“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” -1 John 3:11-15
“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
At first blush when one reads the above verse, the take-home message they get from it is that we should not hate those around us, maybe even to get that we shouldn’t hate fellow believers. And because of this we take a look at ourselves, ask ‘Do I hate anyone?’, give a haughty ‘Nope’, and move on feeling pretty good about ourselves. However, if we take a closer look at the substance of what is being said I think that that confidence won’t be so full. I know mine wasn’t!
Look again. Why did Cain murder Abel? Because he hated him. Okay, good, but why did he hate him? Because God loved Abel but not him. Well, sort of. Observe, in Genesis 4:5 it say, “but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” And then, in Genesis 4:7, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” So, the fundamental problem was that Cain had not done well in the offering that he made to the Lord, as his brother Abel had, and so the Lord did not favor him. Thus, because the Lord favored Abel but not Cain, Cain took it upon himself to kill Abel.
But there is the rub? Why Abel? Was Cain in competition with Abel for God’s love? No. Was Abel causing Cain to do poorly? No. It wasn’t even jealousy, for there was nothing available to Abel that Cain could not himself have as well. Then what was it, what drove Cain to be the first murderer in the history of the world? It was because Abel was using what God had given him to glorify God, and Cain was not. And so, instead of focusing on God and searching for the strength to worship Him with the right heart, Cain turned his heart against Abel and ended his life.
So, returning to the original verses I think we can bring a deeper interpretation. Not only should we not hate our brothers in the sense of emotional hatred, steaming red ears and anger directed towards them, but we should also not hate our brothers in the sense of being cynical towards the way they worship God.
I think we can all see manifestations of this in our own lives. Speaking personally, I know there have been times in the past when I sat under a teacher and all I did was criticize them because they were ‘too serious’ or because they ‘didn’t realize we’re not all going to seminary’, and so instead of learning from them I was hardened to what God had given them through hard work to share. But was this because I wanted to teach and couldn’t? No. It was because there were sins in my life that I was holding onto with all my might. Because when I listened it always convicted me and made me feel bad, and so instead of receiving the message I spent all of my time trying to shoot the messenger. People I loved personally, and yet when they began to teach my insides just changed. Even now I catch myself doing this, and so I am constantly having to turn my heart over to God, to seek His assistance, because as he told Cain, “if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
We must take this to heart. Those times will come when we see our brothers serving Christ, times which will convict us that we are not, and it is at this moment that we must make a choice whether to fall in brokenness before the Lord or else to take on the nature of Cain and murder that brother in our minds.