If you’ve been attending church for a while, you’ve likely heard the term “first fruits”. But what exactly is it? And how is it different from your tithes?
Here, we examine the biblical basis of this offering in the old testament and why it matters to us as followers of Christ in the new covenant.
What Is First Fruits?
“The best of the firstf ruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God.” Exodus 34:26
To fully understand this biblical concept, we need to go back to the time of Exodus when Israel was called out of the land of Egypt so that God can usher them into the Promised Land—a land flowing with milk and honey, a land that drinks rain from heaven. In short, it was a land that’s brimming with the abundance that God prepared for His people.
But before Israel could set foot in the Promised Land, they have to observe precepts, which were laid out in detail during their journey in the wilderness. One of the stipulations of God’s old covenant with His people is that Israel should bring the first yield of the year’s harvest—the first fruits—to the house of the Lord as an offering.
In Hebrew, the first fruit is known as bikkurim, which can be translated to literally mean, “promise to come”. Thus, the first fruits offering is an acknowledgment that the harvest and abundance came because of the Lord’s promise. And if it is from Him, then it is just right that He has the first dibs on it.
In addition, giving the first fruit offering was also a matter of faith. That is, the act of giving the first fruit offering is a declaration that you are trusting God’s unwavering promise of provision.
The instruction regarding the first fruit is something particularly important to God, so much so that it was mentioned 13 times in the first five books of the Bible alone and it was referenced in the New Testament.
In fact, God placed a premium on the first fruits that He instituted it to become one of the seven most important feasts of Israel: The Feast of the First Fruit. This feast happens on the day after the Sabbath following the Feast of the Passover.
What Does it Have to Do With People Who are Under the New Covenant?
Today, most of us no longer live in an agrarian society and we are no longer under the Mosaic Law. Plus, the feasts and rituals seem outdated to modern, technologically-driven society.
So, does this mean the concept of the first fruit no longer applies to us?
To answer this question, it is vital to come to an understanding that all the precepts, instructions, feasts, and laws of the Old Testament were just but a shadow that points us to a singular Truth.
“But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:20
God went through great length giving instructions and laying out the details on how to give the first fruits offering because He is giving us a glimpse of His Son, the true Bikkurim, the promise to come.
And considering that the Feast of the First Fruit happens on the Sunday right after the Passover, the illustration is quite fitting—it is a foreshadow of His resurrection. Jesus is the first fruit, whom God raised from the ground.
What’s the Difference Between Tithing and First Fruits?
When it comes to religious giving, two concepts naturally comes up: tithes and first fruit offering. To differentiate the two, it is important to understand that tithing is giving 10 percent of your income to God, the source of everything.
This practice can be traced back to the time even before the Mosaic Law was given. Abraham, without being coerced and under no compulsion, gave a tithe to Melchizedek, a type of Christ. He gave because he knew who gave him the spoils of victory. Today, we give a tenth of our income for the same reason: we acknowledge Him as the source of every provision that comes our way.
First fruits offering, on the other hand, was historically given during harvest time, usually once a year. For a modern-day Christian, first fruit offering can be given during “harvest time”. It can take the form of the first paycheck from your first job. Or a percentage of your first paycheck of the year. Or perhaps a portion of your bonus or tax refund.
Do I have to Give a First Fruit Offering Today?
“For if the first fruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches” Romans 11:16
The New Covenant brought about a paradigm shift when it comes to giving, including first fruits offering. Back in the day, this kind of offering was given to fulfill their obligation to the law of God. Today, we are called to respond from the heart.
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-7
It’s never the amount nor even about the act. Giving has always been about your heart.
Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) Therefore when He asks us to give of our treasure, He never wanted our money. He wanted our heart.
And it’s only possible to give out of a cheerful heart when we have a revelation that God will never ask for anything He Himself will not give. He gave His first fruit, His Son, the best that heaven has to offer, for us.
How to Give a First Fruit Offering?
So you’ve decided in your heart to give a first fruit offering. How do you go about it? How much should you give? Do you give every time you receive a bonus or a refund? Or should you give annually? Perhaps these are the practical questions running through your mind. To help you settle those, here are some tips:
- Pray about it. Remember, there’s no one breathing down your neck, pressuring you to give your first fruit offering. There’s only the grace of God teaching your heart to be generous. Thus, since He’s the one who teaches you to give, it’s only right that He’s also the one to guide you on how much you should give and when you should do it. And as you ask for His guidance in prayer, listen to Him.
- Plan for it. Once you’ve decided when you’re going to give and how much, it’s time to be a responsible steward to the money God has given you. Prepare your budget. Even the process of appropriating money can be an act of worship when God is the Lord of your finances too.
- Give. Where should you give your offering? Perhaps you want to contribute to your church building fund. Or a cause or nonprofit that God compels you to give to. Traditionally, tithes are automatically given to your local church. With first fruit offering, you can use it to bless your church or another organization that God wants you to sow into.
In the Old Testament days, the bikkurim was a constant reminder for the children of Israel of the “promise to come”. Today, the promised One has come. And first fruit offering should be nothing less than a response to God’s extreme generosity—for He gave no less than His Son.