Worship from the Heart
“In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (vv. 3–5a).- Genesis 4:1–5
Scripture devotes its attention to many topics, and some are dealt with more often than others. Among the subjects that receive the most sustained attention are the character of God, the work of the Messiah, the plight of humanity in sin, and the kind of worship our Lord desires. In the Old Testament Wisdom Literature, worship enjoys a particular focus. The book of Psalms consists of hymns with which the people of God are to praise Him. Proverbs emphasizes the reverent fear that should characterize the believer. Even Ecclesiastes is concerned with matters of worship such as making and keeping vows (Eccl. 5:4–7). Such dedication to worship gives us an opportunity to set the Wisdom Literature’s teaching on worship in a broader biblical context, and Dr. R.C. Sproul will help us do just that as we base our next week of studies on his teaching series Into the Sanctuary.
As we consider the biblical teaching on worship, we must begin by noting that while the form in which worship is conducted matters a great deal to our Creator, it is not the proper form alone that makes for God-pleasing worship but worship that issues from a wholehearted devotion to the Lord. In other words, God is not happy with worship that merely “goes through the motions”—worship that is formally correct but empty of a heart that is eager to love and praise Him. We find this in many places in Scripture. Jesus, for instance, quotes Isaiah’s condemnation of those who honor God with their lips even while they have hearts that are far from Him (Matt. 15:8–9). What the Lord wants are servants whose words evidence the true state of their hearts. He desires authentic heart devotion and reverence, not mere outward conformity to His regulations.
Today’s passage shows how God revealed this truth about worship at the beginning of history. We read of the different sacrifices of Cain and Abel as Abel brought the “firstborn” of his flock while Cain brought his offering of the fruit of the ground (Gen. 4:4). Yet while the Lord rejected Cain’s sacrifice, He accepted Abel’s offering (v. 5a). Such acceptance was not due to Abel’s working a more virtuous profession, since in the ancient world shepherds were often despised. Abel’s offering was accepted because it was the “firstborn”—the first and best of his flock. It represented what was most costly, and he showed his love for God above all else by giving such a costly gift. Cain, on the other hand, did not give of his firstfruits. His heart was not in worshiping God, for he held back the first and best of his vocation.
It is a good thing for corporate worship to become part of the weekly routine of the Christian. However, the fact that worship becomes routine and regular tempts us to be distracted during worship and to go through the motions without putting much thought into it. Therefore, we must work as hard as we can to make sure that our hearts and minds are in our praise. Let us focus entirely on the Lord as we worship Him in spirit and truth.
Passages for Further Study
1 Chronicles 28:9