I love the fall harvest season. The farmer’s market turns into a veritable cornucopia of fruits and vegetables, cheese, honey, baked goods, and homespun yarns. There’s a celebratory feeling in the air.
It reminds me of the way the Hebrew people used to celebrate during harvest time. The celebrations were actually all God’s idea. He gave detailed instructions about what people should do during harvest when all their “income” came in. In addition to the tithe, God commanded his people to “bring the first fruits of their grain, wine, and oil, as well as the first of the fleece of their sheep” into the house of the “Lord your God” (Ex 23:19, Num 18:12-13, Deut 18:4). It was called offering the first fruits.
Since we don’t exactly live in an agrarian society, it’s easy to skip over this Old Testament commandment. But the concept of first fruits shows up again in the New Testament. What does this mean for Christ-followers, 4000 years after this law was given?
I think we can get a good clue when we look at the liturgy that was written to accompany the offering of the first fruits in Deuteronomy 26:1-11. Every Israelite was commanded to take the first (and the best) of their crops or produce, put them in a basket, and give them to the priest when they went to worship. And as they made their offering, certain statements were to be made.
The first was to publically declare that they had come into the land (their means of income) by the power and guidance of Yahweh. In other words, this offering was an expression of gratitude and an acknowledgement of God’s faithfulness in fulfilling his promises.
The second statement was a confession of faith that started with: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor…” It outlines a story of lostness, oppression, deliverance, and fulfilled promise that is both historical and personal. The confession declares that despite their hard work growing the crops, harvesting the oil, or shepherding the flocks, they were totally dependant on God’s provision. Embedded in this harvest offering are three principles that should instruct our giving today:
1. Giving isn’t optional—we are commanded to give as a way of acknowledging that all we have comes from God. Even the income we earn through our work is part of his provision. Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth. (Deut. 8:17-18)
2.Giving happens first—our giving should be among the first checks we write each month. I once heard a church member say, “How can I pledge when I don’t know what I’ll have left at the end of the month?” But the principle of offering first fruits teaches that we don’t give to God out of our leftovers; we give to God first and we live on what’s left. When we do this, Paul tells us, “And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19)
3.Giving anchors our faith—in the liturgy of the first fruits, the worshipper is brought back to the core issues of his or her faith in God. Our culture bombards us with thousands of messages each day calling us to over-consumption, endless accumulation, and the lie of happiness and security in material things. Through the discipline of giving, we free ourselves from the bondage of stuff and re-orient our lives toward spiritual wealth. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-20)
As we start into a season of harvest and thanksgiving, let’s consider how God is calling us to give our first and our best to him as a symbol of his faithfulness in our lives.
Donna Wilson serves as the Director of Fund Development Training and Associate Director of Advancement for InterVarsity.