It’s not often we use the term “first fruits” in our day-to-day lives, but as we approach a season of gratitude and giving, I paused to reflect on the meaning of this biblical reference and asked myself, “Am I giving God my first fruits or my leftovers?”
Years ago, my first job was in a small town in rural Kansas, and my supervisor was really into gardening. Late in the harvest season, he invited me out to his farm to help myself to the leftovers where most of his produce had already been picked over. Truthfully, I felt a bit insulted.
Imagine how our Heavenly Father feels when we’re reluctant to share our best with Him, who has so freely given to us. Metaphorically speaking, sometimes we give God our produce that's from the bottom of the barrel, nearly rotten. Literally speaking, we give Him the last bit of our time, talent and treasure after we’ve used it as we saw fit.
What are first fruits in today’s terms?
The concept of first fruits is rooted in biblical times when people lived in an agrarian society. Harvest season was significant because that was when the farmers would reap what they had sown into the crops all year. It was the payoff for their labor.
God called His people to bring the first fruits from their harvest to Him as an offering to demonstrate the Israelites’ reverence for God (Leviticus 23:10). It showed that they trusted Him to provide enough crops to feed their family. God told them that if they brought their first fruits to him, he would bless all that came afterward. To the Israelites, these first fruits were an investment into their future.
We no longer live in an agrarian-based society and most people reading this are probably not farmers, but the idea of first fruits is still relevant today — it just takes on a symbolic meaning for us.
First fruits mean any income or blessings that we’ve received. Here are three simple ways to share it generously:
• Consider the idea of sacrifice. Gifts aren’t worth very much if they don’t cost us something. Recently, I heard about a child who gave his tooth fairy money away. Upon losing his tooth, he told his parents he would give whatever the tooth fairy gave him to the Bibles For Kids campaign, which supplies free Bibles to children in Eastern Europe in their own language. His proud parents put an extra special price tag on that tooth.
• Offer your time and talent. While it’s natural to want to be selfish with how we spend our free time, we’re called to use the gifts that God placed in us for Him. When we sacrificially serve others, we have the privilege of being His hands and feet.
• Acknowledge “surprises” that God brings your way. Maybe you received a Christmas bonus at work, or your insurance premium was lowered this year. Show your gratitude to the Lord for His provision by first sowing a portion of that blessing back into Kingdom-building work, be it your Church or a ministry whose mission is meaningful to you. When we invest our first fruits where God is already moving, the impact is exponential.
Attitude is everything.
God calls us to be good stewards of the blessings He gives us. When we give begrudgingly, He knows it. Understanding that we’re human and innately flawed, we’ll wrestle with it from time-to-time, just as two notorious brothers did in Chapter four of the book of Genesis.
In the Bible story, Cain and Abel make an offering to God. Cain brings some fruit and vegetables—presumably something that was left over after he had fed himself and his family. Abel brought the best of what he had to God—the firstborn of the flock. “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor” (Genesis 3-5).
Cain and Abel’s sacrifices remind us that we are to honor God with our best, sacrificing something that costs us or has great worth. Making a first fruit offering postures our heart toward God and allows Him to work in our life and in the lives of others. When we approach the Father with open hands—rather than crossed arms and a firm clutch on our belongings—it demonstrates that we’re grateful for all He’s given to us, and we can be trusted with more.
Jesus was God’s one and only son, and the best that humanity had to offer. If God gave us Jesus, His first fruits, so that we could have eternity with Him in Heaven, doesn’t He deserve more than our leftovers? As we enjoy this season of harvest and holiday, let’s prayerfully consider what first fruits God is calling us to share generously. The upcoming Giving Tuesday emphasis and end-of-year matching-gift campaigns are great opportunities to put this into practice. And as you are prayerfully considering ministries to which to donate such gifts, might I recommend EEM (Eastern European Mission) to provide the eternal gift of God’s Word for those who need it most?