What should we know biblically about first fruits? This offering is supposed to be “without blemish.” It’s not good enough that it’s the first of a crop. It has to be the crème de la crème of the first. If you are bringing your new grain, it better be the best grain. If you are bringing an animal, it better be a first born one year old male in good health. This is believed to be the reason Cain’s offering was not accepted but Abel’s offering was. Abel gave the best of this first born flock, while Cain just gave an offering. The result was, God rejected Cain’s offering, while accepting Abel’s.
When it’s God taking our first fruit, instead of us giving it, it could be a curse. Think of the last Egyptian plague, where God took the first born sons of the Egyptians.
Meanwhile, when we are offering our first fruits, biblically we are supposed to to understand it will be followed by God’s blessing. Our giving is a sign of trust in God’s grace. It is mentioned in scripture in multiple areas, if we give our best, God will bless what we have left. Because of this, these scriptures have also been misused and abused over the years, especially by those I unabashedly call the “Snake Oil Salesmen” of the faith. Let me just say, a few things in life make me livid. People using faith to con others out of their hard earned money is one of those things that just make me angry.
I guess when talking about first fruits it is easiest to start with what it isn’t. It isn’t a magic candy machine. Let me explain. When one gives because they want God to bless them in return it gives the illusion that God is just one cosmic candy machine. Put in your quarter, get blessings in return. When I was a teenager and young adult I saw giving this way. I may have found blessing through giving, but it wasn’t like I gave $10 and I miraculously came upon $100 the next week. There was a Spiritual blessing, for sure, but I would be bummed when my giving wouldn’t pay out. (You know, the further I get from my childhood, the more it embarrasses me.)
Anyway, there came a point where I had to learn what giving (and giving from our best and first) was all about.
First, we give because it all belongs to God anyway. This is possibly the most preached subject by every Disciple minister I have ever heard ever. I would fathom to guess you too have heard it. “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give unto God what is God’s. The catch is, even when you are paying your taxes, it is still all Gods. Therefore, when it comes time to give to God, we should always keep that fact in mind. Great message.
Second, the gift to God was a thank you for saving the Israelite people from slavery in Egypt. Every year they spent in the Promised Land was another year they were a free people. Salvation, in a very real way was a physical reality for them. They were literally saved. As Christians, we receive our salvation through the redeeming acts of Jesus Christ. Our gifts are a thank you for that salvation. Once again, a stewardship sermon I’ve heard over and over. Another great message.
Third, we give because our first fruits always goes to what we are most dedicated to anyway. A couple of years before I entered High School, South Cobb received the title, “Georgia School of Excellence.” They invited Monica Kaufman-Pierce to come speak the students. Nothing remains of that speech today except one line painted over the senior hall: “What you do, with what you have, is who you are.” As someone who came from a less than perfect childhood, that sentence was a motivator. It pushed me in great ways. I say it all the time, so much, I’m guessing my husband is tired of me saying it. What you do, with what you have, is who you are.
When it comes to first fruits, what we do first with our time and money speaks of who we are. It speaks to what our greatest want really is. Play this game with me. Imagine you walk out of church, and somehow you came upon $1,000. (Legally, of course. No one pretend to rob the local Panera. We’re in church.) It’s just an unexpected windfall. What is the first thing you want to do with that money? What was the first thought that came in your head? I submit that immediate desire is what you naturally give your first fruits to. Was it God?
There is a reason why giving a speech about paying the bills never works. We are not dedicated to the electricity or water bill. We are not here because of the air conditioning. We are here because of the mission and the community. Electricity, maintenance, water gas… these are things that support and help the mission and community.
I took a course with the former General Minister and President Dr. Rev. Dick Hamm. In one of the lessons he talked about Bullard’s life cycles of the church. In a new church plant it all begins with the vision. With the vision, relationships are formed. With those relationships, programs develop. Finally, some form of management is put in place to act as an accountability system. When a church begins to fail the first thing they lose is the vision. The object the church hangs on to at the last moments is the management. Then, that is what they try to sell at stewardship campaigns. “Hey, were not meeting the needs to pay the bills. Everyone needs to give a little more so we can keep the doors open.” No! It doesn’t work that way. Finally, these churches try to throw new programs at the problem thinking that will solve the issue, but without a real vision (a desire to do God’s work in the world) the programs fail and so does the church.
That being said, what excites you about church? What is going on that you just have to support it? Is it a clothes closet? Is it adult and youth ministries? Is it Godly Play? It is the church's involvement in the local community? What fires you up here and gets you giving your first fruits? Is it Christian education? Is it the fellowship? What you do, with what you have, is who you are. Who are you? What are you doing with what you have? Find the fire here, the passion for God work. When that offering burns with living fire that will be the offering God will accept. That, my friends, is what stewardship means, and how it works. Find your desire here, and give your first fruits in response. In that, God will bless the church and all who worship.