All In: Firstfruits10-30-2016

Sermon Podcast Audio 

Introduction

Today I’m excited to continue our message series "All In" — where we are looking at how we can live our lives Taking Risks and Trusting God to make a Kingdom Impact.  

Priorities: We began this series with Amy teaching on the book of Haggai and specifically on how the Israelites had prioritized their own lives over God and restoring the temple.  And we compared that to our own lives and how we prioritize so many little things in our lives over God.

Neighbor: Next, Pastor Steven spoke about how going ALL IN means that we take care of our neighbor — and that we can’t define who our neighbor is in terms of how we usually think about it, but that our neighbor is anybody we see who has a need in front of us.  God calls us to take care of those all around us. 

Sacrifice: Last week, Pastor Brent told us the story of Abraham’s incredible faith in being willing to sacrifice his promised son, Isaac, to God.  And what we saw in the life of Abraham was a man willing to give anything to God, even the thing he held most dear, his own son.  And we were challenged to ask ourselves how much we are willing to sacrifice if God comes asking.

Firstfruits: Today, I want to teach you about the principle of giving God our firstfruits.  This is an incredibly important principle that was part of the Old Testament Law, but that too many of us, unfortunately, are ignorant of.

Here’s essentially what the principle of firstfruits asks of us.  Imagine that you are going to a buffet restaurant.  Or maybe you avoid buffets, then imagine a church potluck in our basement.  Now think about all the different foods in that buffet line — the baked chicken, the mashed potatoes, macaroni, deviled eggs, broccoli salad, and of course, the dessert table.  

Now imagine being the last person to go through that buffet line.  The mashed potatoes are wiped out with just some of the crusty ones stuck on the edge of the pan, the devilled eggs are all gone, some macaroni ended up in the broccoli salad, and the dessert table is all picked over.  Now that buffet looks a lot less appealing, and we feel like we are settling for the leftovers.

That essentially is what we do to God with our lives — often with our time and our money.  And what giving of our firstfruits means is that we let God through the buffet of our lives first.  We let him pick the best stuff.  And today, I hope to show you why giving God our firstfruits rather than our leftovers is so important — important enough that I think none of us will ever find true joy and contentment if we don’t make this a pattern in our lives.

Text

If you would open your Bibles to Deuteronomy 26,  Here is where we find the reason why God established the Festival of Firstfruits and also can see how it applies to our lives today. 

When you have entered the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it,  take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the LORD your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the land the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.”  The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the LORD your God.  Then you shall declare …  He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey;  and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, LORD, have given me.” Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him.  Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household.  —Deuteronomy 26:1-5, 9-11

Before we dig into the lessons we can learn from the firstfruits offering, I want to first help connect the firstfruits offering God required in Old Testament times with our own lives today.

Firstfruits: The first thing you might notice in this text is how much it speaks about the land.  This is because the land was so important to the Israelites.  Remember that God gave them these instructions for the firstfruits offering after he led them out of Egypt but before he brought them into the Promised Land and chased out all their enemies.  He was telling them, “The firstfruits of your crop are important because they will remind you that I am going to keep my promise to provide all that you need to live.”

For us today, we don’t have the promised land, and since most of us aren’t farmers, the land isn’t our source of income — our jobs are.  But think back to when you were searching for your job.  I imagine most of you prayed to God for that job.  You asked him to provide for you a way to make income.  And God provided, he gave you the job, and whether you despise the job today or not doesn’t change the fact that God provided for you.

Offering: Next, we see the offering that is made is the “firstfruits of the soil.”  This is essentially, the early crop of whatever was being grown in the land.  For the Israelites, this was their sustenance.  Nearly everybody was farming food for themselves as they didn’t have a market to grocery shop like we have.  But for us, this is like giving to God our money.  Since we don’t farm, we don’t rely on food items we grow directly, but on our cash, which allows us to purchase food.

Recipient: Finally, this text says that the people are to take the crops from the land and give them to the priest.  Leviticus 23 gives more instruction about exactly what the priest did with this offering and how he would wave a large sheaf of grain from the first harvest of grain before God and then offer it to the Lord.  As Christians, post-Jesus, we don’t have priests who act as intermediaries between God and common people.  And while I’m tempted to say that pastors are the New Testament version of the priest, so give me all your money — that’s not accurate either. Essentially, the crops were given to God, for his glory and for his honor.  And so I think the most accurate way to describe where the offering of firstfruits should go, would be to say it should go to furthering God’s Kingdom, for his glory and his honor.

Putting it Together: As we put this together, what we see is that while the Israelites offered the first of their crops from the land to the priest who offered the crops to God, we are to offer the first of our income to God through investments that make a Kingdom Impact.

Lessons From Firstfruits

Having connected the firstfruits offering with today, I want to point out that we are NOT commanded to give our firstfruits to God anymore.  This offering has been fulfilled in Jesus, so please don’t think I’m giving you another obligation to follow.  I do think, however, that giving God your firstfruits teaches you lessons that will bring you greater joy in life. Let’s take a look:

1) Reminds us of God’s Faithfulness

Like I have already described, this passage in Deuteronomy clearly ties the land that produces the crops to the promise God made to Abraham so many years ago.  So, one of the main purposes of this offering was to remind them that God was faithful in fulfilling his promise to give them the Promised Land.  In the same way, when we give back to God from the money he blesses us with, we are reminded that we only have money to give because he has faithfully entrusted it to us in the first place.   

2) Gives us a Heart of Thankfulness

The second lesson we learn from this passage, is in the last verse where it says, “rejoicing in all the good things the Lord has given.” When we give back to God our firstfruits, we are given a heart of thankfulness.  We put our focus not on what we are giving away, but on all that God is giving TO US, and we rejoice.  We thank God for his generosity and care rather than feel like it’s a chore or an obligation.

3) Teaches us to Trust God to Provide

Our third lesson from firstfruits actually comes to us from a verse out of Proverbs 3.

Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits 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 

Here we are reminded of what it really means to give your firstfruits.  For the Israelites, their firstfruits came in first, but there was never any guarantee that the remainder of the crop would come in.  Perhaps a hail storm would come through the next day and wipe out the remainder of the crop.  So, in giving their firstfruits, they weren’t giving a portion of the total crop they knew they would harvest — they were giving ALL of their early crop and were trusting God to bring in the remainder of the harvest for them.  That’s why this verse says, “THEN your barns will be filled to overflowing.”  It points to the trust the Israelites must have in God to give to him first and trust him to fill their barns afterward.  

In the same way, when we give to God first, rather than waiting to see how much money we have at the end of the month, we are forced to learn to trust that he will provide for us and help us to meet all of our financial obligations.

4) Points us to Jesus – God’s Firstfruits Offering on our Behalf

Our fourth and final lesson from firstfruits actually comes to us from the New Testament.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.  —1 Corinthians 15:20-23  20

This text gets me really excited because it shows us that God doesn’t ask for anything from us that he isn’t willing to give himself.  You see, in this letter, Paul points out that based on the calendar of Festivals, if Jesus was crucified on Passover, then according to Leviticus 23, he was resurrected on the Day of Firstfruits, and was therefore a type of firstfruits offering to God.  

Like the sheaf of grain the priest waved before God, on Easter Sunday Jesus’ resurrected body was waved before God as an offering for the eternal life given to all who belong to him.  So, in the same way that the Israelites offered this firstfruits offering as thanksgiving to God for rescuing them from Egypt and bringing them to the Promised Land, through Jesus, we now give this offering with thankful hearts that God has rescued us from the bondage of sin and offers to us a better promised land — eternal life with Him!  

Application

Those are the lessons we learn if we give to God from our first.  Now each of us needs to examine our lives and ask ourselves: Are we giving God our firstfruits or our leftovers? Are we allowing God to go through the buffet line of our lives first, or are we eating all the good stuff ourselves and leaving him the crusty edge of the mashed potato dish?

Money - As I have already said, we really have two main resources to give: our money and our time.  When thinking about your money, you must ask yourself, "Am I giving to God from my finances first, or am I waiting until the end of the month to see what I have left?"

The reason this is a big deal is because we all have a tendency to spend all that we have.  That’s why saving is so hard.  Financial planners all say, if you want to save for a home or retirement, or for your college savings account, you have to put that money into a savings account at the beginning of the month.  Now what that means is that Financial Planners are just stating what God tried to tell us all along — you have to set aside money for the important things first or it will get wasted on the trivial.  You have to offer back to God a portion of the gift of income he has blessed you with as soon as you receive it, or else you will waste it on yourself.  And when you do that, you demonstrate to God that your priority in life is YOU before God.

For those of you who want to give more back to God but struggle to consistently give to God through offerings at church or giving to charitable causes, may I offer you a really simply way to literally put God first in your finances?  Teenagers, this applies to you as well, so listen in. Set up Bill Pay with your bank and the day your paycheck clears, have your bank send a check to wherever you want to faithfully and consistently give. This is the best and most faithful way I have figured to give to God my firstfruits.  Since I don’t farm, and I don’t bring in a crop only once a year, years ago I setup my bank account to send our offering check to church the day I receive my paycheck.  When I receive my wages, I immediately give back a portion to God to say “Thank You God.  You have been so faithful to me. I know I can trust you to always provide."

I’m not trying to say this is the only way to do this, but it’s the way I found that works for me to consistently give back to God.  And you know what — at the end of the month, I have always had enough to pay for everything else I needed to.

Time – The second resource we all have is our time.  And while I know these passages I have shared don’t directly address our time, I believe this principle of giving God our firstfruits extends beyond crops or just our finances.  

Having said that, does God get the first and most focused portion of your day, or does he receive your scraps?  Do you squeeze your Bible reading time in while waiting at the doctor’s office or do you schedule it and give it your full attention?  

This is probably the most personally convicting part of this sermon for me.  While I have an automated system to make sure God gets the first of my finances, for some reason, I find it much easier to give God the leftovers of my time.  And I justify it in my mind by saying, “I’m just in a season of life or week of work which is extra busy.  God will understand.”  But the problem is, every week is busy, and so I frequently find myself guiltily giving God my scraps of time because I fail to give him the first and best portions of my time.  I need to change that, and perhaps you do to.

Conclusion

I understand this might be a very convicting message for you.  But going  all in for Jesus and the Kingdom of God isn’t easy.  It requires us to rearrange our priorities in life and often to make sacrifices.  

It means putting an end to our excuse making.  We have to stop saying, “I’ll give more money if I have any left at the end of the month.”  We have to stop saying, “I’ll spend more time praying and reading my Bible, more time building relationship with Jesus when I’m not so busy.”  Guess what?  There will always be new items vying for your money and new activities vying for your time.  

The buffet of your life will always have people and desires seeking to consume all of you.  You have to decide if you will make everything else wait for God to go through and take the best portions of your life first, or if you’ll make him wait to the end, and give him whatever is left.

Team Pastor at Ashworth Road, Ryan's focus is on the youth ministry and helping people connect with God and with one another. Ryan's passion is to see everone take their next step toward becoming like Jesus.