Editor’s Note: Read our other articles in Sow Bountifully: Biblical Principles for a Life of Christ-Centered Giving below!
Sow Bountifully – A New Series on Giving
Live all Your Life in Light of God’s Mercy
Remember Your Provider
In the previous article in this series, I argued that “Remembering our Provider” was an essential principle in helping us shape a righteous attitude about giving. All of our wealth-creating skills and everything we own are gift from God. Giving back to the Lord acknowledges that he is our gracious provider and displays gratitude for his blessings in our lives.
Honoring God Off the Top
One specific way we express this gratitude and honor God as our provider is by giving out of our firstfruits. We are given the exhortation to give of our firstfruits in Proverbs 3:5-10.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.
Honor the LORD with your wealthProverbs 3:5-10
and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.
Solomon’s instruction to give out of one’s firstfruits harkens back to the Old Testament requirement for Israel to offer their firstfruits: “The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God” (Ex 23:19). Out of trust in God’s provision and love for him, Israel was required to give off the top of what they produced. This meant that, after the harvest, they took the first and best portion of that harvest and brought those items to the house of the Lord. These items would be used as provision for the priests (Lev 2:14-16).
In Proverbs 3:5-10, Solomon commends Moses’ instruction to his son so that he might give generously to the Lord. But notice how Solomon frames his exhortation. He begins by encouraging his son to trust in the Lord. God is the Creator and Provider of everything we have. He is also gracious and wise, so we trust in him with our whole heart (v. 5a). We don’t lean on our own wisdom to interpret life (v. 5b). Rather, we lean on God’s revelation in his Word to properly interpret the world and our experience in it while giving appropriate recognition to God and his guidance in our lives (v. 6). We are not wise in our own eyes, acting cavalier with sin (v. 7a). We fear the Lord and turn away from evil and therefore experience spiritual and physical refreshment of Godward trust and obedience (vv. 7b-8).
It is by trusting in our gracious God that we are enabled to obey Prov 3:9: “Honor the Lord with your wealth, and with the firstfruits of all your produce.” God is worthy to be worshipped with our wealth because he is our Creator in whose character we can place unqualified trust.
Christians and Firstfruits
But what does it mean for Christians today to give out of our firstfruits? This is an important question because Christians are no longer under the Old Covenant and therefore no longer obligated to obey Exodus 23:19 and give from their harvest for the maintenance of a nation-wide sacrificial system.
Even so, the principle of giving from one’s firstfruits is reaffirmed in the New Testament when Paul instructs us to give according to the regularity of our income (1 Cor 16:2): “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” Just like the Israelites were required to give immediately from their “income” at the harvest, so are we, when the Lord blesses us with revenue, to let the first impulse and financial move be to give directly out of that prosperity.
Practically, this means that we should give to the Lord each time we receive some form of income. That income could be a regular paycheck, so we would give once a month, twice a month, or every week, depending on our pay schedule. That income may come in the form of compensation after we’ve complete a long-term project, so we would give after we’ve been paid for that job. Your income might come in form of a monthly or quarterly sales commission, or it might come from quarterly dividends produced within an investment account. Income also includes those times when we are blessed with a year-end bonus or a financial gift from parents. As you prosper, make your first financial move to give out of that wealth.
What About a Tithe?
It’s important to note that Paul’s instruction to give as we prosper doesn’t include a fixed number or percentage. While some pastors and teachers argue that Christians are required to give a tithe (10%), the truth is that nowhere in the New Testament is it even suggested that you should give a certain amount or percentage. Tithing was required under the Old Covenant because people gave for the maintenance of the nation and sacrificial system. Actually, the total amount that Israelite families would have given would have been about 22% of their total income, of which the tithe was a part. But we are no longer under the Old Covenant where we are required to give to maintain an entire nation-state.
We will come back to this topic of tithing in later articles. For now, I want us to notice that Solomon’s instruction to honor the Lord from our firstfruits doesn’t end with the exhortation; he undergirds the command with a promise: “then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine” (Prov 3:10).
Physical and Spiritual Blessings
Under the Old Covenant, God promised Israel abundant material blessings for her faithfulness to the stipulations of the Covenant. If the nation obeyed, they would enjoy fruitful fields, healthy livestock, and the women would experience the blessing of children (Deut 7:12-16). The New Covenant, however, is structured differently than the Old Covenant (Jer 31:31-33). Many of our blessings are spiritual in nature (Eph 1:3-14), and our material blessings are located in a future inheritance of a new heavens and new earth (1 Pet 1:4; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1ff). Honoring the Lord from our firstfruits will lead to spiritual joy in the Lord apart from any physical blessings we might receive in this life.
Nevertheless, the promise in Proverbs 3:10 still holds and is, like the exhortation of the previous verse (Prov 3:9), reaffirmed in the New Testament. Yes, let’s be clear: Scripture doesn’t promise us a certain kind of lifestyle, car, income, or vacation package if we give of our firstfruits. God is not promising a financial windfall if you give out of your paycheck twice a month. You cannot force God’s hand to give you exactly what you want because you gave some of your wealth away. While it’s not God’s will for all his children to be poor, it is not his will that all of his children will be rich. God is free to do with his possessions what he wants, when he wants, how he wants.
Nor should we be primarily motivated by what we will get in return when we worship God with our wealth. That’s where the prosperity teachers are dead wrong. God is to be worshipped for who he is, even if he takes away all that we have. “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” Job said after he had lost everything (Job 1:21).
But we must be careful that we don’t strip Proverbs 3:9-10 of its obvious material promises because we are afraid we might fall into the trap of the wealth, health, and prosperity teachers. We must reckon with the way God promises to provide for his people as they trust him and give back to him in worship. Consider these promises:
- “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered” (Prov 11:24-25).
- “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse” (Prov 28:27)
- Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:28-30).
In the last passage above, Jesus promises his disciples that they will receive physical provision in this life—even significant provision in some cases—because they have left everything to follow him. Jesus distributes these provisions however he wants, and we don’t leave everything and follow Jesus in order to get these things. We leave everything and follow Jesus because we want him and the forgiveness of our sins. But Jesus also pours out blessing upon his disciples so that they might be able to navigate this life and have what they need for life and ministry. “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things [i.e., the things you need for life and ministry] will be added unto you” (Matt 6:33). Paul even says that God gives his people “all things richly to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17).
So, out of love for God, trust in his unwavering goodness, and faith in the promises of gracious provision, give of your firstfruits. When the Lord prospers, make your first financial move to give to the Lord in glad worship.