In this Heroes series, we’ve been looking at people that God called heroes of faith. We’re looking closer at their lives in the hope that we can become more like them. In Hebrews 11, Abel is called out as someone who gave a gift worth remembering.

Read Genesis 4.1–7.

The writer of Hebrews recaps this story in Hebrews 11.4 saying, “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.”

How we handle our resources is a big deal to God. It definitely includes financial faithfulness, which we’ll start with first, but it’s ultimately wrapped up in the kind of relationship God wants to have with us.

We see in this passage that Cain, who was a farmer, brought some of the fruits of his soil to God as an offering. “Some” is the key word here, and in Hebrew, “some” means “some”. The point is that he didn’t bring the first or best part of his harvest—he didn’t bring an especially generous amount. He basically brought his leftovers, the change he had in his pocket.

Notice God’s response. God doesn’t strike Cain with lightning or even punish him. He just doesn’t look on Cain’s offering with favor, which is to say, God isn’t particularly blessed by Cain’s offering nor does He choose to bless Cain’s offering. God is not moved by Cain’s leftovers. (See Malachi 1.14 for more on blemished offerings.)

Abel, in contrast, brings fat portions from the firstborn of his flock as an offering to God—he brings the best of what he had. And this time, God looks with favor on the offering. Scripture summarizes in 2 Corinthians what it looks like when God looks with favor on an offering.

Read 2 Corinthians 9.6–8, 10.

This is a picture of the favor of God on financially faithful people. The first verses talk about joyful generosity; the latter verses talk about how that leads to God’s abundant blessing. Joyful generosity produces generous blessing. This is a principal echoed throughout Scripture, and it can be observed in the lives of generous people. God’s blessing on joyful generosity isn’t always financial in nature; His blessing takes many forms.

Question: How would you honestly describe your giving? What fruit do you see in your life that is the result of your pattern of giving? How can you practically start sowing more generously?

Now let’s look a little deeper at the different ways in which Cain and Abel relate to God, because God is also giving us a look into the kind of relationship He is seeking with each of us. Hebrews 11.4 says, “By faith Abel was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings.” Now, being righteous is not just about doing the right thing; it has everything to do with being in right relationship with God. Abel knew who God was and trusted His character. He knew God was his creator, sustainer, provider and redeemer, and he trusted God to be all of those things to him. Thus Abel gives, not because he has to, but out of the gratitude he has for his relationship with God. It’s through a loving relationship with God that Abel is empowered to give generously. How many of us know that money always follows what we love? That’s biblical righteousness.

Cain, however, chose to give his leftovers to God. When God didn’t give favor on those leftovers, notice Cain’s reaction: “Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast” (Genesis 4.5). Cain was not righteous like Abel was. He was not giving out of love produced from a right relationship with God. Cain was giving because he was being religious.

For religious people, spiritual life is a transaction. They believe if they do the right things, God will bless them (or at least not punish them). But God doesn’t want a bunch of employees running around doing the right thing so they can get what they want from him (like a raise or a promotion). God wants family members who are doing what He likes and wants because of their loving, vibrant relationship with Him.

When it comes to our money, God is not hoping that we start tithing so He can pay His bills this month. He knows that when we give generously, it means that we are in a good place with Him relationally. God commends Abel’s offering not because he gave his very best. God commends Abel’s offering because he wanted to give his very best. That’s relationship. We give because we’re grateful for who God is in our life.

Question: If you tithe, why do you do it? If you don’t tithe, why don’t you? Why do you give gifts to people that you love?

So how do we move from a religious orientation with God to a relational orientation with God? To answer that question, let’s start with what we don’t need to do. We don’t move into a right relationship with God by trying to do the right stuff for God.

Read Romans 3.20–24.

A righteous (or real) relationship with God is impossible on our own. We’re too broken, and we all fall short of what God desires. But a loving relationship with God is possible through Jesus because Jesus lived the life of one worthy of that relationship. When we put our trust in Jesus, all of the things that disqualify us from relationship with God die with Him on the cross. In exchange, all of the things that make Jesus qualified for that relationship are transferred to us. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (See 2 Corinthians 5.15–21.)

Sometimes we just go through the motions and do the right things because just because they’re the right things to do. If we’re in that place, we need to take some time to simply enjoy God. When we worship, we can internalize the words. When we read the Bible, we should pay attention to who the words are pointing us to. When we serve, we can serve with God instead of for God. We can make time for Sabbath. We can spend more time worshipping and thanking Him than asking Him for things. That’s the stuff of relationship.

Question: Are you prone to religion or relationship? How did your upbringing or culture contribute to that tendency? Which approach is more sustainable in the long-term? How can you practically stay in relationship mode on a daily basis?