Perfecting our Love for One Another By Dealing with Bitterness

In Genesis 4:1-9, we are introduced to the lives of the two sons of Adam (4:1-2a): Cain and Abel.

These two sons had parallel interests:  Abel kept the flock, and Cain worked the soil (4:2b).

Two nature of offering they offered (vv.3-4a): On one occasion, they brought offerings before the Lord. Cain brought some of the fruit of the soil, while Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flocks.

Two Responses (vv.4a)-: The Lord looked with favor on Abel his offering; he did not look with favor on Cain and his offering.

Why? Is it because of the offering or the offerer? Certainly, this has to do with the heart condition of the worshipper.

We are later told that Abel was a righteous man (Heb. 11:4), and his heart was right with God therefore, his offering was readily accepted.

However, Cain’s heart wasn’t right with God. And this was something that could not be substituted with sacrifices or plenty of sacrifices.

How do we know this?

Bible records, in Samuel 15:22, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” God wants us to obey Him rather than perform superficial religious rituals.

Also, God does not delight in the multitude of offerings (Cain may have been tempted to think this way); rather, he wants us to be righteous, shun evil, seek justice, and defend the cause of the vulnerable in society (Isa. 1). Prophet Micah (6:8) instructs, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Therefore, the rejection of Cain’s offering was due to a lack of faith and obedience. He was only fulfilling a religious duty, honoring God with his lips but not with a contrite heart (Ps. 51:17).

The nature of his heart was laid bare when God accepted Abel’s sacrifice. Cain was BURDENED WITH ANGER, and this became a source of conflict.

Manifestation of a Destructive Emotion (v.6): Cain became angry, jealous, and downcast; why? Simply because his brother’s offering was accepted and he was not. He basically had a problem with the declaration of his brother as righteous. His heart was full of hatred, resentment, jealousy, and covetousness.

This is not something utterly new; this is the true reflection of the human heart. Bible teaches that the heart of man is hostile and deceitful above all things and is beyond cure (Jer. 17:9); “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and makes a man ‘unclean’” (Mark 7:21-23; see also Rom. 3:10,13-18). This informs us why Cain was angry and bitter over his brother.

These attitudes of the heart are not strange today. There are people who, like Cain, silently in their hearts, cannot stand seeing their friends/colleagues get promoted, move to a new house, get a life partner, get married, or get a scholarship; when these good things happen, they wish that the world of their favored colleagues would collapse or shutdown. These destructive emotions (anger, resentment, jealousy, bitterness, envy) motivate people to pull others down, call people names and ensure by all means everyone is on ground zero (like them)

Realize that in this case, it wasn’t even a friend; it was a BROTHER (repeated three times for emphasis); having an ill motive against a brother. Cain burned with anger against his own brother. I see a similarity between Cain and the prodigal son’s brother, who felt so bad when his lost brother returned home. He was so angry, yet he was not footing the homecoming party bill!

If you have a problem with people becoming better, you will always have a problematic life because there are always people who can do things better and are smarter than you in one way or the other. Yes, you are a unique and special person, but that does not eclipse the fact that God has gifted others differently. In fact, God favors those who walk humbly before him.

God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes, just like in the case of Cain and Abel, the older is rejected in favor of the younger, turning the normative ancient Near East societal custom around. Cain was special, but because of his sin, Seth took over his place (4:25); Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn, but God bypassed him and chose Isaac. Esau was Isaac’s firstborn son but was rejected, and Jacob was picked. Jacob’s firstborn son Reuben was replaced by Joseph’s sons (49:3-4; 1 Chron. 5:1-2). In fact, God even “rearranged” the birth order of Joseph’s sons (Gen. 48:8-22). God exercises his sovereignty in his choices of those who receive his blessing, for all we receive is because of God’s grace.

Envy is such a disastrous sin in any kind of relationship. Envy or covetousness is simply wanting right things or wrong things at a wrong amount, at the wrong time, and in a wrong manner.

What was God’s response? Two Action Points for Cain (v.7):

Do what is Right– If Cain does what is right, the Lord will graciously accept him because the Lord does not show favoritism. The Lord was telling Cain to get his heart right with him. Does the Lord reject a person who serves him wholeheartedly? Has the Lord ever rejected a repentant sinner? If Cain had humbled himself and listened to God’s voice, he would certainly have been accepted unconditionally. 

However, Cain needed to get things right and do them right. The Lord is more interested in the worshipper than the offering; the Lord is not interested in the multitude of offerings.

In other words, Cain was told to go back and redo the assignment, and the retake will be accepted. Go back and do what is right, and your anger and envy will GO AWAY. This was a great opportunity for repentance.

As believers, we need to ask God to examine our hearts and minds to rid us of any of these destructive emotions. We need to learn what is right from God’s word and do it in God’s way.

Here’s the warning Cain was given: If he does not do what is right, then sin was crouching at his door like an animal waiting to destroy him. Cain’s destructive anger, envy, and bitterness could potentially lead to more sin. Thus,

He Must Master His Sin– (Rule over it/subdue it)- Since sin was crouching at his door, Cain needed to rule over/ master it.  Otherwise, it would master him. God had seen a (pre) meditated crime in his anger.

Sin is not a powerless thing to wish away. No. It is a POWER; it is a MASTER. It has the capacity to control us. It is a power that must be subdued.

Further, sin has the capacity to grow and even multiply. Therefore, it was necessary to master/subdue sin at its early stages. It is easy to master our tendencies before it grows and masters us. Sin, in the beginning, might look harmless, but with it is the capacity to bring massive destruction. Like the Trojan Horse- The ancient Greek city of Troy was given a gift-a huge wooden horse. It looked harmless, but hidden inside were soldiers ready to destroy the city. Deal with your sin; deal with your destructive emotions against others at their early stages before it grows (Heb. 12:1).

A bitter, jealous and envious heart that is not controlled can soon wreak havoc in relationships. The unforgiving spirit that is not mastered is like a time bomb. The greatest excuse is “I got angry.” Anger is a cover-up for some other areas of disobedience in our lives. Sin is not a weakness but a power that should be defeated.

Lack of self-control is not a family problem; it is a personal heart problem that should be decisively mastered.

A foothold given to the devil soon becomes a stronghold. Let not sin find a lodging place in your heart. Deal with sin radically and quickly. Otherwise, if it moves in and takes over, it will make you its slave.

Thus, we need to master our thoughts, language, and tongues, for it can be disastrous when it gets out of control (like fire).

If one refuses to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at their door, eager to control them, but one must subdue it and be its master. Master it so you can be a good steward of the body, influence, resources, and talents God has given you. Bible reminds us that we are no longer slaves but free. We are not to be controlled by flesh desires.

We can truly celebrate the win of others when God has renewed our hearts; we can only be pacesetters for others when we have conquered the self; we can only hold the ladders for others to climb when we have mastered our self-centeredness.

Unrestrained Emotions (v.8):

In verse 8, we see Cain luring his ‘brother’ to his death. Realize that the seeds of murder were nurtured when he never mastered selfishness, anger, hatred, envy, and resentment. Sin matured and gave birth to death (physical, social, spiritual). What began in the heart and mind was now executed using the hands. Sin begins at heart… and, if not checked, moves into wrong emotions and actions.

Conflicts are matters of the heart; they can better be managed at the heart level. It can get out of hand if not managed at the heart level. One can kill not just with a weapon but also with words (killing other people’s dreams, reputations, etc.). That is why people can easily use a weapon, or words, to address a conflict.

Anger is a powerful emotion that can lead to violence and even murder. Jesus taught that anger in the heart is the moral equivalence of murder with the hands (Matt. 5:21-26. Angry drivers cause accidents; angry people hurt others. Had Cain heeded God’s warning and accepted His gracious invitation, he would never have become a murderer.

It begins with wrong thoughts, then wrong feelings, then wrong feelings translate to wrong words, wrong words to wrong actions, and wrong actions to wrong habits. God is saying, ‘Deal with your sin now. If you let it go on, it will grow and destroy you (not just others).

So how can we deal with our hearts? Two Ways:

The way of Cain: “The way of Cain” (Jude 11); which is a way of self-belief and unbelief. Out of a heart ruled by human nature come pride, murder, unwholesome talk, and falsehood. When we hate others, it is a sign that we are not walking in the light and don’t have God’s love in our hearts (1 John 2:9-11).

The Way of Jesus (1 Jn 3:11-20- of loving one another)– Follow the way of Jesus, the life-giver. If we love God, then we should be able to love. God commands a blessing when we love and are united. The heart that says, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ or ‘I don’t care needs transformation. Jesus is able to fill our hearts with love and life. Jesus teaches us to love truly and to celebrate the success of others. Christ gives us the power to rule over sin.

We equally have a responsibility to guard our hearts against becoming sinful (no longer desiring to please God), unbelieving hearts (loss of faith and trust in God), turning away and being hardened. This is a daily work, asking God to search us try us, and consume our darkness.

Deal with temptation in the first instance. Temptations start small. At first, it may seem inconsequential, but once we yield to it, sin gains strength in our lives, and thereby our ability to subdue it diminishes.

In conclusion, we need to perfect our love for one another by conquering the self and dealing with destructive emotions.

God pictures sin as a wild animal ready to attack. It has a desire for you, it thirsts for your blood, it is your enemy… but you must master it. Deal with your sin. Don’t assume that it will go away, don’t underrate it, or else you will soon find yourself in the grip of a monster you can’t control. Samson fooled himself that God was always with him, and never realized that the Spirit of the Lord had long left him (Judg. 16:20).

Has your sin overtaken you, mastered you, or has become a  deep-rooted habit? You need God’s grace and Jesus to transform you and give you a contrite heart.

You need Jesus the chain breaker to break these negative emotions and strongholds of the enemy.

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