The Heart Behind It
A few nights ago, my husband and I were watching the film The Prestige. In the movie, when the character Alfred Borden says "I love you" to his wife she replies with either "You mean it today" or "You don't mean it today." She has the ability to sense the heart behind the words and his actions.
You see, to most of us, it isn't really about the words or actions, we care more about the motives behind those words or actions. For example, I would prefer someone not to say sorry to me unless they are genuinely sorry. Or, not to help me if they do so grudgingly.
This characteristic is part of our reflection of the Creator. God created humans with the ability of free choice. He did not keep the tree of the knowledge of good and evil where Adam and Eve could not access it. Instead, He gave them the command to not eat of it. He gave them the free will to obey Him or disobey Him. Further, our salvation through Jesus Christ is based on an individual and independent choice to believe in Jesus and submit to Him as Lord and Savior. God wants to be known and sought-after, not with religious words or actions, but with a genuine relationship. God cares about our hearts. Joyce Meyer puts it this way, "Love isn’t about following the right rules—it’s about having The Right Heart."
I remember reading the story of Cain and Abel and wondering why it was that God accepted Abel's gift and not Cain's. My aunt helped me grapple with the answer. The story goes,
"In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. 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? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” ~ Genesis 4:3-7
What immediately happens after God does not accept Cain's offering? Cain becomes angry, and this escalates quickly. The following verse states,
"One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him." Genesis 4:8
Think of this, was Cain bringing his offering to God with a heart of love and reverence which suddenly changed to a hatred that resulted in murder when God did not accept his gift? Or was Cain's heart already corrupt? I would say that the answer is the latter.
God is concerned with the condition of our heart because He knows that actions flow from the heart. ~ CLICK TO TWEET
God knew Cain's heart, and it was wicked. On this point consider the following verses,
"People may be right in their own eyes, but the LORD examines their heart. The LORD is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer him sacrifices." ~ Proverbs 21:2-3
"So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God. This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another. We must not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was righteous. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them." 1 John 3:10-12,15
Though we do not bring sacrifices to the LORD as people did before Christ's ultimate sacrifice, we still "bring" to the LORD. We bring ourselves together with other believers as the Church, we worship, we pray, we bring our tithe, we fast, we serve. Are these actions what causes us to be children of God?
Let's look at two more examples to illustrated this point. The prophet Isaiah was sent to the nation of Judah to call them back to God and to point to salvation through Christ. Chapter 58 deals with fasting,
"CRY ALOUD, spare not. Lift up your voice like a trumpet and declare to My people their transgression and to the house of Jacob their sins! 2Yet they seek, inquire for, and require Me daily and delight [externally] to know My ways, as [if they were in reality] a nation that did righteousness and forsook not the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God [in visible ways]. 3Why have we fasted, they say, and You do not see it? Why have we afflicted ourselves, and You take no knowledge [of it]? Behold [O Israel], on the day of your fast [when you should be grieving for your sins], you find profit in your business, and [instead of stopping all work, as the law implies you and your workmen should do] you extort from your hired servants a full amount of labor. [Lev. 16:29.] 4[The facts are that] you fast only for strife and debate and to smite with the fist of wickedness. Fasting as you do today will not cause your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is such a fast as yours what I have chosen, a day for a man to humble himself with sorrow in his soul? [Is true fasting merely mechanical?] Is it only to bow down his head like a bulrush and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him [to indicate a condition of heart that he does not have]? Will you call this a fast and an acceptable day to the Lord? 6[Rather] is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every [enslaving] yoke? [Acts 8:23.] 7Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house–when you see the naked, that you cover him, and that you hide not yourself from [the needs of] your own flesh and blood? 8Then shall your light break forth like the morning, and your healing (your restoration and the power of a new life) shall spring forth speedily; your righteousness (your rightness, your justice, and your right relationship with God) shall go before you [conducting you to peace and prosperity], and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. [Exod. 14:19, 20; Isa. 52:12.] 9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, Here I am..." ~ Isaiah 58:1-9 AMP
"Is true fasting merely mechanical?" It is not the fasting that pleases God, but the motives and the heart behind it ~ Matthew 6:16-18. Should we simply act pious while harboring an unrepentant heart?
Jesus also condemned the scribes and Pharisees for being superficially clean but filthy on the inside. He even accounted Abel's blood upon their generation.
"they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation." ~ Matthew 23:6,14,27-36
It's about the motives behind the actions. So, what are the wrong motives? Let's look back at the story of Cain and Abel. It is hard to believe that Cain had a great relationship with Abel and loved him deeply up until Genesis 4:3-7. It would seem that there were probably some tainted feelings from Cain towards Abel before this event, but this is only speculation. However, the Bible does say that we must reconcile with our brother or sister before bringing an offering to God.
"But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift." ~ Matthew 5:22-24
Thus, we know that anger is one wrong motive. Other dishonest motives could be trying to impress others, hoping for appreciation, desiring to receive something in return, wanting to improve our image.
Anything that is not motived out of faith in God and the love of God and others would be a wrong motive. ~ CLICK TO TWEET
Abel is the first person recorded in Hebrews 11, as living by faith. God bore witness that he was righteous through acceptance of Abel's sacrifice.
"By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead." ~ Hebrews 11:4
Listen, dear sister, without faith, it is impossible to please God ~ Hebrews 11:6
Also, we must love, love, and then love even more.
"Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs." Proverbs 10:12
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied:“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." ~ Matthew 22:36-40
"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." ~ 1 Peter 4:8
One final thought on Cain and Abel, Abel was righteous because of his faith, not because of his sacrifice. Cain wasn't evil because he killed his brother. He killed his brother because he was evil.
The heart behind it matters.
It can be easy, in our country, to let our Christian walk become a list we just check off, "Okay I read my Bible today, I went to church last week, I gave some money, I'm good," or let it be just talking points while we still live in sin, without loving others, and without the fellowship of a true relationship with God. We can do the actions, bringing and giving to God in the hopes that He will in return do something for us, or to look holy to other people.
Sometimes we need to look at our motives and our heart. Why are we doing this or that? Is it to give God glory, to love others, out of faith? Or is it for a selfish or immoral reason? Why are we going to church, tithing, praying, giving? If you find that your motives are in the wrong, you probably shouldn't even do or say whatever you were doing or saying. Pray for the Holy Ghost to keep your heart in check and to reveal your motives.
I am guilty of unpure motives as well. For one, my motives and heart behind this blog have completely changed. In the beginning, it was for me. This is my blog and my readers for my own purposes. As time went on, God changed my heart, and the blog has morphed into His blog and His ministry. I desire for this blog as a whole, as well as the articles within, to point to Christ.
At times, we may all experience unpure motives. We will not be rid of our sin nature until we are made new. Yes, we need a Savior! Thank You, Jesus, may we continually become more like You.
Thank you also to my aunt Brandy for her wisdom, research, and words which I used and expounded on in this article.
Yours Truly, LeNae
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Life.Church. Joyce Meyer Isaiah 58 - The Right Heart. Accessed August 15 2017. https://www.life.church/watch/the-right-heart/isaiah-58/