Whenever I’ve encouraged worship leaders to find a Bible passage to accompany their worship set, most turn to the book of Psalms. Some turn to the New Testament. But few, if any, consider Genesis as a resource for worship reading. Yet I have found that there are many golden principles in the book of Genesis.
In the beginning, when God created the world, He designed Adam to be its first worship leader. On the sixth day, God created Adam and gave him dominion (Gen. 1:28). Then God rested and sanctified the seventh day for all of Earth’s worship and praise (Gen. 2:2). From the beginning, God intended leadership and worship to be partnered. Adam and Eve walked together in the Garden of Eden in the freedom of holy fellowship.
Now I know that the Bible never mentions Adam playing the harp or bursting into song. But worship leadership is more than mere music. Worship leadership is the purposeful and grateful response of someone who has encountered the magnificence of God and desires to lead others into His presence. Adam’s duty was to obey God’s command not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:17). When Eve was tempted and sinned, Adam also fell. Now Adam had to offer an animal sacrifice to engage in open praise.
After the fall, Adam again had to follow God’s instructions. I imagine he taught his sons, Cain and Abel, how to build an altar to offer God a sacrifice of praise. But there was trouble in paradise. Cain and Abel had different opinions on how to offer true worship. Although their father had taught them the same way to worship, the brothers brought two very different offerings; Abel brought an animal sacrifice and Cain brought fruit. God rejected Cain’s offering, which resulted in a fatal fight between the brothers over which kind of worship was most appropriate.
Many of us believe that Cain’s offering of fruit was unacceptable to God solely because it didn’t include a blood sacrifice. But the book of Genesis lets us know that God made a deeper distinction. The Bible describes Abel as a keeper of sheep and Cain as a tiller of the ground (Gen. 4:2). A keeper is “a person charged with the responsibility for the preservation and conservation of something valuable.”1 Abel was a steward. Abel lived his life understanding that everything he managed belonged first to God.
But the Bible describes Cain differently. Cain was a tiller. The word “tiller” is the Hebrew term abad, which means “to work, to serve, keep in bondage, worshiper.”2 Cain ultimately worshiped the ground given to him by God for his care. Cain was so captivated by his ability to create that he began to worship the fruits of his labor. Cain offered his worship preference instead of seeking God’s holy presence. His ability to produce fresh fruits clouded his judgment and his desire to offer God praise.
If someone asked if you were a steward or a worshiper, you would probably choose worshiper. But in true worship, only God is the audience. God is the focus of our praise; therefore, He determines what is acceptable. Sadly, it was Cain’s angry, unrepentant mind and heart that convinced him to offer God what he thought was best instead of what God required of him in worship.
In many churches today, the contention between Cain and Abel rages on. We sacrifice an atmosphere of sacredness as we endlessly bicker about music. Some of us have become so engrossed in our talents that we are easily angered or offended when others share opposing beliefs. Worship is not music. If we are not careful, the fight that ended Abel’s life will fuel our worship wars and become fatal to church growth.
It is time for us to ask ourselves daily, “Am I a steward like Abel or a worshiper like Cain?” When God’s Word guides us, bickering and worship wars will end. We will offer praise as a preview of paradise that reflects our heavenly home.
1 Random House Dictionary Unabridged, Dictionary.com s.v. “Keeper” (accessed December 7, 2007).
2 The KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon, (accessed December 5, 2007).
This article first appeared in Best Practice, June 29, 2014. It has been lightly edited for Elder’s Digest.
Cheryl Wilson-Bridges is a pastor for worship in the Sligo Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.