The Difference Between a Job and a Joy

by Sep 28, 2016

The Difference Between a Job and a Joy

by Sep 28, 2016

You pay your taxes every year and you drive the speed limit (most of the time). You also push your kids on the swings for hours and you buy omiyagi to bring back for good friends when you’re on vacation. All of those are things you’re supposed to do. But you don’t do them all with the same heart. That’s the difference between a job and a joy. It’s just like the difference between religious drudgery and grace-fueled delight.

You can see that difference so clearly in the story of Cain and Abel:

Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 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.” (Genesis 4:2-5).

So Cain’s a farmer and Abel’s a shepherd, and they’ve brought offerings to the Lord from what they’ve produced. I’ve heard this passage preached a lot of times, and I always heard that Abel brought the best of his flock, and Cain just sort of picked up
whatever rotten fruit was laying on the ground.

The problem is, the Hebrew word for offering, minchah, is used in the rest of the Old Testament to talk about an acceptable offering to God. So what’s the difference? Why does God like one and not the other?

There’s a clue in Abel’s offering. It says that Abel brought the firstborn of his flock. The very first sheep produced in the year. He doesn’t know how well his flock is going to do this season. So when he brings the first sheep born and gives it to God, that might be the only sheep that he raises this year. Abel might be tithing 100% of his income. He just doesn’t know.

Cain probably sees Abel doing that and says to himself, “That’s way too generous. Really, that’s just … irresponsible. Giving away that much when you don’t know what you’re going to make? Stupid.” So what does Cain do? He waits until the end of the harvest, adds up everything that he’s produced, and then he calculates exactly 10% of his income (after taxes!) and he brings that to the Lord.

He might be giving exactly the same amount as Abel, but he’s doing it with a completely different heart. It’s not a joy, it’s a job. He’s not doing it out of gratitude, he’s doing it out of a desire to look good. It’s nothing more than hypocrisy. And God’s not happy about that. He has “regard” for Abel’s offering, but not for Cain’s. Which means he doesn’t bless Cain as much as he blesses Abel.

After that snub, Abel becomes furious. Literally the original text says he’s “burning with great force.” He doesn’t think God’s giving him what he deserves for his generous gift. “I gave 10%!” he says to God, “Why isn’t that enough? How can you not be happy with that?” Cain thinks he’s in a business deal with God. He gives God 10% of his income and God gives him his blessing, and so now he’s raging mad that God hasn’t come through on his end of the deal. Hypocrites tend to get angry a lot.

And it’s about to spiral even further out of control, so God says 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 contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Gen 4:6-7). In other words, “Hey Cain, you’ve gotta stop this sin from spreading! It’s like cancer. It’s lurking there, getting ready to spread all over your body.”

When a doctor sits you down and tells you that you have a certain kind of cancer in a certain part of your body, and it will take a certain kind of treatment to kill it, you don’t say, “Well, I’m a little busy right now. Fantasy football. Could we pick this up in February?” No way! You go to battle.

That’s the kind of war God says we need to wage against sin. Against the feeling that God’s not giving us what we deserve for doing our religious duty. He says we need to rule over that mindset. Dominate it. Smash it. Destroy it. And how do we do that? By reminding ourselves of how much God’s already given us.

Gratitude for God’s blessings is the secret to gaining joy and overcoming sin. Look at how Paul said it:

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. (Eph 5:2-4).

That last word isn’t what I was expecting the first time I read it. After a long list of sins like that, I thought Paul would say, “let there be holiness” or “let there be righteousness.” But Paul’s been around the block a few times. He knows that holiness and righteousness only come when we’re joyful and thankful for all the blessings God’s given us. First one being the fact that you’re a child of God through the forgiveness of Christ, as Paul says in the verses just before this. And then, you’ve been given all the riches of his grace, as Paul says many times in the chapters just before this.

When you understand what you already have in Jesus, it becomes a joy to do your job as his follower.