TRUE WORSHIP IS ACCEPTABLE TO GOD
WHEN IT COMES FROM A RIGHTEOUS HEARTA good place to begin the study of TRUE WORSHIP is with the first example of worship found in the Bible, the story of Cain and Abel. In this account we learn that these two sons of Adam and Eve were different, not only in age and occupation, but also in character.
Abel was a submissive shepherd (Genesis 4). This fact in itself, however, did not give him any natural advantage with God over his brother. Abel did not please God more simply because he was a keeper of sheep and Cain was a tiller of the soil. Yet shepherding was Abel's chosen profession, a choice that was based probably on a desire and ability to work with animals. It seems likely that Abel was quite satisfied that shepherding placed him in God's will.
What was obvious from Genesis 4 is that Abel understood God's requirements regarding sacrifices and offerings. "And the Lord respected Abel and his offerings" (Genesis 4:4). When it was time to bring an offering to God, it appears there was no argument from him - he was submissive to God's will and purposes.
In contrast to Abel, Cain was a farmer. When it came to pleasing God, Cain was not at a disadvantage simply because of his occupation. Farmer was then, as it is now, good and honest work. The prophet Amos was a farmer too - God certainly did not condemn Cain for his line of work. The Bible does not say why God rejected Cain's sacrifice.
1) TWO DIFFERENT KINDS OF HEARTS
Indeed it seems reasonable to assume that Cain was equal to Abel in his knowledge of God's requirement for offerings and sacrifices. But instead of submitting to God's parameters regarding his offerings, Cain chose to do his own thing in his own way. How do we know this? We read in Matthew 23:34-35 that Jesus in His discussion with the Pharisees declares that Abel was righteous and equal in status to one of the prophets - that meant that Abel had received God's Words and lived as a godly example before his brother Cain. Hebrews 11:4 states, "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous." This is an affirmation that Abel exercised faith in what he knew about God, and that he did so not only in daily life but specifically when it came time to express worship fulfilling God's requirement. Whereas Cain worshiped the way he did because he had a HEART that was predisposed to oppose God. How do we know this? Jude writes, condeming rebellious teachers, "Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain." (Jude 11). Cain did not hesitate to do something religious, but his HEART was far removed from God.
2) TWO DIFFERENT KINDS OF WORSHIPS
"And in the process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the first born of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering but He did not respectCain and his offering. And Cain was very angry and his countenance fell." (Genesis 4:3-4)
Even though their outward offerings of worship seemed very similar, Cain and Abel offered different expressions of worship - because their HEARTS were different. Of course, it was to be expected that the outward expressions of their worship would be similar, since both men were aware of God's requirements:
1) Both Men brought their offerings to God at a set time
2) Both also engaged in worship in the same place
- The words "brought ... an offering unto the Lord" probably indicate a specified location.
3) Both Cain and Abel were engaged in acts of worship
- The simple action action of presenting an offering implies bowing down before the mighty God to express submission or obedience. At least outwardly, Cain and Abel appeared to be doing the same thing. Yet beyond the apparent similarities, Cain and Abel were actually quite different in their expression of worship.
The disctinction is an important one, and it applies to everything we see in the world of religion today. Not all expressions of worship are truly worship. Abel's worship proved that he had a HEART of submission to the Lord: he understood God's Words and trusted them, and he acknowledged God's authority to prescribe worship. He also expressed his submission by giving God the BEST he had to offer. "Abel also brought of the FIRSTBORN of his flock and their fat." (Genesis 4:4) - these terms always indicate a sacrifice of the BEST!
By contrast, Cain's worship was empty and self-centred. He knew God's requirements and he did what God required him to do - but no more. "Cain brought an offering of fruit of the ground to the Lord ... but [the Lord] did not respect Cain and his offering." (Genesis 4:3, 5). Fruit was an acceptable offering (i.e Mosaic law includes grain offering), but notice the glaring omission - the text does not say that Cain, as compared to Abel, offered his first or his BEST. Therefore we cannot say that Cain's offering of grain was inherently less acceptable than Abel's blood offering.
THE DIFFERENCE LAY NOT IN THE OFFERING
BUT RATHER IN THE OFFERERS!
3) GOD ACCEPTS ONLY TRUE WORSHIP
What was the difference? Cain and Abel worshiped at the same time, at the same place, and through the same outward actions. But God "had respect" for Abel's expression of worship; the phrase means that He regarded it favorably and accepted it kindly. In other words God was predisposed toward the kind of worship Abel offered.
However, God "did not respect" Cain's expression of worship. Why not? What was wrong with Cain's worship?
Cain proved by his response to God's disapproval that his HEART was not right before God. When God disapproved of his worship style, "Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell" (Genesis 4:5). He did not ask for forgiveness or accept correction. Instead, he took his anger out on his brother, whose righteousness highlighted his own unrighteousness. That attitude characterized Cain's HEART, and it became obvious in his worship.
Cain became angry, and then he compounded his problems by refusing to do well. "If you do well, will you not be accepted?" the Lord asked; "and if you do not do well, sin lies at the door" (Genesis 4:7). When God rebukes us, as He did Cain, for failing to have a RIGHT HEART in worship, we still have the opportunity to do good. God challenged Cain to that end, but Cain was not interested.. Instead of dealing with the sin expressed itself in false worship, he refused to acknowledge his error. That refusal led him into a downward spiral until he committed the ultimate sin of the flesh - murder.
(an extract from True Worship by David Whitcomb & Mark Ward)
In conclusion, THE ESSENCE OF TRUE WORSHIP - is expressed by those who have RIGHTEOUS HEART - those who are intimately acquainted with and has a daily relationship with God exhibited through OBEDIENCE.