By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts.
Do you know the story of Cain and Abel that is to be found on the first pages of the Bible (Genesis 4:1-10)? Both men brought God an offering. Cain, as a farmer gave of the fruit of his land, while his brother Abel, who was a shepherd, brought an animal from the firstborn of his flock. We would naturally think that each one, the farmer and the shepherd, gave the best he could produce. God does not demand what we do not have. Yet it is a false conclusion to assume that sincerity and diligence deserve redemption. God’s ways are above man’s ways and thinking.
There was a difference between the sacrifices that we may not be aware of, but God saw it. “The LORD respected Abel and his offering, but he did not respect Cain and his offering” (Genesis 4:4.5). Today’s text from the epistle to the Hebrews explains why: Abel’s offering was “more excellent”. He brought it “by faith”, not because he was a shepherd.
Sincerity alone is insufficient. Moreover Cain could not even claim to be sincere. Had he never heard from his parents how God clothed his parents after they had sinned with tunics of skin? Didn’t the death of the animal that died to provide the material mean nothing to him? We see that it is possible to act sincerely, and yet go unrecognized. Abel, on the other hand, had the faith to rely on the sacrificial animal that died as his substitute. Without faith it is impossible to put things in order with God and please Him (cf. Hebrews 11:6).