Subject 18 : GENESIS

[Chapter 4-6] Let Us Live as Shepherds (Genesis 4:1-5)

Let Us Live as Shepherds
(Genesis 4:1-5)
“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have acquired a man from the LORD.’ Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.”
After being driven out of the Garden of Eden, Adam slept with his wife Eve, and she conceived a baby. It is written, “She conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have acquired a man from the LORD.’ Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.” What did Eve say after giving birth to Cain? She said, “I have acquired a man from the LORD.” Eve was very happy to give birth to Cain and see how healthy the baby was. The name Cain means “attainment” or “possession.”
Eve then conceived again and gave birth to Cain’s little brother Abel, and this name “Abel” means “breath,” “vanity,” or “transience.” The second son must have seemed to be a very weak baby to his parents. They thought that he wouldn’t grow up to be a strong man, and his life seemed only transitory to them to expire in little time. So they named him “Abel,” thinking that he was transitory and futile like the morning mist, seemingly unable to grow up to be a man.
As the two sons grew up, they each held a job: Cain became a tiller of the ground, while Abel became a shepherd. And after more time went by, these two men brought their offerings to God. Abel offered the firstborn of the flock and their fat to God, while Cain offered the fruit of the ground. However, God only accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s offering. This is the gist of today’s Scripture passage.
Through today’s Scripture passage, God is saying that everyone is engaged in either one of two types of work. Put differently, all human beings are divided into two groups of people: Those who carry out spiritual work and those who carry out carnal work.
Abel tended the flock—that is, spiritual work. In contrast, Cain tended the work of the ground, which implies carnal work. As a profession, anyone can tend the flock or till the ground. However, the spiritual message of today’s Scripture passage is that there are two types of work: God’s work and the work of men—that is, the work of Heaven and the work of this world.
Jesus once rebuked Peter, saying to him, “You are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23). The Apostle Paul also said, “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). What do these Bible passages tell us? They tell us that there are two types of lives before us waiting to be chosen by us.
Everyone in this world is destined to live doing one of these two types of works. These two works are none other than the work of God and the work of the Devil—that is, keeping the flock and tilling the ground. Abel was a shepherd. A shepherd does God’s work. He carries out spiritual work. Those who preach the gospel, lead other souls to receive the remission of their sins through the Word of Truth, and consider it the most precious work to guide and nurture the saved saints—these people work to tend the flock.
Cain, in contrast, was a tiller of the ground—that is, he was someone who carried out the work of Satan. Anyone who does not labor for God is infallibly destined to work for the Devil. Do you think Satan’s work is just to lead people to murder each other and actively commit sexual debauchery? To live only for one’s own flesh itself is doing the work of the Devil. Why? That’s because none other than this is what Satan wants, for people to live only for their own flesh that will rot away. That’s why Jesus said, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life” (John 6:27).
Then does this mean that everyone who ministers as a pastor or works as a missionary is doing God’s work? No, that’s not the case. After all, what did the Pharisees and the scribes do in Jesus’ days? Didn’t they crucify to death the very God who came to this earth, all in the name of serving God? Why did the chief priests and their fellow religious leaders determine themselves to kill Jesus once He drove out the vendors and money exchangers from the Temple? While they claimed to serve God, they were actually only interested in accumulating power and wealth by using the Temple. Even now, countless pastors and missionaries claim to be carrying out God’s work, but many of them are in fact doing the work of the earth. In other words, their hidden greed is to gather as many people possible into their congregation by any means, exploit them even more to build a more extravagant church building and live a more splendid life in this world, and to enjoy more fame and more power in this world.
There are two jobs in this world that are available to you and me, and of these, we must choose the one that tends the flock. Those of us who have received the remission of sins must think about God’s work and carry it out. If we don’t think about God’s work and are only mindful of the work of mankind, we would be joining Cain in the file of those who till the ground. While the tillers of the ground take pride in the fruit of the ground that’s attained from their own labor and live on this, the keepers of the flock labor to bear life. One may object to this truth and say that Cain also labored for life to sprout by planting seed, but spiritually speaking, the life of the flesh is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11). So a keeper of sheep, which have blood, manifests someone who carries out the of the work of saving spiritual life.
Even though our existence on this earth is temporary to disappear in a short while, we must still think about God’s work that brings everlasting life, and we must carry out this work. No matter what, we must be mindful of spreading the gospel, which is God’s work, and we must also labor to proclaim the gospel. Everyone who has not been born again is 100 percent a tiller of the ground. He cannot do the work of the Spirit even if he wants to, for he himself has no life. Someone who is born again, on the other hand, is able to both till the ground and keep the flock. Those who have not set their minds on God, even if they have been born again, are likely to return to their old lives and live only for themselves. In other words, they will once again revert back to tillers.
For us also, if we were to strictly divide the lives that we are now carrying on after receiving the remission of sins, we would be divided into two types: The shepherds who keep the flock, or the farmers who till the ground. Those who keep the flock think about God’s work and carry it out, while those who till the ground think only about themselves and live just for themselves. We are all divided into these two types of people. The question before us then is how the born-again should live. How should we live, as those who have received the remission of sins? We must indeed labor for a worthy cause. Just because the Bible says here that Abel was a keeper of sheep and Cain was a tiller of the ground, you shouldn’t think, “Oh, so it’s just talking about two different types of jobs.” Depending on which work Cain and Abel chose as their profession, this consequently determined the offerings that they gave. Abel, a shepherd, killed his sheep and offered it to God, while Cain, a farmer, brought such produces of the ground as potatoes, pumpkins, and corns to God. In other words, they offered to God the fruit of their labor depending on what they each did.
The same principle applies to us also. Those of us who actually think about God’s work and carry it out after receiving the remission of sins are able to offer spiritual fruits to God; in contrast, those of us who don’t do God’s work cannot help but offer Him only the fruit of the ground. Since all of us have received the remission of sins, we must first decide clearly whether we would live as shepherds like Abel, or as farmers like Cain. In other words, we have to set our minds as to whether we would live thinking about God’s work and doing it, or continue to be attached to the perishable things of the earth and live for these things that will rot away. Anyone who has received the remission of sins must infallibly draw a clear line on this issue, on how he would live his life, and he must choose either one of the two types of lives. You must clearly decide what it is that you would live for.
I can’t really say, “I will live a perfect life.” However, I am convinced of this: “Even though I am lacking, I will live as a shepherd like Abel. It is fitting and proper in God’s sight for me to live as a keeper of sheep. And this is what is good for me, as well as what is good for everyone.” If this is true for me, then it is also true for you also. You cannot say confidently that you would live an upright life 100 percent, nor can you claim to have lived such a virtuous life. Nonetheless, you should still set your heart, saying, “I, too, will live as a shepherd. Rather than living as a tiller of the ground like Cain, I will live as a keeper of sheep. Shouldn’t I set my heart like this and live like Abel?” Now that God has given us the remission of sins and permitted us to live a new life, how should we live the rest of our lives? Should we live as the keepers of the flock or the tillers of the ground? If we seriously consider this issue before God and choose clearly in our hearts, then we would set our minds to live as shepherds.
However, even when we set our minds, in our acts, we are still unable to live 100 percent for the work of the Spirit. Nevertheless, we can at least set our minds clearly, and both psychologically and spiritually, it is the right and good choice for us to decide before God, “I will live as a keeper of sheep.” My fellow believers, how should you live? Should you live as a keeper of the flock, or as a tiller of the ground? How do you want to live? I am sure that all of you want to live as shepherds. This life is the correct, blessed life. That is what I believe. Even though we may find ourselves tilling the ground from time to time, our hearts should still choose and decide to live as the keepers of the flock.
There are two types of people in this world: Those who tend the flock, and those who till the ground—the former carry out God’s work, while the latter carry out Satan’s work. Many people till the ground like Cain. But the keepers of sheep are few and far between. What is the ratio of those who tend the flock on this earth? It’s very small. In other words, those who carry out God’s work are extremely few.
Although the Bible notes simply that Abel was a keeper of sheep, and that God accepted his offering when he sacrificed the firstborn of the flock and their fat, an amazing mystery of blessings is hidden in this Word. It means that God accepts in pleasure those who carry out spiritual work. We must indeed become keepers of the flock before God. We must become ranchers. That’s why our forefathers of faith, from Abraham to his descendants such as Isaac and Jacob, all raised cattle. They did not dwell in one place, but they moved around looking for pasture and water to feed the flock. In other words, they lived on this earth like journeymen and travelers, devoted to give birth to life (Hebrews 11:9, 13).
This profession of tending the flock is impeccably upright before God. And it is good. It is a hundred times better than tilling the ground. A tiller of the ground would have to fertilize the field every day and eat only what is produced by the ground. In contrast, a keeper of sheep would breed the flock, nurture them, and care for them. He will frequently witness the mysteries of the birth of new life unfolding before his eyes. Put differently, this work of tending the flock means the work of saving people’s souls. Spiritually viewed, this profession itself is a blessed job. It is different from just farming the land. That’s because it attains life.
How cute is a lamb that’s just born? While living in a small island in my youth, I saw sheep or goats giving birth on many occasions. The younglings of these animals can stand on their own feet soon after being born, and they can run around after taking a few steps. They get on their feet and hop around not long after birth. They are so marvelous, so cute and lovely. All younglings, whether they are puppies or kittens, are cute like this. A newly born life is mysterious, very cute and lovely.
Once you and I receive the remission of sins, we must start to tend the flock. Our job must be tending the flock. We have no other job to do after receiving the remission of sins. Farming is not a job that gives birth to life. What are the produces of the ground for? They only sustain the farmer’s family at most. Farmers eat the fruit of their toil, but everything is gone when they go to the bathroom. So there is nothing enduring. However, tending the flock is a job that gives birth to new life, nurtures it, and multiplies it. A keeper of sheep breeds the flock, cares for them, grows them well, and breeds them again to continue to multiply. We must do this work.
That’s why even though I am truly lacking before God, I am still determined to tend the flock for the rest of my life. So I pray like this: “Lord, even though I am insufficient, I want to tend the flock. I should preach the gospel to many people in my country, and I also want to spread it overseas, to the end of the earth. I want to lead the brothers and sisters at our Mission School to work as the keepers of sheep. Please help me, and allow me to live the rest of my life as a shepherd like Abel.”
It is my sincerest desire that you would all work as shepherds once you receive the remission of sins. Rather than living your life just to farm the land and fill yourself, I want you all to work to save even just one soul, to give birth to new life, and to nurture the saved well, so that they, too, may come to tend the flock. If we are now indeed participating in the spreading of the gospel after receiving the remission of sins, then we are all keepers of the flock. To live for the gospel, to offer our financial resources for the gospel, to dedicate our time, and to labor hard and pray—all these things are tending the flock. All that we have to do is just set our minds to do so. If we set our minds to live as shepherds and live by faith, then we will all be able to live such a worthy life, for God will give us His special grace, blessings, and power. In contrast, tilling the ground requires a lot of labor of our own. Even if one works hard, everything is done for himself, producing just perishable food that will all disappear once he eats.
How hard do the tillers of the ground have to work? While the keepers of sheep must also work hard, their labor gives birth to life. It’s not through their own devotion, but through the life that God has given them, that they marry Jesus Christ and give birth to spiritual children. This is spontaneous generation. It is not something that is achieved by one’s own effort, but this work of tending the flock is carried out by the God-given grace and strength. So if we carry out this work by faith, we will give birth to many spiritual children.
Because God has saved us by giving us the gospel, we are spreading this gospel. Don’t people receive the remission of sins when we preach the gospel to them? The gospel that we are spreading is so powerful. While we are just preaching what we believe, people receive the remission of their sins by hearing this gospel Word proclaimed by us. So when we gather together those who are not born again and preach the Word of Truth to them, some of them inevitably come to receive the remission of sins. The work of new life unfolds before our own eyes. When we ask the audiences of the true gospel, “Please, raise your hands if you have received the remission of sins by the gospel of the water and the Spirit that you just listened to,” a few hands are clearly bound to be raised. And when we ask them to give their testimony of salvation, they testify clearly as well, saying, “I had so many sins before, but now that I heard the gospel of the water and the Spirit and believed in it, all those sins have disappeared, and I have become a righteous person without sin.”
Rather than devoting all our efforts to the earth to reap the fruit of the ground like Cain, we are working to spread what God has given us. We share the Word of Truth; we give birth to our spiritual children, protect them well, lead them into the Church, and teach the Word to them to make them give birth to yet more spiritual children. A shepherd is someone who breeds and takes care of the flock. He works to ensure that the flock would breed many younglings; and he nurtures and protects the younglings so that they would also give birth to even more younglings when they mature. So the life of the righteous is a continuation of giving birth time after time. Matthew chapter one begins with a genealogy that describes who gave birth to whom. That’s because the people listed in that passage are all our forefathers of faith who tended the flock.
You and I must also do this work. Without any exception, all of us gathered here must devote ourselves to this work. While our lives still last, we must set our hearts and do this work. We have no other work to do. Now that we have received the remission of sins, what should we do? We should tend the flock. We shouldn’t till the ground like Cain.
Sister Reba Choi from Russia, won’t you go back to your country after being trained here? What must you do when you are back in Russia? You must tend the flock. Rather than holding a secular job out in the world, you have to devote your entire life to tending the flock. You have to unite with the other servants of God there and take care of the flock. For you to gather around the people of God, share the Word with them, testify the Word, set the hours to worship, protect the flock from the wolf-like liars, and continue to teach the flock—this is none other than tending the flock. Sister Choi, you must live a spiritual life like this. Here is the reason for our existence. It is to tend the flock that we exist.
Today’s Scripture passage said, “Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.” It also said that Abel brought the firstborn of the flock and their fat as his offering to God. When Abel sacrificed his offering, he didn’t just slaughter a lamb and place it on top of a rock. Rather, he cut its stomach open; took out all the fat attached to the entrails, the liver, and the kidneys; skinned it; and cut off and threw away unclean parts. He then cut the flesh into pieces, placed them on the altar, put the fat that he had taken out on top of the flesh, and then burnt them by fire to offer them to God.
What does all this mean? It means that Abel sacrificed his offering to God according to the law of salvation through which God has saved us, by believing in the same gospel that he heard from his parents. In a burnt offering, one must lay his hands on the head of the sacrificial animal before he kills it. This is the essential process to pass over all his sins to the animal. And he has to kill it, draw its blood, cut it into pieces, and then take out all the fat attached to its entrails and put them on top of its flesh before he offers a burnt sacrifice for a sweet aroma to God. This is the biblically indispensable process to a lawful burnt sacrifice. Abel had to offer the same burnt offering with the firstborn of the flock and their fat.
What does the “fat” here mean? It manifests God, the Holy Spirit. Put differently, Abel believed according to what God had said. That is how Abel worshipped God. And when he thus worshipped like this, God accepted him. Abel’s parents, Adam and Eve, had the gospel of the garments of skin. To prepare the garments of skin, a lamb had to be sacrificed. This gospel of the garments of skin entailed the laying on of hands that passed sin to the sacrificial animal, and the shedding of its blood. Abel sacrificed his offering to God like this with the same faith.
Someone may raise an objection against my interpretation, saying, “Where can we find ‘the laying on of hands’ in the account of the tunics of skin in Genesis chapter three?” But you have to know that the Bible shows the full Truth step by step. For example, Genesis 3:15 says, “And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.” This passage clearly reveals Jesus Christ as our Savior, but we cannot find any word concerning His baptism and bloodshed in this passage. The Bible is the Word of revelation. We can only interpret it by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13).
In the Book of Leviticus, we see that when the people of Israel sacrificed their offering of atonement, they had to infallibly offer its fat along with its flesh after laying their hands on the head of the animal. They received the remission of their sins when they sacrificed like this. When we believe in the gospel of the water and the blood that Jesus has given us, all our sins are taken away from our hearts and they are blotted out. We are made sinless people. When we have this kind of faith that makes us sinless, God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Receiving the Holy Spirit is not something that we are made aware of through our senses. Do you think that one would feel some kind of fire and commotion when he receives the Holy Spirit? If such a phenomenon happens, it only means that this person has received an evil spirit. God the Holy Spirit is peaceful like a dove and pure, and therefore He descends only onto the sinless hearts that have received the remission of sins.
The worship that we should offer to God is this: “Lord, thank You for saving me like this. Thank you for blotting out all my sins with Your water and blood.” Only when we worship God by faith like this does He accept our worship. In contrast, Cain brought the fruit of the ground as his offering to God, and God did not accept it. Why did God not accept Cain’s offering in pleasure? Because Cain had lived only for himself irrespective of the will of God, and he had also offered to Him what was good only in his own eyes according to his own carnal thoughts. That’s because he was a tiller of the ground, someone who only thought about the affairs of the earth. Even though this was how Cain made a living before God, by tilling the ground, spiritually speaking, he should at least have been a shepherd, and he should have accepted the Word of God and brought an offering of faith, but he failed to do so. It’s because of this failure that God refused to accept Cain’s offering.
God says, “Do not walk like Cain” (1 John 3:12). Cain offered the fruit of the ground. Cain’s profession was farming. This also means that when it came to faith, he offered the fruit of the ground to God—that is, he offered his faith according to his own thoughts. In other words, he believed in God according to his own desires, in whatever way that appealed to his own thoughts. He did so even by making up doctrines, and that is how he worshipped God. But did God accept his offering? No, He did not.
Cain’s profession itself was not a proper one. After receiving the remission of sins, what kind of profession should we have in this world? Our job should be tending the flock. In other words, our job must be giving birth to life. As the Bible says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), to give birth to new life by preaching the gospel, and to lead and nurture the born-again—this is none other than to tend the flock. Once we personally carry out the work of spreading the gospel, we must set aside all the affairs of the world and devote ourselves entirely to God’s work. If, on the other hand, we are unable to be directly engaged in the work of spreading the gospel, then all that we have to do is work diligently at our secular jobs and support the gospel ministry with our prayers, services, and financial means. If we work for the gospel united together with the Church like this, then all of us can carry out the work of tending the flock well.
Through today’s Scripture passage, God has told us that we must devote ourselves to the work of tending the flock. All of us must indeed live as good shepherds.
This sermon is also available in ebook format. Click on the book cover below.
Sermons on Genesis (III) - No More Chaos, Void or Darkness Now (I)