Stewardship and Giving

The question that is first on our lips when we read a passage like Genesis 22 is Why Does God ask Abraham to Sacrifice Isaac?

There may be a number of reasons but I my view one of the key reasons that God asks this of Abraham is because God is teaching Abraham the principle of First Fruits.

And the Principle of First Fruits is this: the FIRST born – or the FIRST of something belongs to God. It is His. And it must either be sacrificed to God or redeemed.

Where does this idea come from? Well, to find the answer to this we need to go back to the very first Passover in Egypt. The Passover is a time of judgment. God declares that he will judge the Egyptians for ignoring Him and Him ways. If you remember, the Israelites are commanded to put blood on the door posts of their houses. This was a sign for the angel to Passover that house and so the first born in that house did not die. Every other first born – both man and animal, died that night. This was about “the Egyptians and Israelites.” God passed his judgment over ALL the people in Egypt – and only those who followed the command of God were not killed. If an Israelite ignored the command to put blood on the door post, all the first born of that household would have doed. Being an Israelite by birth would not have saved them.

Now the fact that no Israelite died that night did not mean they had been let off. God’s judgment came upon everyone in Egypt – and the Israelites were no better than the Egyptians – they were sinners. So a price still had to be exacted from Israel. God is a just and righteous God. Forgiveness without justice is not righteous. Therefore God does not forgive without a price and the salvation of Israel from Egypt required a price.

In Number 3 verse 11 we are told what that price was to be.

The LORD also said to Moses, 12 “I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine, 13 for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether human or animal. They are to be mine. I am the LORD.”

So the result of the first Passover was that every first born male Israelite, instead of dying like the Egyptians, had to be given to the Lord. But so that families did not have to hand over every first born child, God chooses the Levites as a first born offering among the tribes, this meant that first born males did not have to be given to God, the Levites took that role and that place.

However, the Israelites were required to give to God the first born male of their flocks and animals, or the first fruits of every harvest.

Exodus 13:12-13 says: you shall set apart to the LORD all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the LORD’s. 13 Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.

Ex. 23:19    “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.

Thus, every first lamb born to your flock had to be sacrificed. If it was an unclean animal, like a donkey, you had to redeem it with a spotless lamb, or a monetary offering or you had to break its neck. Kill it. And every first harvest from your crops had to be given to the Lord.

Why? It was to teach the Israelites total reliance on God. The risk of giving God the first fruits is that you had no idea that you would have any more flocks or harvest. God does not say “ Let your ewe produce 9 lambs and then give me the tenth”. No, God says, “Give me the first one and then trust me that you will have more” It was a statement of faith that if we give to God the first, he would provide all that is needed.
What then is God asking of us?

Faith. It ALWAYS requires faith to give the first, because you have no idea what is coming. This is the point of faith – we do not see but we trust. Most of us would prefer that our faith is based on what we can see. But scripture is very clear:

Romans 8:24 says: Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees?

Hebrews 11:1 says Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

And we know, don’t we, that we say paraphrase this verse as – Faith is the reality of things fully expected, the certainty of things not seen.

God asks us to give HIM the first even before we see if we are going to have enough.

This is because we are trusting that God will redeem the rest – when the first is given to God, God redeems the rest.

And this is not just about money.

The question is do we give God the first of everything.

For example – Do we give God the first of our day – do we give him the first 15 – 20 mins of our day to him in prayer, and a devotional time? By giving him the first minutes, we let him redeem the rest of the day for us.

Prov 3:9-10: Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; 10 then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

We don’t have time to go through ALL the passages of scripture which show this, so we will take two. Joshua 6. In Joshua chapter 6 God prepares the Israelites to attack Jericho.

What is the significance of Jericho?

It’s the first city they are to attack in the promised land.

Josh. 6:18 But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. 19 But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD.”

Do you see? This is the FIRST city – and everything IN that city is dedicated to God. Here again is the first fruits principle. And when the Israelites give God the first city he could Redeem the other cities. The next city they defeated they could have the loot!

Another example is Genesis 4. We all know the story of Cain and Abel and that Cain’s offering is rejected and Abel’s is not. Why? Well, lets read it she [Eve] also gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel became a shepherd of a flock, but Cain cultivated the land. 3 In the course of time Cain presented some of the land’s produce as an offering to the LORD.a 4 And Abel also presented |an offering|—some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. The LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not have regard for Cain and his offering. Cain was furious, and he was downcast.

Abel offered his first fruits – Cain did not and so God rebuked Cain. Notice this. Cain makes an offering – but he has not given God the first and it is for this reason that God rejects Cain’s offering.

Now, the scriptures are totally consistent is EVERY way and the first fruit principle is found in the New Testament, perhaps in it’s most remarkable way.

Luke 2:7: And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Jesus we know to be the firstborn of Mary. But he is also the firstborn in other ways;

Col 1:15: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

What does the principle of first fruits tell us? That the firstborn, must die to redeem the rest.

What does Jesus do? He dies that we might live. As one theologian has written: When Christ redeemed us by his sacrifice he brought us back to God. He is literally a first fruits offering. In a very real sense, Jesus was God’s tithe!

In fact, the day that Jesus rose from the dead was the Jewish feast of First Fruits – the third day of the Jewish festival of Passover, 16 Nisan (Lev 23).

The first of everything we have – finances, time, family, work, all belong to God. Our hearts should say “ God, I am going to give to you first in every area of life and trust that you redeem the rest.”

And the giving of our first fruits to the Lord must not be begrudgingly but joyfully. Most of you know that I think the guilt driven stewardship campaigns of many churches are utterly unbiblical. It’s not about us wanting your money. It’s about God having your heart. If this Church were to have a motto for stewardship it would be 2 Cor 9:7: Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not out of regret [or reluctantly] or out of necessity [or compulsion], for God loves a cheerful giver.

God wants us to be joyful in what we give. Why? Because that helps us to be spiritually healthy. Joy in our giving, whether it be money or our time, or energy helps us to be spiritually healthy.

We see this in our gospel reading. I think this is one of the most misunderstood texts in the New Testament.

What on earth is the good eye that makes your body full of light and and the bad eye which makes your body full of darkness? In the Hebrew scriptures and rabbinic tradition the term good eye – ayin tovah – means generosity while the term bad eye – aiyin ra’ah – means stinginess or selfishness. A rabbi would say, “If a person gives a gift, let him give it with a good eye.”

We see this in proverbs 22:9 – A generous person will be blessed, for he gives some of his food24 to the poor. Some translations will have a footnote which says that the word generous is literally good eye.

Jesus was saying that generosity is the light of the body. If we share ourselves and our resources with others, we will be full of light because we have good eye, just as to be stingy and selfish with resources and ourselves is to have a bad eye.

As I have said before this is not just about money. Sharing wisdom can be as, if not more valuable than giving.

But the key is – will we be a fellowship who stands on the principle of first fruits. God asks the first of us, The first of every thing!

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