God-pleasing worship is one of the most important themes found in the Bible. As we have seen thus far in our study in the Old Testament Historical Books, and as we will see in the months ahead, the amount of space devoted to the construction of Israel’s temple and the stories of worship reform and violations during the old covenant people reveal the centrality of proper worship to the life of God’s people. To get a better understanding of the kind of worship that pleases the Lord, we will now take a break from our study of the Old Testament Historical Books and base the next few days of studies on Worship, a teaching series by Dr. R.C. Sproul.
Modern evangelicals tend to focus on the task of evangelism and disciple making, an important emphasis in light of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20). However, worship is the primary work of the Christian. One day, the work of discipling the nations will be done, but we will worship the Lord forever (Rev. 21:9–22:5). Evangelism and disciple making are temporary activities that will pass away when all of the elect have been gathered into the kingdom.
Fundamentally, worship must be agreeable to the teaching of Scripture. If we do not take worship seriously, we actually put our lives at risk, as Nadab and Abihu learned too late (Lev. 10:1–3). And none of us are above making errors in our worship, for the presence of sin inclines us to worship idols or to worship the Lord in ways not agreeable to the Word of God (Rom. 1:18–32). We turn to the Scriptures for the principles of God-pleasing worship, and in the Word we find guidance for both the inner motivations of the worshiper and the outward form in which worship is conducted.
Worship does not please God when we have just the right inner motives or the right outward form but not both. Today’s passage shows us the problem of lacking the right heart attitude. Cain and Abel both offered sacrifices to the Lord, but God took pleasure only in Abel’s offering (Gen. 4:3–5a). Many people have thought that Cain’s error was in not offering a blood sacrifice, but this is unlikely since God also ordained offerings of produce (Lev. 2). Genesis 4:4 points to the wrong motives on Cain’s part. Abel offered the first and best of his flock, but Cain is not said to have offered the first and best of his harvest. Apparently, Cain had no desire to offer what was worthy to give to the Lord, and if we do as he did, our worship will not please God either.