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October 21, 2012

In this issue: Abel Versus Cain by Frank Walton | Worship in Spirit and Truth, Part 2 by David Hersey

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by Frank Walton

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. --Hebrews 11:4

Abel's worship is presented as an exemplar to us of faithful, God-honoring worship. It was a "better sacrifice" (NASB; lit., "a more sacrifice"; Greek, pleion, "plenary" means "fully constituted"). This means it was the fullest example of supreme devotion in obedient worship that pleases God. Fausett observes it "partook more largely of the true virtue of sacrifice." This is a good reason to learn the difference between the acceptable worship of Abel in contrast to the unacceptable worship of Cain.

Acceptable Worship Must Be By Obedient Faith

Why was Abel's worship accepted and Cain rejected? Abel was "righteous" (Heb. 11:4, Matt 23:35) and therefore his attitude and action in worship must have been according to God's righteous will (Ps. 119: 172). Yet, Cain's worship was not, and it is listed among his "evil works" (1 John 3:12). Worship to God is supremely concerned with offering what God wants, not in fulfilling selfish human desires.

The "faith" to be "righteous" before God comes from doing God's will and following His directions (Heb. 10:36-38). How would Abel know that God wanted an animal sacrifice (kill it and burn it up as an offering), unless God had given instructions? How then did Abel and Cain come to offer their worship at the same time? Both contextually point to God having given some specific instructions about worship He wanted.

A. R. Fausett observed: "Now faith must have some revelation of God on which it fastens. The revelation was ... God's command to sacrifice animals ... in token of the forfeiture of men's life by sin" ( JFB: NT Commentary, 2:566).

How do we get "faith" to believe that what we offer to God is acceptable? "Faith ... comes by hearing the Word" (Rom. 10:17). Faith is a trusting response to God. The "righteous live by faith" (1:17), which is to "walk by faith" (2 Cor 5:7). This means following God's instructions in "the obedience of faith" (Rom. 16:25-27; Heb. 11:7-8, 17, 28, 30).

Faith to rightly obey must rest on divine testimony. The rejection of Cain and his offering of worship would also entail his lack of faith to not fulfill God's instructions of acceptable worship. God accepted both the worship and the worshipper in Abel's case, whereas He rejected both in the case of Cain.

No Substitutes for Blood Sacrifices Required of Sinners

Cain's offering was rejected because he failed to offer, by faith, the needed blood sacrifice to be right with God. For sinful men to approach a holy God, His grace and mercy ordained the life-blood of an innocent substitute offered to make atonement. "All things are cleansed with blood and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Heb. 9:22). This substitutionary system was planned from the foundation of the world, since Christ Himself was "a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8, ASV). This principle of blood atonement was operative in covering Adam and Eve's shameful nakedness, as visible evidence of their sin and alienation, which needed to be remedied in restoring fellowship with God (Gen. 3:7-11). In Hebrew, "to atone" means "to cover." In Genesis 3:21, God mercifully restored fellowship with Adam and Eve by slaying innocent animals and "made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them." Ryrie observes, "The garments of skin were God's provision for restoring Adam and Eve's fellowship with Himself and imply slaying of an animal in order to provide them." The Hebrew writer says that Jesus' "blood ... speaks better things than the blood of Abel" (Heb. 12:28). Abel's blood sacrifice was only a temporary provision for man's sin problem. Animal sacrifice was provisional and could only look forward to the perfect sacrifice of Christ, which would fully and finally mediate the lasting covenant between God and sinful men (Heb. 10:1-7).

We understand that Cain must have substituted a more convenient vegetable offering instead of the needed animal sacrifice. It wasn't that Cain just had a bad attitude. The text specifically says God "did not accept Cain and his gift" (Gen. 4:7, NCV), meaning both Cain himself and His worship were unacceptable to God.

Cain was the first religious innovator, which illustrates the error of "will-worship" (Col. 2:23) or "self-chosen religion." Those who "reject authority" (Jude 8), as in worship and add unauthorized items, have dangerously entered "the way of Cain" (v. 11). This is the way of rebellion against God's appointed way of acceptable worship and fellowship. In prompting Abel's murder, Cain's unauthorized worship is specifically enumerated as "his works were evil" (1 John 3:12). A rebellious person is a selfish person, who is more concerned with presumptuously doing what he wants in religion than submitting to what God requires. O Lord, keep us back "from presumptuous sin" (Ps. 19:13)!

An Internet blogger observed: "Cain ... showed that he desired to be independent of God by worshipping Him according to his own ideas, and his offering of the fruit of the ground displayed the fact that he was trusting in his own good works, and not in ... [God's grace] for justification. ... If we think we can worship God correctly without his Sovereign prescription, why should we think that we can't be saved as a result of our own efforts? If we are entirely dependent upon God's grace for salvation, then we must also be entirely dependent on the instructions of God's word for our worship." ~

Worship in Spirit and Truth, Part 2

[Continued from last issue.]

5. Truth; The authority of Christian worship.

God also seeks those who worship in truth. What is truth? The Bible tells us in words that are impossible to misunderstand in John 17:17, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” So if God’s word is truth, and we are to worship in truth, then we must therefore worship according to God’s word in order to be “in truth.” In Colossians 3:17 we find a verse of scripture that sets a parameter for all that we do in life. This most certainly applies to our worship. Colossians 3:17, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.“ Our worship to God is part of whatsoever we do, so we need to make sure that our worship is in the name, or by the authority of Jesus Christ. And notice there’s that little exhortation on the end about giving thanks to God and the Father? So we see here in this verse that we are to do the things we do by the authority of Jesus, “in truth” and with a thankful attitude, “in spirit.”

We must seek authority for the things we do in our worship. To add to the worship God has prescribed is to think beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6). To leave out something is to fall short of the glory of God and fail to do those things that God is looking for in His true worshippers.

So how do we determine from the word of truth how to worship according to the word of truth? The new testament does not have a book named, ‘How to Worship God.’ There is not a checklist in scripture that specifically lists all of the things God is looking for in true worship. So in recognition of this fact, and in full realization that God expects us to worship according to His word then what do we do? Does the word of God even tell us what to do? Indeed it most certainly does.

When writing to the Christians in Corinth, Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 4:16, “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.” Several modern versions of our English translations correctly render the Greek word for “followers” as “imitators.” Paul wrote almost the exact same thing to them again in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Imitate [follow] me, just as I also imitate Christ.” Use my actions, my life, my worship, my service to God as a pattern for you to follow or imitate. Paul is telling them to ‘Do what I do, live how I live, worship how I worship. Use my life as your way, your template, your pattern for living.’ If that will work for them, will it not work for us?

Now let’s consider Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 2:14, “For ye, brethren, became followers [imitators] of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews.” When speaking to the Thessalonian Christians concerning their conversion to Christ, Paul mentioned that they had become imitators of the churches of God in Judaea. The Thessalonians had followed the lead of another congregation of Christians. They conformed themselves to the pattern of another congregation thus making themselves imitators or followers of that pattern. Paul held the churches of God in Judea up as a mold, or an acceptable pattern for the church in Thessalonica to follow or imitate. Well. if they can do it, then why can’t we do the same thing they did? Well, we can’t follow or imitate the churches in Judaea because scripture does not have a detailed description of those particular churches in scripture so what then do we do? If the church in Thessalonica imitated the churches of God in Judaea, then can we not imitate it and be assured of being just like the churches Paul set forth in scripture? The answer is yes as long as the church in scripture we are imitating is an exact match.

For instance, we know from a study of scripture that the Corinthian and the Galatian churches, among others, had internal problems that we wouldn’t want within our congregation. So then what do we do about that? The answer is very simple. We follow the approved examples and patterns of all of the churches in scripture and we reject the unapproved ones. We then combine that with the teachings of the apostles and other inspired writers of scripture and when taken all in all, we can get a picture of how the Lord’s church is to worship. In short, we simply use all of the approved examples, teachings and commandments in scripture given to all of the churches and individuals in scripture and we form a composite image of what the New Testament church was and we imitate that. In view of the lack of a detailed checklist of how we are to worship in scripture and given the commands we have to worship in spirit and in truth, there simply is no other way to achieve what we are commanded to accomplish. Scripture makes the internal claim to be inspired and to throughly furnish us unto every good work in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Worship is a verb, therefore worship is a work of righteousness. God simply did not command us to worship according to a set of guidelines and then leave us without a way of determining what those guidelines are.

So using this principle to guide us, how did the first century church worship? There are two forms or types of worship in the New Testament. There is a continual form of worship which all Christians are to participate in. Scripture teaches us to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and to “sing psalms” when we are merry (James 5:13). There is a sense in scripture where the Christian is to live in a continual state of worship at all times. Paul taught in Romans 12:1 we are to present our “bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.“ The Greek word for service in this context is “LATREUO” which is correctly translated in scripture as worship in a number of places. The NIV translates this as “worship” instead of “service” and this understanding is completely consistent with the meaning of the words. Jesus Christ used both “LATREUO” and “PROSKUNEO” synonymously in the exact same phrase when confronting Satan. Backing up to a verse we have already looked at, we again see Jesus telling Satan in Luke 4:8, “Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship [PROSKUNEO] the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve [LATREUO].”

[To be continued.]

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