Editorial - The Way of Cain

Observing one’s first Feast of Tabernacles is a memorable experience for those of us who did not grow up keeping it. I have more memories of my first Feast than I should take the space to relate in this Editorial, but I want to share one with you. It involves a sermon by a senior minister, an evangelist in the Church of God at that time. I do not remember whether he had a title for the sermon, and if he did, I cannot remember what it was, as that was more than half a century ago. But if I were to put a title on it, it would be, “The Way of Cain.”

There was quite a buzz among the members following that sermon, but I found it a bit intellectual and obscure, a little over my head. I had only attended one weekly Sabbath service and the Day of Atonement prior to leaving for the Feast. The truth is that I understand it better today from the strands I remember than the day I heard it. The primary verse he used relating to Cain was Jude 11: “Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.” So what is that “way of Cain” that he expounded upon?

Cain is best known as the first murderer, the one who killed his brother, but what else do people know about him? And what do they know about his “way”? Few, even in the Church, had ever thought about this, and that is why the sermon had such an impact. It gave new knowledge. It was a revelation to most everyone.

The first-century historian, Josephus, was referred to in order to shed some light on the subject: “But Cain was not only very wicked in other respects, but was wholly intent upon getting, and he first contrived to plough the ground…. Now Cain brought the fruits of the earth, and of his husbandry; but Abel brought milk, and the first-fruits of his flocks; but God was more delighted with the latter oblation when he was honoured with what grew naturally of its own accord, than he was with what was the invention of a covetous man, and gotten by forcing the ground…” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Chapter 2, p. 1).

How much Josephus can be relied upon regarding Cain, or any other subject, is certainly a question. The remainder of the Bible does not indicate any sin in ploughing the ground (1 Kings 19:19; Luke 9:62; 17:7). However, most agriculture today in the advanced nations involves “forcing the ground” through chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other means. It is difficult to know exactly how Cain was forcing the ground at that time, if indeed he was, and this was the part of the sermon that I found difficult to understand. Nevertheless, it is evident that Cain based his life on the get principle, and Josephus is no doubt correct when he says Cain “was wholly intent upon getting….”

God’s Question to Cain

Cain’s life was marked by the get way. Even apart from Josephus, we discern this was his problem from the few Bible verses devoted to him. The account in Genesis 4 gives no hint of regret on Cain’s part, only self-absorbed pity for the punishment imposed on him for murdering Abel. There is no indication that he understood the magnitude of his sin. He appears without a conscience. “My punishment is greater than I can bear!” (Genesis 4:13). We learn from 1 John 2:11, “But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” Cain was blinded by his jealousy and hatred toward his brother Abel.

Mr. Lambert Greer gave an insightful sermon on Cain’s response to God’s question, “Where is your brother?”—to which Cain replied, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Mr. Greer pointed out how this is one of the central questions posed by the Bible. Are you concerned for the well-being of others? Do you have genuine, heartfelt and outgoing concern for those around you? Yes, are you your brother’s keeper? The answer to this question reveals your heart to God, and whether or not He will take you into His kingdom.

Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong presented the question to prominent and well-known leaders around the world in similar terms. He recognized the challenges facing these men and women and gave them a small part of the Gospel in terms that were neither overtly offensive nor difficult to understand. He explained that there are two ways of life: the get way and the give way. The first way is expressed through selfishness. It is self-centered, concerned only for “number one.” The other way is expressed by outgoing concern, caring for the well-being of others. Mr. Armstrong may have never mentioned Cain specifically, but he understood Cain’s problem and he couched all the world’s ills in these terms. He understood the choice each person eventually has to make: “Will I be a giver or a taker?”

Sadly, most leaders choose the way of get over the way of give. George Mason University professor Walter Williams explained the problem with politicians in words similar to this: “The way you get elected today is to promise to take by the force of law what belongs to one person and give what he has earned to others who have not earned it.” Or to put it another way, as Henry Hazlitt suggests in Economics in One Lesson, two people work together to decide what someone else should do for society with that person’s own resources. It is easy to live the give way when you are giving someone else’s money!

A Pharisaic lawyer came to Jesus on one occasion with a question designed to trap Him: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus demonstrated not only that He knew the law, but also that He understood the magnitude of the question. “Jesus said unto him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36–40).

What Is Love?

Few people truly understand love. They equate it with an emotion, how someone makes them feel. One of the great lessons given to Ambassador College students was the true meaning of love, that it is outgoing concern for others. Sadly, some never internalized that lesson. In truth, it is a difficult lesson to learn. We all think we have it, but it goes against our nature, and Jeremiah 17:9 is perfect in its description of our nature: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Yes, who can know it? How many of our actions each day are based on outgoing concern? How many are based on exalting the self?

Learning to love God and to love those around us is something God is etching into our character one decision at a time—accomplished by Christ’s living in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He educates our conscience to recognize the choices between give and take. His Spirit leads and urges us to show outgoing concern, but we must still exercise the will to do the right thing.

Real love is not simply an emotion. Emotion may accompany love, but it is not the same as love. We know that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). He cares for us. He wants the best for us. He hopes the best for us. And the greatest proof of that love is found in the sacrifice of His Son so that our selfish thoughts and actions may be forgiven (John 3:16). This is the attitude He is forming in spiritual concrete for those who will become His children (Galatians 2:20).

As Mr. Greer pointed out in his sermon, the entire Bible is here to teach this lesson. Adam and Eve chose the get way when they took and ate the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. They disrespected their Creator and chose rather to please themselves. Cain chose a self-centered way to live. Saul craved the praise of the people more than obedience to God. It was a short-sighted decision.

One of the greatest examples of choosing poorly is that of Esau. He sold his birthright to satisfy a temporary craving. He reasoned, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:32, ESV). But scripture shows that he was not truly about to die. “And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright” (v. 34). All he could think about was the here and now, how he could satisfy his temporal appetite. There was no long-range thought about how that decision would affect his future family. The Apostle Paul tells us Esau was a fornicator and profane, indicating a self-centered way of life (Hebrews 12:16).

Esau’s brother Jacob learned the hard way that selfish ambition has a painful price. How interesting it is to read the story of his life and realize that just as he tricked his father, so his uncle Laban tricked and deceived him at every turn (Genesis 29:23–25; 31:38–42).

Even King David, a man after God’s own heart, made a very selfish decision when he murdered another man and took his wife, and afterwards his life was never the same (2 Samuel 12:9–12). We see in the chapters that follow this sordid affair that all the curses Nathan pronounced on David came to pass. The child of his adultery with Bathsheba died, his daughter Tamar was raped by her half-brother, and, as a result, there was animosity between two of his sons that led to the death of one by the other. He even had to flee for his life when Absalom conspired against him.

My dear brethren, this lesson must be more than an academic exercise. God is molding and shaping our minds to act as He would act, but we must be participants in the process. We often refer to 1 Corinthians 13 as the love chapter, and indeed it is. When was the last time you truly meditated on what it says? How long-suffering are you? Have you grown in patience toward those closest to you, such as your wife or husband? What about as you drive to work? Are you a self-centered driver? Or do you consider the needs of others when two roads merge?

How kind are you? We all think we are kind, but are we? Are we always concerned about “getting ahead” of the other person? Are we more concerned about our personal ambitions than how we can help others move up the ladder? Imagine how God’s Church would grow if we all strove to grow according to this chapter written to the Corinthians.

Givers, Takers, and Matchers

In a Wharton University podcast interview with Adam Grant, he was asked about the premise of his book, Give and Take. He explained that people can be divided into two opposites: those who are all out for themselves and those who try to help others get ahead. He explained this about takers: “The takers are people who, when they walk into an interaction with another person, are trying to get as much as possible from that person and contribute as little as they can in return, thinking that’s the shortest and most direct path to achieving their own goals” (“Givers vs. Takers: The Surprising Truth about Who Gets Ahead.” Interview. Audio blog post. [email protected]. Wharton University of Pennsylvania, 10 Apr. 2013. Web).

Mr. Grant then went on to explain the other extreme, the givers: “At the other end of the spectrum, we have this strange breed of people that I call ‘givers.’ It’s not about donating money or volunteering necessarily, but looking to help others by making an introduction, giving advice, providing mentoring or sharing knowledge, without any strings attached.”

But then he goes on to explain a third group, and this in many ways is the most interesting, because many—even in the Church—fall into it: “Very few of us are purely takers or purely givers. Most of us hover somewhere in between. That brings us to the third group of people, who are matchers. A matcher is somebody who tries to maintain an even balance of give and take. If I help you, I expect you to help me in return. [They] keep score of exchanges, so that everything is fair and really just.” And for the record, Mr. Grant points out that it is the givers who go the furthest in business.

Matchers may on the surface appear godly, but are they? Are they not rather takers in disguise? “I’ll give to you as long as you give to me.” This is the nexus of many problems in marriage. Matchers believe that marriage is a 50/50 relationship. “I’ll meet you half way.” Or to put it more realistically, “If you were more (fill in the blank), I would be more (fill in the blank).” But this is NOT God’s way. God’s way is for each to fulfill his or her part without regard to how well the other is fulfilling his or her part. Wives are told to respect their husbands and husbands are told to love their wives. Each is to fulfill his or her role, not meet the other half way.

So how well are you doing? Can you read and meditate on each point of love found in 1 Corinthians 13 and say that you are more Christ-like? This must be more than an academic exercise. It is easy to read articles, listen to sermons, even read the Bible, but still never change. Where are all those people who sat and listened to the same sermon I did in the 1964 Feast of Tabernacles in Squaw Valley? What happened to them? What about all the ones who heard Mr. Herbert Armstrong explain the ways of give and get and the two trees? How many times he thundered out, “Most of you don’t get it!” Where are they today? We all thought we “got it,” but apparently not!

We live in a very self-promoting world. It may sound good on the surface, but is it? Is it God’s way or man’s way? We hear about self-esteem, self-love, self-actualization, self-fulfillment, and self-help. Is this latter day “self-love-athon” not what Paul warns us about and condemns?

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts (2 Timothy 3:1–6).

God is building a family and it is going to be a happy, harmonious family. He points us in the direction we should go. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35).

Copyright © 2018 Living Church of God