Though what we consider firstfruits doesn’t stay the same, we all give out firstfruits for the same reason.
As a modern church, we don’t talk much about first fruits, not unless we are reading over the Old Testament and mulling over a number of customs believers no longer follow. When we hear the word fruits today, a different idea comes to mind.
Fruits, in the literal sense, are tasty, healthy sweets that we consume as a snack. Aside from tasting good, we use fruits to talk about things that feel good too. That’s when fruit becomes a metaphor. We say the word in reference to positive outcomes resulting from our godly deeds. The fruit of good parenting is children who walk in wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 22:6). The fruit of walking in the Spirit includes joy, kindness, peace, and patience.
These last two fruits, those we eat or those we reap, are things we get to enjoy, benefits of our labor. The firstfruits, however, the ones from the Old Testament, are something different. Firstfruits are given to God, but if they aren’t food or benefits from our actions, then what are they?
What are Firstfruits in Scripture?
“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.” (Proverbs 3:9-10)
“We obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the Lord.” (Nehemiah 10:35)
In the Old Testament, firstfruits were material things the Jews offered to God as a form of worship and sacrifice. This was an act of thanksgiving that occurred three days following Passover. Leviticus 23 mentions the concept of offering firstfruits, as presented to Moses from God. A subsequent and more detailed outline of the act comes in Deuteronomy 26. Here, Moses explains to believers that they are to take some of their harvest and bring those goods to a priest. Afterward, the priest would place those items on an altar. An example of what people brought included grain.
This community act of saying “thank you” was a response to God’s future blessing of giving them land to inherit, that is, the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 26:1). They believed in His promise and thanked Him in advance.
Firstfruits are mentioned in the New Testament as well, though in this section of the Bible they take on a different meaning. For example, Jesus is described as a firstfruit:
“But as it is, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20)
The reason Christians do not offer firstfruits as the Jews did is because of a change in culture and faith. The coming of Jesus and His sacrifice changed how believers gave back to God. Instead of a ritualistic approach to sacrifice, Christians now benefit from the sacrifice of Jesus. We are still obligated to give because Scripture commands us to, but our reason for giving is different. Firstfruits are not mentioned as something Christ-followers are obligated to uphold for God’s covenant with the people, but instead, living like Christ.
Charity is undoubtedly a Christian virtue. Jesus gave. And that is the reason so many believers give now (Acts 20:35). Moreover, since we are not under the same previous obligation that the Jews lived under, our firstfruits come in a different form.
Firstfruits already differed between the Old and New Testaments. Even today, our understanding of what we offer as believers has changed, but the recognition of giving has not. So then, if we are giving today, by modern standards what would be considered firstfruits?
What Are Firstfruits in the 21st Century?
The most obvious of present-day firstfruits is money. Most Americans are not living on farms and tilling the land. Thus, they don’t have fresh crops to take from their land to the altar. Instead, many Christians make financial contributions to their places of worship. Oftentimes, believers follow the tithing process and give ten percent of their income to the body of Christ. This is a way of taking what’s earned and giving it first to God before we use the money on ourselves.
Another material people can give outside of money is food. Many churches run efforts to garner food supplies for the homeless and other struggling communities. In substitution of food, there are clothing and even furniture donations, especially after the recent influx of Afghan citizens into America. Whatever material item is donated, the impact is still the same. We glorify God by working to serve and love His other creations. Money goes directly to the church, but items like food go directly to afflicted people.
Outside of material things to offer at church, we can also use our time to benefit others. Time is something we can donate in and outside of church also. There are always people to serve. We can find opportunities to greet people at church or work on the sound team. Or we could find someone in our neighborhood who needs help fixing their home or just a listening ear.
Time is something we cannot get more of like money, food, or clothing. For that reason, sacrificing time is valuable and meaningful.
Why Should We Offer God our Firstfruits
While we don’t offer up grain to a priest at an altar as the Jews did, we still give. And we should. As Scripture states, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). What we offer as firstfruits differs from the Jews, but the reason we give is still the same. We give to glorify God. Whether we give directly to a church or instead serve someone outside of church, both actions glorify the Lord.
What makes firstfruits special is that they are offered first, before you take anything for yourself. Money is used as a firstfruit when people get a new check or when a new month is coming and people plan in advance what they are giving. The same applies to food. Budgeting what you will be donating makes those goods firstfruits. And with time, we can plan in advance how we can best give back to the Lord.
As we offer God our thanksgiving, we also remind ourselves of what He has done. We don’t dwell in the Promised Land like the Jews, but we do live with many of God’s promises and blessings still, such as the salvation offered through Jesus. Every reason God has blessed us is a reason to be thankful.
Do Firstfruits Ever Change?
Firstfruits inevitably change with time. Modern understanding of past firstfruits differs within Christian circles, and how we go about giving God our own firstfruits is also unique and varies with time. What we offer God as a teenager won’t be the same as what we offer Him in old age. We grow wiser and more experienced with time. What one church contributes to God or the community differs from another. This means we will discover new ways to give thanks and find actions that especially resonate with us.
Though what we consider firstfruits doesn’t stay the same, we all give out firstfruits for the same reason. We want to thank God for what He has and will do. And because God is always working in our lives, we have neverending reasons to say thanks.
Photo Credit: ©Couleur/Pixabay
Aaron D'Anthony Brown is a freelance writer, hip-hop dance teacher, and visual artist, living in Virginia. He currently contributes work to iBelieve, Crosswalk, and supports various clients through the platform Upwork. He's an outside-the-box thinker with a penchant for challenging the status quo. Check out his short story “Serenity.”
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