FIRST FRUITS PART 2 – MONETARY FIRST-FRUIT: ANOTHER TRICK FROM THE ARCHIVE OF THE ‘PROSPERITY GOSPEL’ PREACHERS
The doctrine of firstfruit is not as widely believed as the tithe doctrine in the Church. Let me state beforehand that I have never been a part of any Christian denomination or group that believe or teach the doctrine. However, some denominations believe and practice the doctrine and it seems to be gaining more popularity by the day.
This practice in the Church is probably based on the admonition of Solomon in Proverbs 3:9:
“Honor the LORD with your possessions, And with the firstfruits of all your increase.” (Proverbs 3:9)
However, we know Solomon was not establishing a new doctrine apart from the Mosaic Law because to do that would have amounted to blasphemy that was punishable by death under the Old Covenant. He was only affirming the Mosaic Law.
Firstfruit has no single definition in the Church today. Since I have never been a part of any Christian group that practices the doctrine, I would rely on the definitions I gleaned from different sources. The definition of firstfruit, according to those who advocate it, is the first salary or wage the Christian receives from a new job. There is the firstfruit of increase which they define as the difference between the previous salary and the first new salary of a Christian whenever he gets promoted at work. Some go to the extreme by defining firstfruit as the whole of the January salary of the worshiper! All these must be compulsorily paid to the local Church.
In fact, some assert that while the regular Church offerings belong to the Church, the firstfruit wholly belongs to the pastor! I was made to understand that in one denomination text messages are sent to members to remind them of the need to contribute their January salaries as firstfruits. I got to know from another source that this particular denomination teaches that the firstfruits of the entire members of the denomination must be deposited into a single bank account so that the overall leader, who is the “High priest”, can bless the contributing members.
What then is the Bible’s definition of firstfruit? According to the Mosaic Law, firstfruit was a small amount of the first crop harvest of the Israelite farmer which was offered to God in thanksgiving at the Temple in Jerusalem. It was small enough to fit into a hand-held basket. The Israelites of old were also required to give the first offsprings of their animals to God. As a matter of fact, the firstborn of man was supposed to be given to God but provision was made for his redemption. These agricultural products were taken directly to the Jerusalem Temple and consumed by officiating priests.
“Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me. Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep: seven days it shall be with his dam; on the eighth day thou shalt give it me.” (Exo 22:29-30)
“Then it shall be, when you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it and live in it, that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground which you bring in from your land that the Lord your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name.You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare this day to the Lord my God that I have entered the land which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. (Deut 26:1-4)
According to the Bible, God made a special prescription on how the feast of the firstfruit was to be celebrated. The firstfriut was to be celebrated on the day after the Sabbath (a day after the feast of unleaven bread). A special offering consisting of a waved sheaf, a male lamb offering, two loaves of bread, wine and oil were offered to God. The remainder of all the firstfruit and the animals were given to the officiating priests.
“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, and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted. ON THE DAY AFTER THE SABBATH THE PRIEST SHALL WAVE IT. And on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the LORD. And the grain offering with it shall be two tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, a food offering to the LORD with a pleasing aroma, and the drink offering with it shall be of wine, a fourth of a hin. And you shall eat neither bread nor grain parched or fresh until this same day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.” (Lev 23:10-14)
“The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours; everyone of your household who is clean may eat it. Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. Every first issue of the womb of all flesh, whether man or animal, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours;
nevertheless the firstborn of man you shall surely redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. As to their redemption price, from a month old you shall redeem them, by your valuation, five shekels in silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. But the firstborn of an ox or the firstborn of a sheep or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar and shall offer up their fat in smoke as an offering by fire, for a soothing aroma to the Lord. (Num 18:13-17)
We see from these scriptural passages that the firstfruit and firstborn offerings in the Old Testament were essentially agricultural in nature. Money was never involved. Nonland-holding Jewish workers like blacksmith, goldsmith, masons, tentmakers, fishermen, hired farm laborers, scribes, seafarers etc. were never mandated to give the firstfruit.
Since the Old Testament is the shadow of the realities that the death and resurrection of Christ brought to light, the significance of the firstfruit can only be accurately interpreted in the light of the New Testament. We shall, therefore, examine what the New Testament Scriptures say concerning firstfruit in order to ascertain its relevance to the Christian.
The New Testament used the word “firstfruit(s)” to refer to different phenomenons or individuals.
1. It was used to depict Christians, generally, who are said to be the firstfruit of creation. This is because those who believe in Christ are the first to taste of the redemptive power of the cross of Christ.
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:22-23)
2. It was used in reference to the first believer(s) in a geographical location. This simply implies the first Christian convert(s) in a geographical location.
“And salute the church that is in their house. Salute Epaenetus my beloved, who is the firstfruits of Asia unto Christ.” (Rom 16:5)
“But I exhort you, brothers. You know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruit of Achaia, and they appointed themselves to ministry to the saints. (1Cor 16:15)
“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” (2Thess 2:13)
3. It was used in relation to the early Jewish Christian converts. Paul the apostle argued that despite the refusal of the majority of the Jews to embrace the Gospel initially, the fact that some of them (the firstfruit) embraced it indicates that the rest would eventually embrace it at a later time. In this respect, firstfruit implies the first set of Jews that embraced the Gospel.
“For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree” (Rom 11:15-17)
“Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.” (Rom 11:25-26)
4. It was used in reference to the symbolic 144,000 resurrected saints who were considered to be the firstfruits among the redeemed of the Lord. Going by what we know from Revelation 7:1-9, these are likely to be the symbolic 144,000 Jews who were the first to accept the Gospel.
“Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.” (Rev 14:1-5)
5. It was used in reference to Christ as the first to truly resurrect from the grave. This gives us the assurance that we will also resurrect from the grave after death. This is the ultimate.
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1Cor 15:20-23)
We see clearly that the firstfruit relates to humans in the New Testament, of which the ultimate is the resurrection of Christ which gives us the assurance that we will also resurrect if we die in the Lord. Just like in the Old Testament, the word was never used in reference to monetary offering.
What inferences can we make from the foregoing?
1. The firstfruit has never been about money, whether in the Old Testament or in the New Testament.
2. Since all New Testament believers are priests of God, it not only wrong but it is totally unscriptural to ask a priest to give the firstfruit to another priest in whatever name. We have no other High Priest apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. It is sacrilegious for any minister of the Gospel to refer or allow others to refer to himself as the “High priest”.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1Pet 2:9)
3. The firstfruit offering is a Jewish practice. It belongs to the ceremonial component of the Law of Moses that has been abolished by the sacrificial death of Christ. The Christian is, therefore, not under any obligation to observe it.
“For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.” (Heb 8:7-9)
4. According to Leviticus 23:10-14 we cited earlier, the firstfruit feast is usually celebrated on the day after the Sabbath. There are three Jewish feasts that are celebrated in succession- the Passover, the feast of Unleavened bread called the Sabbath and the firstfriut. Jesus was crucified on the Passover day and resurrected on the day after the Sabbath (firstfruit day).
Since the Old Covenant is a shadow of the New Covenant, firstfruit ultimately represents the resurrection of Christ which gives us the assurance that we will also resurrect on the last day.
5. It may not be wrong for a Christian to dedicate or give a certain portion of his income to God as a sign of appreciation for his new job, promotion or the new year so long as it is freely given, but to rigidly and legalistically insist that a child of God must pay the so-called firstfruit offering to the Church or a pastor in order to access God’s blessings is completely against the letter and the spirit of the New Testament.
6. It is cruel and unjust to ask a worshiper to compulsorily donate the whole of his January or first salary to the church or a pastor. How in God’s name would anyone make it a law for Children of God to donate the whole of their January salaries seeing that most people would not have recovered from the numerous expenses of the festive season and the school fees of children paid in January? How do they intend for them to feed their families? Why would anyone ask a newly employed person to donate the whole of his first salary? How is he supposed to survive till the next salary? To my mind, this doctrine is the height of man’s inhumanity to man and does not represent the mind of our kind and loving heavenly Father (God).
7. This doctrine is at best a convenient means of raising money which is based on a distorted Bible interpretation. It serves man’s interest and not God’s.
I ask, why do we enjoy imposing the Mosaic Law on ourselves despite that the Bibles states clearly that we have been redeemed from it? Why do we take delight in shadows and similitudes when we already have the real substance, which is Christ?
My advice to the reader: know your God. Take time to study and know His word for yourself. Don’t allow anyone, no matter their rank or status, bamboozle you because of your inadequate knowledge of the word of God.
Full Credits: Abiodun Jemilohun