“Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous” 1 John 3:12.
The story of Cain is concise and found early in Genesis: “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” Genesis 5:4-7.
It’s not entirely clear from the Genesis account why the Lord looked with favor on Abel’s offering but not on Cain’s. However, there is a clue in Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings.”
God encouraged Cain to, “do what is right.” Yet this was prior to the Ten Commandments. So what exactly was “doing right?” God wanted Cain to trust him, to act “by faith.” To bring an offering, or make a sacrifice that demonstrated his reliance on God. God is looking for those who will bring an offering of money, time or talent that demonstrates their trust in God. Cain only went through the motions of belief in God. As onlookers, we may not notice Cain’s attitude, but later we see it in Cain’s actions (verse 8). Nevertheless, God was looking at Cain’s heart.
We’re warned not to be like Cain. If we want God’s favor we need child-like trust. By going through the motions we can fool other people but God knows our heart.