Monday, May 10, 2010


Genesis 4:3-5 tells us that both Cain and Abel brought offerings as sacrifices to God. For some reason Abel's offerings received God's favor, but Cain's did not.

From a historical point of view, this brings up lots of questions. How did they know to start offering sacrifices? How did each know whether his offering had received God's favor or not? What cultural context surrounded their offerings? Did God prefer lambs rather than grain?

None of those questions gets at the heart of this passage. There are clues here we often miss.

First, look at the specific wording about each brother's offering. Cain brought "some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord." Abel, on the other hand, brought "fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock." Even in these two lines we begin to see a difference. Jesus taught that out of the overflow of our hearts we speak and act. So in the actions of Cain and Abel, we begin to see the nature of their hearts. Cain grabs a dipper and takes an average grain sample, as if he was going in to have the protein content measured. Abel, on the other hand, brings "fat portions" -- in other words, the best of the best, at least prior to our sedentary lifestyles and food pyramids. These fat portions Abel brings are selected from the firstborn of his flock -- so not an average sample, but the very first, the very best.

What does this tell you about each one's heart? Abel gave an offering, I think, out of a sense of delight in honoring God. Cain maybe gave out of a sense of duty or perhaps even resentfully. (This attitude comes through in spades in the next few interactions he has with Abel and with God.) Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks, said Jesus.

So what's the point? I still don't believe it's a story about what happened back then. It's a story about me. And maybe about you.

What's your heart like when you give? Do you love to offer your best, your first, your "fat portions" to God? (Yes, I know, most of us wish God would just make our fat portions disappear. That's NOT what I'm talking about, and you know it.) Or do you give out of a sense of have-to?

The trouble here is, our small-hearted giving bleeds over into other areas of our lives. If we are stingy in the face of God, we are also prone to be stingy and closed-fisted when it comes to relationships with others, and even with ourselves.

The deeper truth behind these brothers and their offerings is back to the truth of their names. As we said earlier, "Cain" means "productive" and "Abel" means "empty." When we see our treasures as something we've produced -- when we believe we deserve any portion of the credit for what we have -- we will be tight fisted and small hearted. But when we are empty of ourselves -- when we realize all we have and all we are is a gift to us, given so we might be a blessing to others, we can give generously.

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. What's in your heart? What overflows into your hands and your mouth? What spirit do you present to the world? Is it a pride like Cain's, expecting that your gift is going to earn you some respect, or is it a joyful freedom like Abel's, giving yourself away without strings attached?

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