LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF ABEL
It would be hard to imagine that in history there has been a more famous family than the family of Adam and Eve. Students of the Bible are well acquainted with the history of two of their sons, Cain and Abel, bringing offerings before the God of heaven and how Cain eventually murdered Abel (Genesis 4).
The New Testament says that by faith Abel is still speaking. “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). No, Abel’s faith does not speak literal words that we hear with our literal ears. But, there are lessons for us to glean from his faith and from what the Bible briefly records about his life. Let us take a look at some of those lessons.
The history of Abel’s life shows that Jehovah is aware of all that takes place on the earth. Cain slew Abel (Genesis 4:8). God then asked Cain, “Where is Abel thy brother?” (4:9). Mark it down: God did not ask such a question in order to gain information. The very next verse records this statement of Jehovah to Cain: “. . . the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.” You see, God sees and knows everything. He knew that Cain shed the innocent blood of Abel. Man’s actions, speech, and even his thoughts, are “open” before the Lord. God declared, “For mine eyes are upon all their ways: they are not hid from my face, neither is their iniquity hid from mine eyes” (Jeremiah 16:17).
The Bible record of Abel’s worship shows that there is such a thing as acceptable worship, that is, worship that pleases the Lord. While it is not true that God accepts every form of worship (for instance, He did not respect the offering of Cain, Genesis 4:5), neither is it the case that the Almighty refuses to accept any worship, period. “And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering” (4:4). Yes, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain” (Hebrews 11:4), and God was pleased by it. Since faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17), and because Abel made his offering “by faith,” it must be the case that at some point prior to that offering, God had instructed Abel about how to worship Him. So it is for Christians as well. In the New Testament, the Lord has given us a pattern for worship, and when we as His children worship Him in spirit and in truth, then such worship is pleasing in His sight (John 4:23,24).
A third lesson that we note is that man’s righteous action will not go unnoticed or unrewarded by God. God testified that Abel “was righteous” (Hebrews 11:4). The Holy Spirit further spoke of Abel’s “righteous works” (1 John 3:12). To the first century saints it was written, “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward his name . . .” (Hebrews 6:10). And just what is the promised reward for the righteous? Going “into life eternal” (Matthew 25:46). When the days seem dark and difficult and the road ahead seems long, take comfort in knowing that the Righteous Judge notices and rewards the faithful service of His children.
The account of Abel’s life and death further demonstrates that in order to please God, it is not necessary to be popular with other people, even family members. It is certainly more pleasant when our association with others is characterized by peace and harmony rather than a state of conflict. However, we must recognize that when other people are upset with us because of our unbending desire to do what is right in the sight of the Lord God, their being upset with us must not cause us to waver in our service to Him. Look at Cain and Abel. Cain was terribly upset. Why? Because God accepted Abel’s worship, but not Cain’s (Genesis 4:4,5), and Cain saw that Abel’s works were righteous (1 John 3:12).
The implied message of 1 John 3:11-15 is that Cain hated Abel. Did that mean that Abel was somehow out of line in what he had done? Not at all. Again, it is not pleasant to think of those close to us being totally against us, but sometimes that is just the way it is going to be. In some cases, “a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matthew 10:36). Jesus said so.
Faith that pleases God must be evidenced by action. Consider again what Hebrews 11:4 reveals about Abel. “By faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice . . . he was righteous . . .” Look at how those words go together: “faith,” “offered,” “sacrifice,” “righteous.” Abel’s faith was not simply a “I-have-God-deep-in-my-soul” type of faith. No, Abel’s faith acted according to the will of God, and that is what pleased the Lord. In the Christian era, it is faith that works by love that makes us pleasing in God’s sight (Galatians 5:6).
Finally, the history of Abel and Cain shows that sometimes siblings raised in the same home under the same circumstances turn out drastically different in the spiritual realm. It is puzzling, but it happens. Cain’s works were evil, while Abel’s were righteous (1 John 3:12). They had the same father and mother, yet they went different directions in their spiritual lives. In the Christian age, parents have the obligation to raise their children in the way of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). To do this, parents must both teach their children the truth verbally and live that truth in their lives. After such training, those children are on their own when they grow into adulthood. Christian parents need to do the best they can to rear their children properly, but if one or more of them later stray from the truth, parents should not constantly blame and punish themselves for the foolish mistakes of their offspring.
May God help us to see, accept, and apply these lessons from the life of Abel. His faith still speaks.
— Roger D. Campbell
TRUTH is published monthly by the Klang church of Christ in order to help educate, edify, encourage, and equip the saints of God.