Should Christians today give a first fruits offering?
A dear friend once described to me how she gave sacrificially to support her church’s ministry; not just the regular tithes and offerings but other monies over and above that, including the first-fruits and increase, different levies and goodwill offerings; to support the ministers, for the TV and radio ministry including Dstv, the church publications, etcetera. She was worn out from that financial burden and had nothing left in terms of savings or investment, yet it was a monthly routine of giving, one in which she had no choice but to obey the Church leadership as a sign of her commitment to God; believing that the reward would be waiting for her somewhere in the future. The description is a familiar one; I’ve heard and seen it severally, and it is so distressing that I can’t help wondering if that is indeed God’s purpose for Christian giving.
1 Corinthians 16:2: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up…”
The Bible admonishes believers to give to support those who minister in Church as well as to give to the work of the ministry according to 1 Corinthians 9:14: those who preach the gospel should be supported by their work.Several times the New Testament exhorts believers to give to those who are in need, and to engage in charity.
The early church is filled with examples of people who sell their fortune and drop the entire amount before the Apostles. Truly money is an important tool for a glitch-free running of the church organization, and that money, most times, must come from the generous donations of the worshipers whether willingly or under pressure.
The New Testament says we are to give in faith, but also teaches prudence and accountability – the Bible doesn’t say that we are to give to the point of destitution before our faith can grow; because, there is a difference between faithful sacrifice and bad resource management.
First-Fruits is a concept that most churches today have incorporated in their doctrines as a biblical principle for members to observe and a pathway to blessing. While it has its origin in the Bible, I believe it is also a means of encouraging worshipers to give more money to support the ministry. This reading attempts to answer the question: What does the Bible really say about First Fruits?
First Fruits in the Old Testament
The first fruits offering was an offering required by God of the Israelites. It’s mentioned several times in the Old Testament law:
Exodus 23:19a: “The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God.”
Leviticus 23:10: “‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest.”
Proverbs 3:9-10: “Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”
And Deuteronomy 26 provides the most comprehensive passage about the first fruits offering: God told the Israelites that the first fruits offering was to be given in thanks for “cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant…” (Deuteronomy 6:10-11). The offering was brought to the temple where it was displayed before God, and then given to the priests for their sustenance (Numbers 18:11-12). However, the law is somewhat vague in the specifics, for instance, scripture does not dictate how much the first fruit offering should be in comparison to the harvest.
First Fruits: The Significance
The most significant aspect of the first fruits offering was the reason behind it: It was a ceremonial act for the nation of Israel designed to acknowledge and thank God for delivering them from their captivity in Egypt and giving them the land flowing with milk and honey.
It was not meant to be an act of faith that God would provide in the future, nor an act of honoring God as first in their lives. It was an act of obedience, and obedience to God usually leads to His blessings. Firstfruits were for the Israelites to give thanks, not for the church to grow rich.
The term “first fruits” is also used metaphorically in the Old Testament. It refers to the firstborn son of all humans and animal. The firstborn animals were dedicated in remembrance of God taking all the firstborns of men and animals in Egypt. All firstborn males belonged to God, but depending on the species, they could be redeemed – that is, a sacrifice could be made so they could stay. Use of “first fruits” in this manner does not directly apply to the first fruit offering; hence the first fruits produce may be sacrificed fully without the need for redemption.
First Fruits in the New Testament
First fruits are mentioned in several ways in the New Testament:
@Romans 8:23 states “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the spirit…” They were the very first followers of Jesus, and were also the very first to experience the blessing of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—they received the “first fruits” of the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of believers.
@Romans 11:13-16, “First fruits” is used as a metaphor to mean the first part of the harvest of Jewish souls that are to be saved through Christ’s sacrifice.
@1Corinthians 15:20, 23 refer to Jesus as the “firstfruits” of those who will be raised from the dead. He is the firstborn Son of the Father, and His resurrection is the first of the promise that all who follow Him will also be raised.
@2Thessalonians 2:13 and James 1:18 refer to New Testament saints, i.e. Christians as “firstfruits.” They were the first to follow Christ, and act as a promise that there will be more to come.
@The final mention of firstfruits in the Bible is in Revelation 14:4 and speaks of the 144,000 Jewish witnesses who will spread the Gospel during the Tribulation.
All to say that although the term “firstfruits” is used in the New Testament, it does not refer to giving, whether to the Temple or the church. It acts as a metaphor to mean those who experience God’s blessing first or in a special way.
First Fruits Today
The concept of first fruits is sometimes used by preachers today to encourage their parishioners to give an offering above and beyond tithing.
The content or amount of the first-fruit itself varies from one ministry to another. It may mean: First paycheck of a new job or the first paycheck of the year; or Portion earned from the sale of something; or Portion of each subsequent paycheck; and so on. The reasons given for giving a first-fruit offering today also vary: To show sacrificial faith that God will provide; To give thanks that God did provide; To “sow a seed” so that God will make the giver rich; To ensure God will bless the giver’s plans for the new year.
The ways in which churches use the phrase and the practice of first-fruits vary in theological truth. To say that “laying down a seed” so that God will make someone rich, or that you can pay off God to bless future plans, is an abusive lie and distortion of the scriptures. The term first fruit has a well-spelled description in the scriptures. Any other use of “first fruits” is either abusive or careless.
The first fruit offering was for the Jews for a specific purpose. Nowhere does the New Testament mention that the church is required or even encouraged to give a “first fruits offering.” Like tithing, giving to the church is left up to the personal convictions of the individual believer. There is no blanket policy for giving. That doesn’t mean that giving a first fruit offering is bad in and of itself. Like the term and the practice tithing, “first fruit” can also be used as a sort of shorthand to mean “voluntary offering given in thanks or faith.” There’s nothing wrong with giving above and beyond what is regularly budgeted for – as long as the motivation is personal and not pressured by church leadership. To give an offering in thanks that God provided is perfectly acceptable. But if a church wants to have a period of fund-raising, it would be better to have a specific purpose and not just try to spiritualize the desire to have more capital in the bank.There are better terms to use when a church collects a special offering, and there are more biblical ways to do so than to insist, cajole, and threaten people to give.
The New Testament on Christian giving
In reality, how much has God called us to give as Christians?
What the New Testament teaches about giving is more extreme. God wants all of us, for us to give our bodies as a living sacrifice. Hence, every monetary blessing we have is His, and we should do with it as He leads – whether to use on ourselves or to use for others.The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 tells us that we should be responsible with the blessings God has bestowed upon us.This would include giving for a purpose, giving by the leading of the Bible and the Holy Spirit, giving for the spread of the Gospel and the aid of the needy, and giving cheerfully. Whatever you choose to call that, it’s simply Christian giving.
2Corinthians 9:7: “You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully’.”