A friend of mine, Beth Zimmerman, asked me a couple of years ago to write for her on a group blog that was sharing the about the heroes of the Christian faith and seeking to help people learn about each of them. She had a vision to write devotionals taking the reader down through the list of the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11 and discuss each patriarch with whom God was well pleased and explain what type of faith they had and how we can imitate it in our own lives.
I took her up on her challenge, and I had always wondered about the particular verse I chose. I wanted to learn more myself. I picked Cain and Abel in Hebrews 11:4 – right near the beginning of the list!
Here’s the verse I started my own quest or personal study on:
“By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain”
We read in the actual story of Cain and Abel this account:
…Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 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 firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” ~ Genesis 4:2–7
I always wondered what it was about Abel’s offering that made it more acceptable to God. Every time I read it, I feel a little sorry for him. I hadn’t ever searched the scripture out for any more to the story, though, and there ARE a few other morsels found in other places which hint to what the reason might have been for God’s disdain.
In 1 John 3:11–12 the apostle writes:
“We should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous”
The bible tells us that God knows the heart of man, and that He can see to our motivations; thus God knew that Cain was evil before he had chosen to murder his brother. If Cain were to have been righteous also, he would have wanted to please the Lord and instead of jealousy, he would have asked the Lord to help him become pleasing like his brother. In Matthew 23:35, Jesus himself even proclaimed that Abel was a righteous man.
But how can we – in this generation – seek to please the Lord, especially when the sacrifices of the Old Testiment are no longer required? What IS required of us to be pleasing to God?
To discover this, I wanted to start with the very definition of “acceptable”; however, some of the modern English meanings define the word in a way which I don’t think God intended.
According to Miriam-Webster, acceptable is:
1. Capable or worthy of being accepted (we alone are not capable, it is by God’s strength and sacrifice of His son that we are MADE acceptable)
2. Fairly good, barely satisfactory or adequate (again, none of us are good, which is why Jesus had to become a sacrifice to atone for our sin, and he does not call us to be adequate, but to be Holy as He is holy)
3. Welcome/pleasing (welcome and pleasing might work – because I do think when we try to please the Lord, He welcomes it)
To get a deeper imprint of what God means by acceptable, I decided to turn to a Strong’s concordance. [ If you don’t have one of these expensive books yourself, you can always turn to an online version. The Blue Letter Bible site is awesome. I highly recommend studying the Bible this way – I’ve had many a deep revelation after seeking after the deeper meaning of what was written in my concordance. ]
I scrolled down the page at all the times the word acceptable was found in the Bible and the very last one was 1 Peter 2:20. After looking it up, I noticed the word acceptable wasn’t even found in the NIV version. After cross-referencing it with a bunch of other bible versions, I found that it was translated bunch of different ways. Acceptable was the original English word translated into the King James Version.
For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. ~ 1 Peter 2:20 KJV
In modern English…
But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. ~ 1 Peter 2:20 NIV
Notice, the NIV translates that last part as:
“this is commendable before God.”
And the NLT translates it as:
“God is pleased with you.”
“…this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”
NASB says it this way:
“…this finds favor with God.”
The actual Greek word used in this verse from the original text was hupopneó (Strongs 5285), which translates literally to “breathe softly”. The opposite of which would be breathing hard (anger or frustration). Taking parenting as my example, I can imagine how a child’s behavior could cause you to either breathe hard, or breathe easy and soft. What an image!
Another verse that stood out to me from the list of places “acceptable” was found in scripture was Romans 12:2. It states in the KJV:
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” ~ Romans 12:2, KJV
I think that’s all of our aim – to find out how to be acceptable to God. The NIV translates this particular verse as “pleasing”…
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. ~ Romans 12:2, NIV
But how do we ‘renew our mind’ and find out what is acceptable to God – His will for us?
If you take Romans 12:2 and read the entire verse for context, Paul is discussing our lives – our bodies – as living sacrifices (which would be the New Testament equivalent of the old law requiring animal sacrifice). He said this was the true and proper way to worship God! [ I heard a preacher say once that the problem with a living sacrifice is that they keep trying to crawl down off the alter. So true – dying to yourself and living for Christ is not easy. ]
I love what the following verse says:
Romans 12:3 ~ For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
Did you catch that last part? The faith God has distributed to each of you. He gives us our faith. He allots the amount of it out as if he was counting out grain to feed his sheep. He knows just how much each of us need. And if the faith comes from Him, we realize that it IS ENOUGH… and we should NOT COMPARE it to the faith of someone else.
Acceptable faith then, is commendable – pleasing – gracious… not because of anything we do, but a willingness we have, to accept what God has given – to accept His favor with thankfulness.
Acceptable faith is one that aims to live as an offering of sacrificial praise to the one who bestowed it.
Abel then, knew God’s heart and sought to offer praise to Him with a sacrifice of the very best he had – an overflow from a heart that desired God’s pleasure. Able was given faith that was enough. We all are after we hear the Word of the Lord for ourselves. It’s what we do with what we are given in our life that shows our heart toward our creator. Will we seek to serve Him in honor – become a living sacrifice of praise? Or will we turn away and seek our own path, and be jealous of those who are living for God as Cain did? There are only two choices… a life of true worship (God-centered), or a life of “my own way” (self-centered = satan-centered).
In Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, the issue of pride is also mentioned:
In all ages there have been two sorts of worshippers, such as Cain and Abel; namely, proud, hardened despisers of the gospel method of salvation, who attempt to please God in ways of their own devising; and humble believers, who draw near to him in the way he has revealed. Cain indulged malignant anger against Abel. He harbored an evil spirit of discontent and rebellion against God. God notices all our sinful passions and discontents. There is not an angry, envious, or fretful look, that escapes his observing eye.
May we be grateful of the gift of faith He has given us, and show ourselves humble and sincere through our obedience, that we might truly please Him. What a gift – this life – faith that is enough – that we should respond accordingly with gratitude.
In closing, I want to leave you with one more “Acceptable” verse which caught my eye today: 1 Peter 2:5.
The Living Stone and a Chosen People
1 Peter 2:4-6… As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”
May our spiritual offerings be acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. I challenge you to read all of 1 Peter 2 today. May God bless you with the richness of His Word that gives you all the faith you need to be found acceptable to him!