According to Genesis 4, the firstborn son of Eve was Cain. Upon his birth, she cries out in joy, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord!” (Gen. 4:1) Cain was a gift, but Eve’s joy was temporary. It would be taken away by this man. You may remember Cain. He is famous for killing his brother, Abel. After this first murder, God approaches Cain in search of his dead brother. “The Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9) Cain answers with a devastating question. A question that undermines everything God created us to be and is the dismissive rebellion against all God created us to do. Cain had rebelled against God in his faithless offerings. He rejected his responsibility as a brother and neighbor in this loveless murder. He had no faith; thus, he had no love.
Cain was a taker. He took his life into his own hands. But life is meant to be defined by giving, not taking. God has created us to live by faith and in love. Faith receives life from God the giver (James 1:17); it does not seek to take God’s authority for itself. Faith, believing that God will provide all we need for life and salvation (daily bread and the forgiveness of sins), lives by prayer and in love. Faith prays, trusting God to provide. Faith loves, giving what God has provided to those in need. God gives this life to us by grace. We are created to give what we have in love to our neighbor in need. It is a life that is given and a life that, as a result, gives.
Taking leads to death: death of faith, death of love. When I do not trust God for my life, everything depends on me. I take responsibility for myself away from God. As a result, I must use others as a means to an end. I must use their lives to reach my goals, my purposes, and my glory. If they benefit me, I will use them up and throw them out. If they get in my way, I will remove them. After all, I am not their keeper. Either way, I take from them in order to survive on my terms. But survival isn’t life. Survival simply prolongs death because taking always leads to death.
But this is not so for you, for you are baptized. This means that you have been given new life as a gift! St. John gives us this wonderful promise:
“We know that we (i.e., the baptized) have passed out of death into life because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14).
Baptism, St. Paul reminds us, gives us death and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-11). You have been united with Christ in his dying and rising. He takes but only that which is killing you: your sin. He takes it upon himself and gives you everlasting life. He gives you the life of faith. He gives you the life of love.
Love gives graciously. Our entire faith could be defined by this phrase. Our salvation depends on it. John writes how Eve’s greater Son, the Son of Promise (Gen. 3:15), was the man truly given to Eve and to all her descendants to offset Cain’s murderous taking. This Son is Jesus, and he is given not to take life but to give it. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us…” (1 John 3:16a).
Jesus is the anti-Cain: a giver, not a taker. He is the Good Shepherd who gives his life for the sheep. He is the Great High Priest who gives his life as a substitution for ours when he atones for our sins on the cross. He is the resurrection who gives eternal life. He is the incarnate God whose true body and blood are given to you directly through bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper for the giving of forgiveness. All this, Jesus gives you by his grace alone. Love gives graciously.
Your death is in the past. You belong to Jesus Christ.
And this graciously given love gives new life. Life not formed by Cain who takes and kills, but life lived in love. Yet, it lives in a world that, unsurprisingly, hates, attacks, and seeks to take this life-giving gift away (1 John 3:13). But the life of faith sees things differently. We have been given the eyes of Christ. They see differently than Cain. Cain sees in the world people to use or remove. Cain only sees those who want to take from him. But Christ sees beggars in need of his gifts. He has given you his eyes so he can use your hands to provide for them. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).
Cain sees his brother and takes his life. Christ sees his brothers and sisters in need and gives them the treasures of heaven. Christ sees his children in need and gives your hands to feed them with the fruits of the earth; the fruits he has graciously placed in your hands. As Luther reminds us while explaining the First Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism, our entire life is a gift. All we have is a gift. For all of this, it is our duty to “thank and praise, serve and obey him.” That is, we are to use our gifts, received by faith, for the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. “This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ (receive the gift by faith) and love one another as he commanded us (give of ourselves in love)” (1 John 3:23).
This gift of the life of faith is a joyful life! However, when we hear this call to love, the old Cain crops up in our conscience and seeks to murder that joy. Our hearts will condemn us for our taking, that is, for our selfishness, our lack of love, and our greed. Our hearts will condemn us. But, even here, God gives more grace! “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:19-20) That is to say, when we do not live in love, God knows. But he is greater than our hearts. He still gives to those in need despite us. What is more, he gives forgiveness of sins! He gives Jesus’ blood to atone for our sin (1 John 2:2). He is greater than your heart in his love and in his forgiveness for you.
This world is full of Cain’s descendants, all seeking to take life, to take away the word of promise, and to take away love. And, because of this, they are dying. But you are baptized! Your death is in the past. You belong to Jesus Christ. He is your keeper! He is the Father’s gift to you who gives you salvation. He loves giving to you so much that he bids you pray in confidence, knowing that what you ask in prayer, he will give graciously to you (1 John 3:21-22). He does not take anything from you but sin and death. He is the great giver who gave his only Son to die for you. His blood is a gift that conveys salvation, for it speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:24).