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. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” [Genesis 4:3-7 ESV]
Probably the best indicator of love for another is the willingness to give because of the pleasure of love without the expectation of receiving anything in return. Once an expectation enters the gift is no longer a gift but a bribe. There is no love in a bribe but control and manipulation. Love, unfettered by the irrational and unreasonable expectations of a self-centered nature actually thrives on giving.
Before the fall God gave no command to offer Him sacrifices. Because He created Adam and Eve in His image it was their natural predisposition to love Him and His to love them. Their lives were a giving themselves to God, to each other and to the world in which they lived. And they received God’s love, not in return but because it His nature to love. Their love carried no sacrifice for they lost nothing to show their love.
After the fall it was centuries, even millennia, before God required those who were His to offer a sacrifice. Sacrifice became a requirement of the law. Can love be legislated? Law cannot force anyone to love but it can force them to act in a loving way toward God and others. For determining the motivation of the mind and heart sacrifice is the most consistent indicator.
If there was no compunction to offer a sacrifice why did Cain and Abel offer sacrifices? God did not rebuke either of them for offering a sacrifice to Him. There is no spoken demand for sacrifice from Adam’s family. What we can know is God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain’s.
Let’s look at some of the pertinent evidence. First, after the fall God continued to converse with man. Somehow, their relationship with God was active enough they knew, intimately, a sacrifice was a good thing. Second, God talked to Cain in a way he could understand. Third, both knew whose sacrifice was accepted and whose was not. The question is not how do we know why Abel’s was accepted but what the evidence is for God not accepting Cain’s.
“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” Genesis 4:3 ESV]. A description of the offerings is given. What is significant is the lack of a description of Cain’s sacrifice. Abel brought a sacrifice from the “firstborn” of his flock. Cain’s sacrifice was from the “fruit of the ground.” The text does not imply the condition of either sacrifice. Did Cain offer slightly bruised fruit or Abel a lame animal? Perhaps Cain only offered a handful of what he had grown. God does not say the amount or condition of either sacrifice. What He does say is Abel gave Him the “firstborn” from his flock. The implication of this description is Cain did not give the “first fruits” from his labor. We know God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but rejected Cain’s. We do not know what God’s acceptance or rejection looks like nor do we have the right to make an assumption about its appearance.
No matter the condition of the sacrifice God spoke to Cain. He did not ignore Cain. What He told Cain is integral to understanding sin and love for God. Cain was angry because God rejected His sacrifice. His expectation was God would accept his sacrifice, his “love” offering, given in his way. We do not get to dictate how we love God. He is not One to accept bribes or allow anyone to manipulate Him. Cain was angry because God did not meet his criteria for a loving sacrifice. This tells us God had His own criteria, His own law and expectations of what is a loving sacrifice for Him. Knowing His expectations are based upon His eternal personality and character tells us His expectations are rational and reasonable and incorruptible.
God spoke to Cain and told him the motivation of his heart was toward evil. There are two elements to God’s examination. First is the obvious evil motivation boiling up in Cain’s heart before he offered his sacrifice. How do we know this? He is Adam’s son and was bent by sin. His anger toward God for rejecting his sacrifice is ready to bubble over into action. He’s angry enough to kill or hurt, to lose control and lash out. Secondly, there is something like a wild beast lurking near his heart ready to devour him, to consume and own him. Perhaps, God is trying to remind Cain about the deception of the serpent who wished to control his parents through deception. Here, sin wishes to control through uncontrolled emotions exacerbated by unmet, unreasonable expectations.
Here is God’s warning and command, not a tip or suggestion. “You must rule over it.” God is telling Cain to fight and control the temptation not overcome sin. He is to recognize the truth of sin in himself and war against it. He must master the sin which is trying to control him. Once sin has control it is the master and he becomes its slave. Once sin has enslaved the possibility of truly loving God becomes impossible. Yet, what is impossible for us is very possible for God.
Being pure in heart does not mean never sinning. Though we are a new creation and filled with His Spirit we still carry with us the old man, the old self corrupted and controlled by sin.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. [Romans 6:5-12 ESV]
Part of being pure in heart is offering ourselves to God in love without the unreasonable and irrational expectations He will love us at all or more because of our sacrifice. He loves us because it is His nature to love us. We do not need to buy His love and trying to bribe Him into giving us anything only shows our lack of understanding or denial of His nature. Another part of being pure in heart is the tooth and claw fighting against the temptation to sin so that sin does not control. Sin is rebellion not love and as long as we succumb to temptations and sin we are not loving Him. Both of these ways are processes, a working out of our salvation where the probability of failure exists but always enhances the Spirit given successes. We can love Him because He has given us the tools and means to do so.