“By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.” (Hebrews 11:4, AV)
In the late 1990’s, Matt Redmond wrote a song, “Heart of Worship.” The story behind the song is interesting. His home had lost its way in worship. The pastor questioned whether the congregation came to pour out worship to God or just take in the music. Because of this, he took a drastic step. He eliminated the musical instruments in the services. It is reported that, after an initial feeling of discomfort, the congregation began to rediscover the heart of worship.
Many congregations have lost the heart of worship. The church has experienced “the worship wars,” characterized by bickering about music, liturgy, lighting effects, platform design, seating arrangements, worship area design, etc. All this bickering characterizes parishioners that have lost the heart of worship.
Here the author wrote to a Jewish community so that they would understand true faith by citing familiar examples. In this verse, he uses the example of Abel and Cain in their worship of God by presenting an offering. We must go back to Genesis to determine why Abel’s sacrifice was better than Cain’s.
Many theologians have attempted to answer this question through conjecture, as the account does not give a direct answer. Some propose it was because Abel gave a blood sacrifice while Cain gave a grain offering. The implication is that the animal sacrifice was a humble acknowledgment of sin by Abel, while Cain remained proud. Others have argued that these were first fruit offerings and Abel must have given the best, while Cain did not. However, with all this conjecture, we should not miss the big point.
The passage in Genesis gives us a very significant clue as to the bigger problem (Gen 4:1-7). The writer of Genesis indicated that the Lord had regard for Abel’s sacrifice and no regard for Cain’s, and thus Cain was very angry (v3-6). After this, we learn of an overriding issue from the Lord’s response. “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” (Genesis 4:7, AV)
Here, we see the bigger issue that is in perfect alignment with what the author of Hebrews is trying to communicate to his readers. It is something in Cain’s heart of worship that is flawed. The Lord gives Cain the opportunity to get things right by saying, “if thou doest well.” However, we know the end of the story, Cain does not do well, but instead kills his brother Abel (Gen 4:8). What we see in Cain is a proudful, irreverent, sinful, and unrepentant heart.
We must remember that “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:17, AV). It was an issue of the heart. Cain did not have the heart of worship. Why did he not have the heart of worship? It was because he did not demonstrate the faith that his brother Abel had.
In our churches today, have we lost the heart of worship? Have we become consumers of music, liturgy, or the show? Do we enter watching the clock, just urging the time to move faster? Perhaps we have lost the heart of worship. Remember the Lord’s words, “if thou doest well.” We all have an opportunity to check our hearts at the door and humbly repent. We should consider Redmond’s lyrics, “I’m coming back to the heart of worship, And it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus.” It is an issue of faith, is it not?