First things first
Aaron L. Christie
Americans have an issue with discerning theory from reality. We have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but they are friends in theory. In reality, we don’t know many of them. We have gym memberships to help us get in shape. Unfortunately, we don’t get in shape in theory but by making real choices on diet and dedicating ourselves to exercise.
If we struggle with theory and reality as Americans, we struggle far more as sinners. Do we love the Lord in theory? Or in reality?
The First Commandment comes first for a reason. The Lord unapologetically asks to be first on our life’s list. We are to fear, love, and trust in him above ALL things. We all know that. We are quick to say that the Lord is the Lord of our lives. God comes first!
Showing the reality of our priorities
But does he?
Is God really truly the Creator of everything that exists? Has God personally blessed us with eyes, ears, mind, members, strength, and abilities? Does everything we possess really come from him? We talk about questions like these as if they were theoretical. In reality, all of these questions are either yes or no.
In order to help make loving and trusting God into something real, tangible, and personal, the Lord commanded his Old Testament believers to offer him their firstfruits: “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (Proverbs 3:9). Whether the offering was one of grapes or grain, the first and the best of the harvest went to the Lord.
In other words, it is an easy thing to say that the Lord is “Lord of the harvest.” It is an entirely different thing to recognize him as such with the tangible very first portion of the harvest. It is one thing to say that the Lord will “take care of us.” It is an entirely different thing to offer him the first portion of the harvest—even before you have fed your family or stored away seed for the next planting. The Lord’s commands regarding giving firstfruits helped the Israelites put the Lord first—not just on paper, but in practice. It helped them live by faith in God’s providence. God did not intend for them to give just with words but also with faith-stretching deeds.
Humanly speaking, firstfruits offerings don’t make a bit of sense. Investment professionals tell us that if we “pay ourselves first” and invest it carefully over time, our money will grow. Human logic tells us that if we make the Lord’s work our firstfruits priority, then that means we have less for every other area of life, including important things like mortgages and medications. It’s true: Humanly speaking, giving firstfruits doesn’t make a bit of sense.
It’s also true that giving firstfruits goes against every inclination of our sinful nature. The default setting of our sinful nature is to keep stuff, stockpile stuff, even hoard stuff in a never-ending quest to look out for number one. We call it the good life. God calls it greed. We call it being sensible. God calls it sin.
God takes many positions in our lives, but second place dare never be one of them. There is no theory here: Our offerings either recognize God’s position of first place in our lives or they don’t.
Reflecting God’s attitude
There are consequences to putting God first in theory, but not in practice. Take a moment to read the major stewardship message contained in the book of the minor prophet Haggai. Look how the Lord—not in theory, but in reality—turns people’s eloquent excuses for withholding their offerings upside down: “You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it. . . . You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little” (1:6,9). In other words, the people had less, because they gave little. God himself was seeing to that with one drought, one holey purse at a time! Think about it. The God who once fed five thousand hungry stomachs using only a boy’s picnic lunch is the very same God who can ensure that a stockpile of stuff won’t be able to make ends meet.
But even more wonderful, giving firstfruits recognizes and reflects the giving nature of our God. He himself practiced giving firstfruits. He didn’t place our salvation toward the bottom of the list of things that needed to be done. He didn’t give us a bite of daily bread to keep us from starving until he sent us to the hell that our misplaced priorities deserved. What did he do? The giving heart of the Father gave us his first and best: His firstborn, his only begotten Son. First things first! And with his Son, he graciously gives us all things! “God so loved the world that he gave . . .” (John 3:16).
The point? Offering our firstfruits in Christian freedom is more about an attitude of gratitude than agriculture. It is more about God being our priority than it is about our personal property. It is about being who we really are in Christ: The firstfruits of all creation (James 1:18); blessed with the firstfruits of the Spirit (Romans 8:23); and rejoicing in Christ, the firstfruits of all who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20).
In offering our firstfruits, we are simply reflecting the giving nature of God who gave us his first, his best, his only begotten Son!
Aaron Christie is pastor at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin.
This is the first article in a three-part series on giving. This series follows the outline of the congregational stewardship program, 10 for 10.
A different way to give
“When you read the Bible, it tells all over the place about giving your firstfruits,” says Becky Wagner, a member at The Vine, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. “I’m just so thankful for everything I have and have been given to take care of in this life, and I want to use my time, talents, AND treasures to give back.”
Wagner uses Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) to give her offerings to The Vine. This commonly used payment method allows Wagner to set funds to be transferred directly from her bank account to her church on a recurring basis.
“It’s nice to have that knowledge that it is taken care of because it is automatic. It’s done; it’s set,” says Wagner. “It’s not anything to question—Did I do it? Did I forget? You don’t have to worry about it because you know you’re doing what you want to do.”
Kevin Schultz, pastor of The Vine, says about ?? percent of his members use EFT for their regular giving. He says it’s a convenient way for his members—and himself—to give that also offers accountability. “I tell my members don’t think of it as paying a bill once a month or once a week. Look at it as an opportunity to give without the devil getting his hand in there,” he says. “We’re making a commitment to God, and we want to fulfill that commitment without having those temptations to go back on our promise.”
The Vine also offers the traditional envelope system as well as one-time online giving through a giving app for those who don’t carry cash or a checkbook. “It’s not that one way is better than another,” he says. “It’s just offering multiple ways to give in a culture that requires multiple ways.”
To consider: Have you thought about giving your firstfruits offering via EFT? If so, why so? If not, why not?
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Author: Aaron L. Christie
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019
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