first thirty years of His life. What do we know? Well, we know that He was a carpenter. If I had to guess, I would imagine that He would have been the best carpenter He could possibly be. He would have given 100% effort and given it all for His Father's glory.

This is going to get boring if all we do here is agree with one another!!! However, I agree with this sentiment. There are many passages that convey this same idea. Colossians 3:23 is one that I particularly like: "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men." Of course this also gets back to your earlier comment regarding whether we have our focus on God or on the 'Joneses.'

Modern Day Magi said...

Can it be called true worship if it is anything but our best. Not in terms of quality but effort.

I once heard a preacher say "We need to always give God excellence. If we give Him lazyness He will still bless us. It wil just be blessed lazyness, but if we give Him excellence it will become blessed excellence..."


David said...


> I tried e-mailing them to the gentleman with whom I've been corresponding but alas, something keeps eating my e-mail.

Thanks for persevering and also for considering me a gentleman!

> When I say Catholic, I mean those who are in full communion with the Catholic Church (or at least strive to be…)

Makes sense to me.

> My definition of a Christian is a person who follows Christ.

'Follows' is wide open to interpretation. Does it really define anything that could be verified (even by the one who thinks they are doing the following)?

> A Protestant Christian is partly in communion with the Catholic Church.

I'll be there are a bunch of Methodists, for example, who would be really surprised to hear this. Not that their surprise would make any difference of course.

> The reason why is that Jesus Christ founded one church. The church that He founded is the Catholic Church and all other churches derive themselves from the Catholic Church.

First, my interest is not church history, per se. I am certainly not interested in proving that the Protestants have it right in this area. My focus is what does the Bible teach. I assume that this view that Jesus founded the Catholic Church comes from Matthew 16:17-18. If so, all I can find there is that He said He would build His church. The particular structure that we recognize today as the Catholic (or for that matter the Protestant) Church may or may not be what He was referring to. At least I don't find anything in the Bible that makes this connection clear. But, please understand, this is not a big issue for me and I certainly do not mean to cause any offense by my comments on this subject (or any of the other subjects, for that matter).

> So, even an extreme anti-Catholic Christian who believes that Catholics aren’t Christian and that they’re the “Whore of Babylon” etc.

I certainly believe that at least one Catholic, you, are a Christian and I have no idea how to draw that connection from Revelation to the Whore of Babylon. Just the work of some very 'unChristian' scholars, I'm afraid.

> If you’re intention was Christians, yes, all Christians can baptize.

We definitely don't have to deal with Muslims, etc. If I understand you correctly a 'supernatural' event occurs when a person is Baptized with water and initiated into the Church of Christ. It just seems hard for me to grasp that a Christian (who may or may not be 'following' Christ very closely, can decide to do the Baptism (naturally at the request of the person to be Baptized) and a supernatural event always occurs.

> when I say Church, I mean Catholic Church

I understood that and am trying to be careful to make my references as clear as possible. We would be fine here if we just didn't have to use language to communicate.

> I see that you read the “Repent and be baptized” and see that as you have to believe first.

Even if you ignore the order for a moment, it is certainly two different actions that seem to be involved. You mention Acts 16:15. What I see there is:

1) Lydia, a worshiper of God, (???) was listening to Paul
2) the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.
3) when she and her household had been baptized

1) seems to be the hearing of the Gospel
2) seems to be God giving her the faith to believe what she had just heard from Paul
3) after that we hear about baptism (water baptism I assume). With regard to Lydia, this all makes sense. She had believed and then been baptized. With regard to the household, we have no information as to whether they did or did not believe first. On the other hand, I think the next passage you mentioned, Acts 16:33 clears this up.

You then mentioned Acts 16:33. What I see there in summary is:

1) v27 the jailer had been roused out of sleep and was about to kill himself.
2) v28 Paul cried out: "Do yourself no harm, for we are all here!"
3) v30 The jailer says to Paul and Silas "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
4) v31 And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household."
5) v32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.
6) v33 The Jailer was baptized, he and all his [household.]
7) v34 The jailer rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.

1) the jailer is scared stiff that he is going to die because of the prison break so he asks Paul how he can be saved. I doubt he meant anything related to Christ. But, Paul never missed an opportunity to spread the gospel.
4) Paul says believe (he does not say be baptized)
5) Paul tells him what to believe; here it makes it clear that he did this to all of the household and not just the jailer. In the case of Lydia, we aren't told this detail.
6) Now the group are baptized. At this point we really don't know if they had believed what Paul had told them.
7) Now we do. They are rejoicing because they had believed what Paul had told them. This was the reason they got baptized. And, again, it is not just the jailer who believed, it is the entire household who believed. Have I done damage to the plain meaning of the Scripture here?

> But realistically, if the Bible says they’re baptizing households and that the promise is for you and your children after you are baptized (Acts 2: 38-39) then logically, baptizing infants makes sense.

I'll admit that verse 38 is difficult for 'my side.' Let me just offer that if one reads the phrase, "and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ," as a paranthetical and not part of the main sentence, then it gives a very different sense than that it is water baptism that removes sin. However, as I said, that is a hard verse to resolve. The next verse is not as hard, in my opinion.

39 "For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself."

Isn't this just saying that the promise of the gospel is to everybody (you, your children, and all others) who the Lord gives faith to? Does it really seem to give special priviledges to children?

> We shouldn’t be baptizing adults who don’t believe.

OK, that makes sense. But, what you seem to be saying is that the fact that they have believed has resulted in nothing regarding their relationship with Jesus and His body. Naturally, I assume that as a result of their belief they are requesting the baptism. It just seems like there are so many verses that talk about the importance of repentance, changing one's mind, believing. And, yet you only see the change taking place when they are Baptized?

> Baptism is permissible for children as the parents would be expected to raise them in a Christian home.

Wow! I don't know about the people in your church; but, from what I see in my church, what people say and what they do are two very different things. Initiation into the Church sounds to me like something of such importance that it ought to require something more substantive that the word of the parents.

> When a person is baptized, they are reborn in “water and spirit” (John 3: 5) which to me means both. At Baptism, you use water but then the Holy Spirit enters you and you are forgiven of all of your sins.

I'll bet that you will be surprised to learn that I read that passage a little differently. Just kidding. Picking it up in verse 3:4 we see that Nicodemus is a little confused by what Jesus had just said. He can't understand how a grown person can get back into the womb and then be born. In any case, he is thinking about physical birth.

Then Jesus tells him that a person has to be born of water and spirit to enter the kingdom. I understand you see this as talking about baptism. However, verse 3:6 provides some more information. Here Jesus makes it clear that what is born of flesh is flesh (that's all of us). We are all at least born of flesh. Then He says "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." The new birth is of the spirit. That is what makes entry into the kingdom possible. Not the birth of the flesh. But, of course, both are required.

What I think verse 5 is talking about is a natural birth that we all go through and a spiritual birth that the ones who enter the kingdom go through. The 'water' and the 'spirit' in verse 5 refer to these two types of births. Water is a natural substance. Water here does not refer to baptism it refers to the natural birth of humans. Baptism is never mentioned in this passage and must be read into it to see it there. Just my opinion, of course.

> According to the Church, Salvation doesn’t occur until the end of your life. A person must “endure to the end” (Matthew 24:13) to be saved. Baptism is the start of the race and death would be the finish line.

There is just so much depth in what you say here that we could devote many, many posts to getting to the bottom of it. I'll be kind and wait for the right time.