QUESTION: "In Genesis, why did God accept Abel's meat offering and refuse Cain's grain offering, even though it was of the best grain?"
Mrs. Albert M.,
ANSWER: The Bible does not specifically say why God did not accept Cain's offering (Gen. 4). But some have speculated that God instructed Cain and Abel to offer animal sacrifices. Cain may have refused and offered produce of the field instead — insisting on worshiping God his own way. Another possible explanation is that Cain may not have brought the best of his grain. Genesis 4:4 reads: "Abel... brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof." Perhaps Cain's offering was neither the first nor the best.
At any rate, Genesis 4:5-7 reveals that Cain's heart was not right with God. This is another possible reason his offering was not accepted (Matt. 5:23-24).
Q: "Everyone at one time or another has heard that God gives warning before He sends punishment — that those who heed the warning will be spared the cataclysm. On the other hand, nearly all the apostles died by violent means. How are the violent deaths of so many repentant explained in light of this?"
A: The scripture you are probably basing your first statement on is Amos 3:7: "Surely the Lord God does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets."
Bible prophecies are sometimes general overall warnings to a nation as a whole.
God also, gives a general overall warning to Christians. He states through the apostle Paul that "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (II Tim. 3:12). The apostles themselves were practically promised martyrdom from the outset (see John 21:18-19; 16:1-2; 15:18-21). So in this sense they were warned, but were not delivered from violence at the hand of unbelievers.
It is important to realize that there is a difference between suffering for righteousness sake (I Pet. 1:6-7; 3:14; 4:12-16) and suffering for one's personal or national sins. God in his wisdom did allow the apostles to go through various trials and even martyrdom for the gospel's sake. This was in spite of the fact that they were repentant, righteous servants of His. In contrast, the entire wicked city of Nineveh received a reprieve from destruction when God saw how enthusiastically they repented. Although these people were probably not leading deeply spiritual lives even after their repentance, God gave them mercy.
Reviewing the lives of all of God's servants as recorded in the Bible, it is obvious that one's spiritual state does not necessarily have that much to do with the physical course of one's life. One of the writers of the Psalms observed that wicked men are often blessed while righteous men suffer. But he realized that in the end God will see to it that all these seeming injustices are equalized (Psalm 73). For more on this subject, read our free booklet After Death... then What?
Q: "What are the two types of sin John is speaking of in I John 5:16?"
New York, New York
A: I John 5:16-17 reads: "If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to p ray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal."
In other words, once a Christian is justified, he is dead to Sin; unless he commits what some refer to as the "unpardonable" sin, he will be resurrected to immortal life (see Rom. 8:1-2, 10). Therefore any sin which one commits and is willing to repent of is not a "mortal sin." For more on this subject, read our free booklets What Do You Mean - The Unpardonable Sin? and Just What Do You Mean...Conversion?
Q: "Christ said not to judge. Yet every day one must avoid dangerous places, be careful in choosing associates, and be aware of the difference between quality and shoddy merchandise. This is judging! How does one do something he must do when Christ says he can't?"
A: Christ said: "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?... You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matt. 7:1-5).
This type of "judging" has to do with condemnation. Only God knows what goes on in a person's heart, and only God can know if what a person is doing is really wrong in his own private circumstances. Also, only God can tell whether or not he is in a repentant attitude and genuinely regrets the mistakes he does make. Therefore we should focus on improving our own behavior rather than watching and condemning what our neighbor does:
The type of "judging" necessary in day-to-day life is not condemnation but discernment. The Bible tells us we are to discern between good and evil. We are to "test the spirits" (I John 4:1) and to "test everything; hold fast what is good" (I Thes. 5:21). These scriptures (and many. others) show us that we are to have our faculties trained to distinguish between right and wrong (Heb. 5:14). In fact, we must do this if we are to obey God in all things.