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Our Accomplishments Or God's Gifts?

By Zac Poonen


      (A message given at Christian Fellowship Centre on April 23, 2000)

      Let's turn to Genesis chapter 4.

      We read here of two of Adam's children - Cain and Seth - who were given names by Eve.

      She named her firstborn son "Cain" meaning, "I have created" (Gen.4:1-Living).

      Eve felt she had accomplished something great by giving birth to a son! Of course she did give a little credit to the Lord by saying 'the Lord helped me' in creating the boy!   What Eve produced in her womb was certainly unique, because the only living man up until then was the one whom God had created - Adam. And now here was another man whom Eve had 'created'!! She had actually managed to produce a living soul within her own body!! Cain was the first baby ever to be born and Eve felt that she had created a man just as God had done!!

      Eve passed on this proud spirit of hers to Cain. (We may not realize it, but we communicate our spirit to others around us, and especially to those within our own family). With the arrogant spirit of his mother, Cain grew up to be a murderer who finally killed his own younger brother.

      When Eve saw what Cain had done, she must have seen something of her folly. So, when she gave birth to another son, she named him Seth - meaning "granted" (Gen.4:.25-Living). Now she acknowledged that it was God Who had granted her a son. She hadn't created him! And Seth grew up to be a godly man.

      These two names symbolise two ways by which the children of Eve live today.

      We see the spirit of Cain ("I have created, I have accomplished") in most people in the human race, who are proud of what they are and of what they have accomplished. Unfortunately, we find this spirit in Christendom too. In contrast to this great multitude however, praise God that there are a few who give all the glory to God for what they have become or done, acknowledging that it is all the result of what God granted them by His grace.

      As we examine ourselves, we will discover which of these two attitudes we have - "We have created' or 'We have been granted'.

      I am sure none of us will ever say we did anything entirely on our own. Like Eve, we will all give God a little bit of the credit for our accomplishments. We may even (with fake humility) quote the words of Paul and say, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Phil.4:13).   Paul's words there may sound similar to Eve's, but his spirit was entirely different. Whereas Eve spoke in pride, Paul spoke with the deepest humility. It is not in our words but in out spirit that we discover our attitude.

      God punished Cain by sending him away from His presence. We read in Genesis 4:16, "Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord". And everyone who has his attitude of "See what I have accomplished' or 'See what I have become " will be driven away one day from the presence of the Lord too.

      An arrogant spirit is often seen in the way we despise others who we think have not become as spiritual as we are or who cannot do things as well as we can. You know how easy it is to become proud, when we do something efficiently, and others around us cannot do things as efficiently.

      When a person is proud of his good looks or his intelligence, he is implying that he created his good looks and his intelligence himself!! That's why it is impossible for such a person to grow in grace!! The Bible says "Brethren, there are not many among you who are intelligent" (1 Cor.1:26).   Why? God cannot be against good looking people or intelligent people, for He is the One Who creates both good looks and intelligence. But He is against the pride that makes a man take credit for God's gifts and that makes him despise others around him as inferior.

      Your pride could even come because you are a better Bible teacher or have accomplished more in your ministry than others. Then it is good to be warned by Cain's example and to realize that proud people will all one day have to go away 'from the presence of the Lord" like Cain.

      But with Seth things were different. Seth means "granted" - granted by the Lord.

      If you had asked Cain his name, he would have replied, "CREATED - I was created by my mother". Seth would have replied, "GRANTED - I was granted by God to my mother'.

      When Seth grew up and got married, he had a son and named him "Enosh". It was only then that "men began calling upon the name of the Lord." (v.26). Until then, people were going 'away from the presence of the Lord'   like Cain. After the birth of Seth's son, people began to draw near to the Lord.   What Adam and Eve could not accomplish, their son Seth accomplished, by a humble spirit that acknowledged that everything he was and had, was a gift from the Lord.

      But see what happened to the descendants of Cain. In Genesis 4:17, we read that Cain had a son called Enoch. Cain then built a city. Cain named this city after his son 'Enoch'. This was once again the same spirit of 'I have created', manifesting itself all over again. Cain wanted everyone to know that that it was he who had built that city and so he named it after his son.

      When Seth had a son people glorified the Lord. But when Cain had a son, he glorified his son!!

      These are the two spirits that operate in the world today. When we serve the Lord, we can get people either to glorify the Lord or to glorify us!! We can either pray, "Hallowed be THY Name" or "Hallowed be MY name".

      Take this 2-question test and see whose name you are more concerned about - yours or God's?

      1.            What would your reaction be, if you heard that someone had spread a false, defamatory story about you or your child?

      2.            What has your reaction been when you have heard of some Christian leader falling into sin or mishandling money and thus dishonouring the Name of the Lord?

      If you answer the above questions honestly, you may discover how much you care about your own name and how little you care about the Lord's Name!

      The name of the Lord is being dishonored in India today, by multitudes of preachers who are misusing the Lord's money. Many false reports are being written about the Lord's work in India - and many preachers are making money for themselves in the Name of Jesus. The money-changers are back in the temple and there is no-one to drive them out. I'm sure you know that. All this has brought tremendous dishonour to the Name of Jesus among the non-Christians in our land. But how many times has this brought a concern to your heart that has made you cry out in prayer saying, 'Lord, Your Name is being dishonoured in India. Do something about it, Lord. Glorify Your Name in our land'?

      Has your reaction to this evil been even 10% of what it would have been, if you had heard that someone had spread a false story about your family? There you may see how much you love yourself and your own name. Despite all the emotional feelings we have when we sing lovely choruses to the Lord, we may discover that, in actual fact, we love only ourselves and our families.

      The believers who are most useful for God in India today are not the ones who 'go to church' or preach, but the ones who sincerely pray from deep down in their hearts, "Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name in India".

      Let's stop fooling ourselves that we are spiritual when we are not. How can we be spiritual if we are more concerned about our own name or our children's names than the Lord's?

      Cain was concerned about the name of his son. His attitude was, "Forget the Name of the Lord. The name of my son, Enoch, must be honoured. So, I'm going to build a city after his name'.

      Seth's attitude however was different. He said, "I have a son called Enosh. His name is not important. Let's get people to call upon the Name of the Lord."

      These are two different spirits and like two streams they started flowing from the beginning of the human race, and have been flowing ever since - even in Christendom. Many Christian leaders today have built religious organisations and then handed over their leadership to their sons - just like earthly kings hand over their kingdoms to their sons. King Saul wanted to hand over his kingdom to his son Jonathan. But that was not the will of God.

      It is possible to repeat, "Our Father hallowed be Thy name...", in a meaningless way, like a parrot or a tape recorder. But God listens only to prayers that come from the heart of people who humbly acknowledge that all that they have has been granted to them by God.

      Anyone of us could have been like the beggars and the mad people and the drunkards whom we see wandering on our streets. It is God's grace alone that has saved us from such a fate. So we should never despise these unfortunate people.

      Never despise even a parent whose child has gone astray. Your children could have gone astray too. It was only God's grace that saved your child from such a fate. That was a gift granted to you by God. You did not accomplish that yourself. It was God Who made your son or daughter grow up in a godly way, not you. So sympathize with that suffering father and mother, instead of finding fault with them.

      "Every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father" (Jas.1:18). May we never forget that. We have nothing good in us that we did not receive from God. Every "good and perfect" thing that we have was freely given to us by God. If we recognize this, we will find that even our fellowship with other believers grows and thus we will be able to build the body of Christ.

      Those who feel they have "accomplished something" will never be able to build fellowship with each other even in a hundred years.

      How much fellowship have we built up with others in the church. I am not talking now about fellowship in gossipping! I am talking about fellowship in Christ! When two people are strong in themselves, they cannot build fellowship. But if they have the attitude that says, "I can't do anything, I have received everything from God, I can't glory in anything", they can easily build fellowship.

      Let me give you a personal testimony. In our early days of meeting together as a church, I had a real problem with people who were not punctual. It used to bother me, if people didn't come in time for the meetings or for an appointment. It took me a while to realize that punctuality was not something I had achieved or accomplished, but something I had received. Puncutality had been drilled into my system during the eleven years that I had been in the military. So, I was punctual, not because I was superior to those other believers, but because I had been in the military and they hadn't. So I wasn't in any way better than them. That realization brought me to rest. It made it much easier for me to accept people just as they were. And then I could fellowship with them too and thus build the Body of Christ.

      Two people who are self-confident can never have fellowship with each other. But two who are needy can have glorious fellowship with each other, because they know they cannot create anything. They can only receive what God has given them.

      Take a simple matter like brushing our teeth. In the jungles of the Andaman islands there are barbarians who have never ever brushed their teeth. Maybe their mouths smell and ours don't. But we are not therefore superior to them. We were taught by our parents to brush our teeth. They were not. That's the only difference. Their teeth may even be stronger than ours, because they chew hard fibres and don't eat sweets like we do. So, they probably don't have cavities in their teeth and may never need to go to a dentist, like we have to!!

      So let's never think we're superior to anyone.

      In Genesis 11, we read of how the spirit of Cain spread across the earth. The whole earth was using the same language in those days. That was true literally, but also in another way: They were all using the language that said, 'I have created". They said to each other, 'Come let us build for ourselves a city and let us make for ourselves a name" (Gen.11:4). Just as Cain named a city after his son, these people also wanted to build a city to make a name for themselves!! There were no descendants of Cain here. They had all been wiped out by the flood. These were all the descendants of godly men like Seth and Noah. But the spirit of Cain still got into them! And so God confused their language and scattered them all over the earth.

      At the end of Genesis 11, we see God starting all over again with one man - Abram - whom He called out to Himself from the city of Ur.

      That story has been repeated again and again in Christendom. At various times, God has raised up godly men who were prophets to their generation and who gathered people together to be a testimony to the Name of the Lord in various places. But after these godly men died, their followers in the second generation soon developed the spirit of Cain and became proud and haughty and lost the spirit that the founders of their group had.   Then God has had to start all over again with another man.

      I haven't seen all the churches in the world, but I have seen a fairly good cross-section of them in many continents and I'll tell you one thing : I've never seen a church where everybody is spiritual. I've never even seen a church where 50% of the people are spiritual. There is no spiritual church anywhere. There are only spiritual people. And sometimes you may find a very spiritual man in a thoroughly unspiritual church. Spirituality is an individual thing. You don't become spiritual because you're part of a good church. No. We don't automatically have a burden for the Lord's Name to be hallowed, just because we are part of a good church. In fact the danger for many of us who are part of a good church is that we can live on the reputation of our church and be thoroughly carnal ourselves!!

      When Satan once told God (in Job 1) that he had been travelling throughout the world, God asked him if he had observed Job. The Lord had observed Job for many years. Satan had observed him too.

      God looks for wholehearted believers all over the world, for true worshippers who will seek His glory in all matters (John 4:23). But He finds so very few, like Job.

      Satan also looks all over the world for those who will be co-workers with him in his ministry of 'accusing the brothers' (Rev.12:10). And he finds so many, like Mrs. Job and Job's three preacher-friends!

      In 2 Chronicles 16:9, we read that the Lord seeks to support (across the world) those "whose hearts are perfect towards Him (completely His)". The word "perfect" here means complete. A glass of water filled to the brim could be called completely full or perfectly full. If it were only 99% full, it would not be perfect or complete. One who gets 100% in an examination, we could say, got perfect marks.

      The Lord is not looking for clever people. He's looking for those whose hearts are completely His, who love Him with ALL their hearts, and who say to Him, 'Lord, ALL that I have is Yours. I have no interest in anything on earth other than You. I work at a job only to earn my living. I built a house only as a place to live in. I buy things only to keep the family going. But my heart is not in any of these things. My heart is totally yours alone, O Lord my God'. These are the ones whom the Lord supports all across the world.

      The Lord is looking for such people in our midst this morning. He is not looking for those who come regularly to the meetings. He is not even looking for those who take some responsibility in the church in mundane matters, such as sweeping the floor and cleaning the toilets etc., All of that is good. But you may do all that, and your heart may still not be completely the Lord's. He may have only a corner of your heart. Perhaps money is your god. Maybe your children are your gods. God is looking for those whose hearts are completely His.

      What impression do you desire to leave with other people whom you meet? That you have a great God or that you are a great believer?   Believers who draw others to themselves can never enter the kingdom of God, for Jesus said that only those who humble themselves as little children will enter that kingdom. What does it mean to humble ourselves as a little child? What has a little baby in a cradle accomplished? Nothing. To be like a little child means to humbly recognize that we have accomplished nothing. Everything is the result of God's grace alone.

      We see three things that Cain and his descendants did when they went out from the presence of the Lord.

      The first was to build a city (Gen.4:17). God's perfect will for man was to live in a garden like Eden, surrounded by nature, and not by buildings. We have all seen the evils of city-life. It started with Cain, when he left the presence of the Lord. And we have all seen how city-life has driven people away from God.

      The necessity of employment has driven many of us to live in cities like Bangalore. And we have to bring up our children in the evil atmosphere of these cities. But this is not ideal. It has become a necessary evil! I'm not saying we can't live a godly life in a city. But it is a greater battle for our young people here in the cities than it is in the smaller towns of India.

      Let me give you two examples to prove that city-life tends to lead people away from God. First of all, believers in the villages are far more regular in daily Bible-reading than those in the cities. In the cities, believers complain that life is so busy that they have no time to read God's Word. Secondly, believers in the villages take more time to fellowship with each other than those in the cities. City-life has driven believers away from fellowship with the Lord and from fellowship with each other.

      Believers in the cities often spend more time watching television than studying God's Word. Their children often know more about movie stars than about godly missionaries. Why? Because they have drifted away from the presence of the Lord. We must all wake up before we lose our children altogether to the attractions of city-life.

      Have we abused our freedom in Christ to feed the lusts of our flesh? God gave Adam freedom. But when Adam abused that freedom to satisfy his own desires, he had to face the consequences too.

      There are millions of people in India's cities who need to be reached for the Lord. So the Lord needs His witnesses in the cities too. But I hope we will never fall in love with city-life, for its spirit is the spirit of Cain. God has placed us as lights in these cities and we must ensure that the darkness in city-life and its fashions and styles us does not get inside us. God has put a fire inside us through filling us with the Holy Spirit and we must not allow city-life to quench it.

      A second thing that the descendants of Cain did was to develop musical instruments (Genesis 4:21). Jubal was the father of all musicians. Remember that the first musical instruments were developed not by Abel or the children of Seth, but by the sons of Cain. I'm not saying that musical instruments are bad. Musical instruments can be used to praise the Lord and to glorify God. But never forget that the first person mentioned in the Bible, who started making and using musical instruments was one who had gone away from the presence of the Lord. Today, we can see how music has driven people away from God right into Satan's arms. We can trace the origin of today's rock music right back to the descendants of Cain.

      I'm sure Jubal and his family members must have had "great fun" singing and playing the harp and the lyre and other instruments late into the nights. They did not play songs to glorify the Lord. They had gone away from the presence of the Lord. Their music was to glorify the devil.

      It is easy for music to become a god to us even in the church. The keyboard can become your god and the drums can become your god. It is easy in a time of praise and worship to be more taken up with the beat and the rhythm of the music than with the Lord Himself. Only a spiritual man can lead people to worship the Lord in music. Only a spiritual man can play the keyboard or the drums in such a way as to draw people to Jesus and not to himself. The same is true of preaching too. Only a spiritual preacher can preach in such a way as to draw people to the Lord and not to admire him. A preacher who draws people to himself is going the way of Cain.

      Music and choir practice can also draw you away from having time to meditate on the Scriptures each day.

      When I was born again, even though I read the Bible daily, I did not have much interest in studying it. I read the Scriptures mainly to ease my conscience. One day, while passing by a musical shop, in Bombay, in 1961, I saw a piano-accordion in a shop-window. In those days, the import of musical instruments had been banned in India. So I knew that that accordion was probably one of the last ones available anywhere in India. I was eager to buy it, because I wanted to learn how to play it. But I didn't know how to find out the will of God in such matters. So I asked God for a sign. I fixed a certain price for the accordion in my mind and prayed saying, "Lord, if the price is not above that figure, I'll take that as a sign that you want me to buy it. Otherwise I won't buy it." I went into the shop and asked for its price. The price quoted was just a little bit above the price I had thought of. I had enough money with me and the temptation was great to buy it - after all, I wanted to use the accordion for the Lord's work! I also knew that if I didn't buy it at once, someone else would buy it in no time at all. But I decided to keep my word to the Lord and did not buy it.

      When we make a promise to the Lord, we must keep it, for God takes 'no delight in fools. It is better not to make a promise than to promise and not keep it'(Eccl.5:4,5).   

      That small decision was one of the most important decisions I ever took in my whole life - because it changed the direction of my life. If I had bought that accordion that day, I would not be standing here today, preaching God's Word to you. I would not have had the ministry the Lord has now given me either. Let me explain why. I was working in the Indian Navy those days. A few days after this incident, I met a fellow naval officer to whom I witnessed about Christ. He belonged to a religion that believed that Jesus did not die on the cross, but only swooned and that when Jesus was placed in the tomb, the cool air there revived Him and He woke up. So according to him, there was no resurrection because Jesus never really died! This officer asked me a question. He asked me whether Jonah was alive or dead in the whale's belly? I replied, "He was alive". Then he said, 'Didn't Jesus say that just as Jonah was alive in the whale's belly, so also the Son of Man would be in the heart of the earth? So was Jesus alive or dead in the tomb?' I was dumbfounded by his logic. I had no answer.

      I went back to my room, thoroughly ashamed of myself. I knelt down and told the Lord, 'Lord, I will never again be caught like that in my witnessing. From today onwards, I am going to study Your word. And if ever again, someone asks me a question for which there is an answer in the Scriptures, I am going to find out the answer before anyone else asks me the same question.' That non-Christian officer got me started on seriously studying the Scriptures!!

      (By the way, I now know the answer to that officer's question. The heart of the earth, I realized   was not the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where the body of Jesus lay for 3 days and nights. The heart of the earth is the centre of the earth where paradise was then located, and where Jesus went along with the thief on the day that they were both crucified. And Jesus was alive in His spirit there for 3 days and 3 nights, just as Jonah had been alive in the whale's belly!)

      Now note this: I would never have devoted myself to the study of the Scriptures, if I had bought that accordion that day, for that accordion would have been too great a temptation for me. I would have spent hours improving my skill on the accordion and would not have had much time left for Bible-study. Then God could not have called me to His service and I would have probably wasted my days as a Naval officer somewhere and would certainly not be serving the Lord or building the Body of Christ today. God knew that - and that was why He did not want me buy that accordion that day. Large doors turn on small hinges and the pathway we walk in life may at times depend on some small decision that we make.   

      That one decision to keep my promise to the Lord altered the entire direction of my life. I didn't lose anything by not getting an accordion then. Six years later when I left the Navy, I was able to buy an accordion. But by then I had become so devoted to studying the Scriptures, that the accordion could never become my master. It was only my slave. And that's why I can't play it too well even today, after 33 years - because I never allowed it to become my god!! So you can imagine how thankful I am to the Lord for making me choose the Scriptures in preference to a musical instrument.

      The third thing the descendants of Cain engaged in was industrialisation. Tubal-cain was the forger of all implements of bronze and iron (Gen.4:22). The sons of Cain developed industry, and started businesses that made them very rich. They prospered, even though they had gone away from the Lord. We see the same thing today.   The industrialized nations of the world today are the most wealthy, and also the most immoral, and the furthest away from God. Once upon a time, Western nations used to talk of the nations of Africa and Asia as heathen. Today, the most heathen nations in the world are found in Europe and America. Industrialisation and the resultant wealth have driven them away from the presence of God.

      Satan's purpose in everything is to take people away from the presence of God - whether it be through city life, music or industrialization. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that we should all now leave the cities and go and stay in the villages. Neither am I saying that we should give up music or stop working in factories. All I am saying is that we must always bear in mind the fact that all these things have a tendency to take us away from the presence of the Lord. So we must be careful. We may use all these things. But our hearts must be detatched from all of them. If you set your heart on any of these things, they will slowly but surely take you away from the presence of God. You may stay in a city or in a village, but make sure your heart is completely God's and that you don't worship anything else. Don't let anything take the place of God in your life.

      I want you to notice something about the way Jesus lived here on earth. We know that Jesus is the greatest person in God's kingdom. But Jesus said that the greatest person in God's kingdom was one who humbled himself as a little child. From this, we can understand that Jesus must have humbled Himself as a little child throughout His earthly life.

      Listen to these words of His in John 5:19: "Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing". We have all seen how little children imitate their fathers. Jesus was humble enough to do that. He only did what He saw His Father doing first. He never acted on His own initiative at any time. There was none of the spirit of Cain in Him. In John 5:30, He said, "I can do nothing on My own initiative".

      How about us? Do we do most things on our own initiative? Jesus made a deliberate choice never to initiate anything, never to do anything without seeking the Father's will first. He never sought to do His own will in any matter. He wanted to spend His earthly days doing just His Father's will.

      In John 10:17, 18, Jesus said, 'I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. This commandment I have received from My Father". He laid down His life on His own initiative, because His Father gave Him that commandment. Jesus gave up His rights and even His life, if that was what the Father wanted Him to do. That is the way God wants us to live.

      In John 12:49 and 14:10, Jesus said, "The words that I speak to you, I don't speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works". Can you imagine the total submission to the Father's will involved in that statement? Jesus gave up the right to even express His own opinion.

      I want you to notice the difference between Jesus and Eve in these statements of His that we have just been considering.

      Eve's attitude when Cain was born, was "I have created this thing. I can do something by myself". Whereas Jesus' attitude was "I can do nothing of Myself. Only if the Father tells me to do something and gives Me the ability to do   can I do anything'. This is the humility of heart that He told us to learn from Him (Matt.11:29).

      Do you have a great longing that the words you speak should be a perfect expression of God's thoughts and opinions and not of your own? That was the prayer of the psalmist: 'Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight O God my Redeemer' (Psa.19:14). If we have such a longing, then every time we open your mouths, we will be a blessing to others, like Jesus was.

      In Zephaniah 3:9-17, we see some amazing verses that tell us how God is going to build His church in these last days. There it says that believers will 'have purified lips and serve Him shoulder to shoulder (in unity)'. But first of all, God has to 'remove all the   proud, exulting people"   - those who are proud of their cleverness, their smartness, their beauty, their efficiency, their wealth, their Bible-knowledge, their spiritual gifts or whatever. Such people may come to church-meetings, but they will not be built together with the others to be Christ's Body.

      When God made Adam He gathered a lot of mud together, and with that He built Adam's body. When Adam's body was complete and God breathed into him, there was still a lot of mud lying around there. But Adam walked away, leaving all that mud behind. Today we are the mud from which God is building Christ's Body. If we yield to give Him and give Him all the glory, we can be a part of that Body. If not, we will be like the mud left behind, when Jesus returns. The Body will walk away and we will be left behind. God constantly removes all the hard clods that refuse to be softened - the proud, exulting ones.

      Further, in verses 12,13,   God says, " I will leave among you a humble and lowly people, and they will take refuge in the name of the Lord. This remnant will do no wrong, and tell no lies, nor will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths. They will lie down (be at rest) with no-one to make them tremble (with fear)'

      This is a picture of how the Body of Christ is being built in our midst today. The humble are being gathered together in different places and they are cleansing themselves from all wrongdoing, all lying and all deceit. Thus they are entering into rest and functioning together as Christ's Body - without any jealousy or competition.

      And now the Lord says, 'Shout for joy, O church! Shout in triumph! Rejoice and exult with all your heart. The Lord has cleared away all your enemies. The Lord Himself is in your midst. You will fear disaster no more. Don't be afraid! Don't let your hands fall limp. The Lord your God is in your midst a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy. He is silently planning for you in love. He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy' (Zeph.3:14-17).

      Hallelujah!

      Praise the Lord for His grace that has shown us the way He wants us to live here on earth.   May the Lord help us to live in humility all our days.

      Amen and Amen!

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