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It is just few days into the new year, and the first ‘religious’ topic that is beginning to trend on social media is first fruit offering. Does that say anything to you? This year is really going to be interesting.
I learnt this topic started with Leke Adeboye the son to pastor Enoch Adeboye when he was advising Christians in one of his social media updates to spend wisely during Christmas because the next month which is January, is first fruit month as well as the month to pay children school fees.
Preachers on first fruits offerings especially as it is now understood to mean giving your entire salary or money you worked for in the first month of the year are convinced they are preaching the right gospel. To make it even more convincing, there are Christians that will tell you how paying their entire January salary has worked for them.
In any discussion about first fruit, these passages give justification for it. We often hear words like:
It was Moses who said, “As you harvest your crops, bring the very best of the first harvest to the house of the Lord your God.” (Exodus 23:19)
Then you will also hear how King Solomon wrote about it too: “Honour the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” (Proverbs 3:9-10)
To make you see that it is a principle that all Christians must follow and that it is in keeping with the Bible that they talk about it, this passage will be quoted:
“‘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 first fruits of your harvest to the priest.” Leviticus 23:10.
The most comprehensive passage about the first fruits offering is Deuteronomy 26. It explains that the purpose of the first fruits was to acknowledge how God took the Israelites down to Egypt, multiplied their number, released them, and gave them the land of Canaan for an inheritance. Canaan was a fertile land that was already settled by people who did horrible things like sacrifice their children. For their sin, God had the Israelites destroy the Canaanites, and then He gave the Israelites the land.
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).
At this point the important question is: What is the significant of first fruits offering for the Israelites?
The most significant aspect of the first fruits offering was the reason behind it: it was designed to acknowledge and thank God for providing the Israelites with the land flowing with milk and honey after their captivity in Egypt. It was a ceremonial act for the nation of Israel. It was not meant to be an act of faith that God would provide in the future. It was an act of obedience.
Did the New Testament talked about First Fruits offering in the way the Old Testament did?
Good question! I’m sorry to say. . .the answer is NO
Although the term “first fruits” 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.
I will give you some examples…
Romans 8:23 states “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit…”
Here Paul is using “first fruits” as a metaphor for the first appearance of a promised blessing. That promised blessing is the Holy Spirit, the “helper” who Jesus promised in John 14:26. The very first followers of Jesus 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.
Again in 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23 it refers to Jesus as the “first fruits” 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. He is a guarantee of our future blessing.
2 Thessalonians 2:13 and James 1:18 call New Testament saints “first fruits.” They were the first to follow Christ, and act as a promise that there will be more to come. In fact, James 1:18 infers that the Christians in the early church were the “first fruits” of all of creation and the promise that creation itself will be restored.
The final mention of first fruits in the Bible is in Revelation 14:4 and speaks of the 144,000 Jewish witnesses who will spread the Gospel during the Tribulation. They will have a special role in Heaven and are claimed by God and Jesus as special representatives of those who are saved.
By now, I am sure you already know the twist given to the issue of first fruit in our churches today? Preachers use it to encourage their parishioners to give an offering above and beyond tithing.
The mistake we make often in biblical interpretation is to immediately presume that everything addressed to the Jews automatically applied to all race. Yet, we also forget that this same Jews are not Christians who do not believe that Jesus is God.
Let me state this clearly, first fruits 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.” No where! 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 fruits offering is bad in and of itself. Like the term (or even the practice) “tithing,” “first fruit” can 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.
I have always said this, and I will say it again. It is an abuse and a big lie if any minister tells you that “sowing a seed” will make you rich, or that you can pay off God to bless future plans. To give sacrificially is to follow in the example of the widow of Mark 12:41-44, and is commendable as long as it isn’t coerced. 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.
As far as the first fruit offering as described in the Old Testament, the church is exempt. Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but He did come to fulfill it—including being the first fruit, Himself (1 Corinthians 15:20). If the usage of the term “first fruit” in the New Testament is to be considered, the manifestation of first fruit in the church age means that those who were saved in the early church were a promise that more would follow. And Jesus’ resurrection is a promise that we, too, will be resurrected. Any other use of “first fruits” is either abusive or careless. 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.
By Fr. Kelvin Ugwu.
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