Giving First Fruits
Encourage first fruit offerings
King Solomon's Proverbs encourages, "Honor the Lord… with the first fruits of all your crops" (Proverbs 3:9). This encouragement has since been codified in Christian doctrine. One has only to look at the story of Cain and Abel to understand the importance of bringing the best possible offering to God. (Read Genesis 4 if unfamiliar with the account) Paul even referred to the risen Christ as "the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [died]." (1 Cor 15:19-21). So from the beginning to the end of the Bible, the principle of firstfruits can be seen. But what does the term "firstfruits" refer to, and how does it apply to modern times?
Origin of firstfruits
The word "firstfruits" derives its meaning from times long ago, when humans were, for all practical purposes, exclusively occupied in agriculture. With farming as the predominant work of the family, people lived off the land. In those times, without forms of currency to trade in, their commerce involved bartering produce from the farm or services rendered. This is where firstfruits came to be.
Why were first fruits so precious?
A crop's first fruit was the initial produce picked off the plant. It was precious because 1) it meant that the harvest time was at hand and 2) the growing season had been good enough to produce fruit. In our times, where grocery shopping is the most common form of harvest, it's hard to connect with a time when farm produce was the difference between life and death. But to those who lived back then, the fact that their farm grew produce was no joke.
Imagine living through a cold winter and a wet spring, planting crops and toiling under the summer sun. The blossoms flower on the planted crop, and the bees and butterflies pollinate throughout the well-tended garden. Will the weather hold? Did it rain enough? Did the wild animals, various plant diseases, fungi, or many other plights affect the new planting before it had a chance to produce? The first fruits indicated that all the right things happened during the growing season and a harvest would happen.
The act of saying grace over a meal is derived from offering first fruits to God. It is an offering of gratitude to God, Who is the source of the goodness and abundance. Likewise, offering first fruits was an act of honor and gratitude to God, Who sustained and protected the crops. The first fruits' significance is that they represented the best of the produce. In fact, in some instances, they may represent the entirety of the harvest. With all the potential catastrophes that may occur on the farm, there was certainly no guarantee that more fruit would come after the first ones. Still, the first fruits were offered in honor to God.
Therein lies the secret to the offering of the first fruits. Sacrificing the first fruits to God was an offering of praise and thanksgiving to the One responsible for our wellbeing. It was also a declaration of trust in the same God. All will be well; if not, we will continue honoring our God. Did God need the first fruits? No. But the people needed to offer them. So do we.
First fruits today
As previously mentioned, first fruits and their offering look different from what they did thousands of years ago. Even King Solomon, when he wrote his Proverb, did not have a life compatible with the originators of first fruits offering. Yet he did give the reader the admonition to offer "firstfruits" in honor to God. So what does an offering of firstfruits look like in modern times?
What do you produce in life? What do you spend your time working on if you are not farming? How do you benefit from that work? The answer to this last question is money for most people. It is the modern-day product of labor. It is the harvest from work. It is also how members of modern society sustain themselves and their families. So money is the fruit in modern day lives, and it is the source of the first portion for a first fruits offering. But what is the first fruit of money?
A person grows a tomato plant. Red tomatoes grow on the branches. The first tomatoes are picked off the plant. Voila, these are the first fruit. Now instead of growing a tomato plant, a person works for a design firm that builds a website to sell tomatoes. For the time spend working, this person's employer pays them. What are the first fruits now?
There are many interpretations of first fruits when considered from a monetary perspective. The following is one possible, and maybe familiar, approach to first fruit offerings:
Based on the earlier tomato website design illustration, there is a paycheck in exchange for time spent on design work. The wages received may come in the form of a check or, more likely, are directly deposited in a bank account. In both instances, federal and state income tax liabilities will have been deducted from the gross wages for the pay period. What is left after this tax deduction is the remainder to be use on living and/or save. Where are the first fruits?
The first fruits of these wages would be the gross amount of pay for the pay period. The amount before any taxes or expenses were taken out of the balance. A first fruits offering would be to give a portion of that gross amount. Below is an example that may help:
- Gross wages for 2 week pay period: $1,600
- Federal income tax: ($420)
- State income tax: ($210)
- Net wages for 2 week pay period: $970
10% FirstFruits offering on wages: $160
NOTE: The 10% first fruits offering is used based on the structure of the tithe. It is not intended to establish any fixed value on the first fruits.
The importance of the first fruits offering
Solomon, the wise king who admonished his own children to honor God with the first fruits, details why this practice is important. According to verse 10 of Proverb's third chapter, honoring God with the first fruit will result in the blessings of "overflowing" barns and new wine. Solomon suggests to his readers that giving first fruits in honor to God will result in overflowing blessings in a person's life. While this is a great reason to offer firstfruits to God, it is not the main reason.
Giving a first fruits offering, or any offering for that matter, to God is right and just. A gracious and loving God should be honored by the beneficiaries of His goodness. In other words, God deserves firstfruits offerings - at a minimum. An offering is in order, and the first step is to honor God. Whatever your financial situation, if you desire to honor God in your giving, start today. Do not wait. Begin today with whatever is in your heart to give. Give it willingly and cheerfully, and then do it again and again. Soon you will be giving more than you could have imagined possible.