What is "First Fruits" and Why Does it Matter?

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As Americans we generally like to be first. (Those of us with competitive tendencies like to be first more than others!)  We are taught to be first and win the race of life starting at a very young age:

  • First to walk and talk
  • Climb to the top of the class
  • Be the first to graduate from college
  • Win the race up the corporate ladder

Why?

So we can be the best and get the best for ourselves and achieve the American Dream, right?

But wait...is there more?

What is God's perspective on this “be first, win the race, get to the top” concept?

The Israelites were farmers.They grew food not just as a livelihood but to survive. The idea of first fruits is seen in numerous places in the Old Testament when the Israelites are instructed to give God their first fruits. For example, in Exodus 23:19a they are told, “Bring the best of the first fruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.”

For as important as food production was to God’s chosen people, God’s expectation was that they give back to him the first and the best of their produce. After all, it was God’s blessing that allowed the plants to grow and provide more than sufficient food throughout the growing season.

The majority of us do not plant, grow, and harvest any substantial amounts of food. We work at any number of jobs or have income from various sources. We don’t live as nomadic farmers like the Israelites did so what does the idea of first fruits have to do with us today?

The British dictionary gives us a clear definition on how first fruits apply to not just a crop, but to all forms of production. It defines first firsts as “the first results, products, or profits of an undertaking”. No matter what we do to create income or achieve results, it falls under God’s exception of first fruits.

First Fruits is the top of the totem pole. It's the income that comes in first. It’s not after taxes, heath insurance, the phone bill, the mortgage payment, the trip to the grocery store or a stop at the mall. Its comes out of the first earnings.

Sounds painful and maybe even scary.

Is that really what God intends? I think so. In this way we demonstrate our trust in him and acknowledge that it is through his blessing we received the income. It’s not because we went to college, it’s not because we worked really hard and it’s not because the economy just happened to improve. It’s because God allowed us to earn the income. It is a blessing!

As you ponder the amount to give back to God, remember it’s the first fruits he’s asking for from us. Our first and best. It’s through giving this way that we win in God’s eyes.

 


 

By the way, if you want to set up automatic giving to make tithing your first fruits automatic, please follow this link.

Why Should Jesus-Followers Tithe?

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Money is one of the most talked about topics in the Bible. If you read through the book of Proverbs you will walk away with at least a Bachelors, if not a Masters in Finance. Jesus makes plenty of references to money as well. In one of the regularly quoted passages on tithing Jesus gives this rebuke to the religious leaders:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” -Matthew 23:23

Jesus affirms that tithing (along with seeking justice, mercy and faithfulness) is something that his followers should be doing. Let’s explore a few reasons why Jesus tells his followers they should tithe.

Can I share something that is shocking with you: God doesn’t need your money. God used his voice to speak and created the entire universe. He breathed into dirt and humanity came to life. He spoke and the raging storm stopped. Jesus called out and a dead man came back to life. If he can do this with his voice, he certainly doesn’t need our money. So why does he tell us that we need to tithe? I believe that he tells us to tithe because we need to develop into disciplined givers. I’m naturally a taker. I think I need more and in order to get more, I must give less. So when I freely and joyously give my tithe, God works in many ways, not the least of which is to change my heart. Through tithing I am transformed more and more into a person who is inclined to give. Personal transformation is one of the main reasons that God tells us to give.

Sometimes when I don’t feel like giving, I have to remember that God expects me to be obedient, even when I don’t feel like it. Being obedient is what creates the discipline of giving in my life and helps me submit to God’s authority. When I know that God has commanded me to do something and I choose to ignore or disobey, I am living in opposition to him. I’m telling him that what I want is more important than obeying him; that I know how to handle my money better than he does. Conversely, when I do obey and give, especially when I don’t want to, I’m learning to be disciplined in submitting to God’s authority over my life. Discipline in one area tends to lead to discipline in others as well.

While obedience in giving my tithe is important, it is certainly not the only reason God wants me to tithe. There is something powerful that happens when I faithfully take 10% of my income and hand it over to the church to be used by God. I think God asks us to give 10% because it is not enough of our income to break the bank but it is certainly enough to make us notice. I think God has designed it this way so that he begins to challenge out view of money. It makes me evaluate the position that money holds in my life and how much value I place on money.

I choose to tithe because I want to show God that I value him more than money. I want to show God that I put my trust in him, my security in him, my hope in him and so I tithe. I tithe to ensure that I don’t fall into the trap of worshiping at the altar of money. Paul gives us a powerful warning when he says:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

-1 Timothy 6:10

I don’t want to wander away from God in search of more money. There is a spiritual law at work that says when I trust God enough with my money to obey him and give my tithe, and perhaps more, he will ensure that my needs are provided for. He will also ensure that I will grow closer to him.

All too often I like to think of myself as the exception, like tithing is for everyone else. I will rationalized that “God knows how much debt I have and he wouldn’t want me to be in debt longer, so it’s not that big of a deal if I don’t tithe for a few months. I’ll be back on track soon.” No matter what my financial state is, I am not the exception! God asks everyone who claims to be a follower of his Son Jesus Christ, to give 10% of their finances to his church for his work. He gives us this command to change us. He gives us this command to test us. He gives us this command to free us from the love of money and the multitude of evils it can lead towards. Ultimately, God has given us the command to tithe because he loves us!

It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in your past. It doesn’t matter how bright or bleak your financial outlook feels. God wants you to be faithful with whatever he has given you. Everything we have is his. He has asked us to give 10% of what he has given us back to his church.

The time to be faithful is now.

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