In a lecture entitled, The Power is in your Possessions, I presented to the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church during our series entitled, the Sacredness of Stewardship, I proposed that if you and I are ever going to become prosperous (spiritual, financial, physical, intellectual, social, and cultural) then it is incumbent upon us that we understand the power of First Fruits offerings. This is not an indictment on other preachers who have taught on this from a personal wealth position. The focus on this is not personal, but out of concern because I don’t want to be fooled into believing that is a difference between the First Fruits offerings and the tithes because there isn’t. Reading the text on First Fruits found dominantly in Deuteronomy 26 out of context and teaching such is both unethical and deceitful. My concern is that we not only be truthful with the text, but also ethical within our exegetical reading of the text and applying it to edify the body of Christ and glorify our heavenly Father. Ethical exegetical readings on First Fruits mentioned in both Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and Greek Testament/New Testament requires us to remain faithful to the text and not include our personal feelings on the text. Why must I stress this? The reason is because as pastors, preachers, and bible teachers we do an injustice to those who desire to be faithful disciples of Yahweh by misguiding them and even encouraging them to disobey the word of Yahweh by either stealing the tithe or misappropriating the purpose of the tithe. Rev. Dr. R.B. Holmes, Sr. Pastor of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church is animate about the church doing what Yahweh called us to do and that is to be faithful to the Spirit of Yahweh and immolate the person of Jesus the Christ. Through careful prayer, careful reading of the text, direct study, and keen research have come to understand that if you are going to worship, if you are going to touch the heart of Yahweh, if you are going to walk in authority, if you are going to reach your destiny you must bring the First Fruits of your harvest. In other words, you must bring the full tithe.
What are First Fruits? This is not the language we are accustomed to speaking with in the church. We don’t say First Fruits, we say tithes and offerings. There is a rich relationship between First Fruits and the blessings of Yahweh to obedient people who not only bring the First Fruits, but do it with a right heart, right intentions, and right desire. In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), First Fruits and liberation from oppressive powers by the mighty hand of Yahweh go hand in hand. Furthermore it is tied to the Land and land was based on the covenant between Yahweh and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Theologically, land equated to the blessings of Yahweh, to the favor and hand of Yahweh. This is the foundation of First Fruits theology is birthed. Since land was a manifested blessing of Yahweh’s love and support, Yahweh instructed them through Moses that when they entered the promised land, that they were to offer the First Fruits of the land unto the Lord because it was Holy. In Exodus 23:19, Yahweh declares to the people "The first of the First Fruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your Yahweh.” Consider this, they were commanded to do this prior to entering Canaan (The Promised Land). They were required to bring not the second, third or leftovers, but the first of the First Fruits. Yahweh required the best from them because Yahweh had not only delivered them from Pharaoh, but also killed Pharaoh, every first born in the land and his entire military. In the eyes of Yahweh, Israel was special and according to Jeremiah 2:3 “Israel was holy to the LORD, the First Fruits of his harvest.” Israel was obligated to offer the First Fruits of the land because Yahweh had delivered them from Egyptian slavery. The question today is what does this mean for us in the body of Christ in 2012 and beyond? There are three things I want to do to unpack this question.
Three Things I Want to Accomplish
First thing I want to do is connect land theology with kingdom theology. Secondly, I want to propose that the Bible does not differentiate between First Fruits and the tithe. Finally, I want to establish that when you participate in bringing the First Fruits, you have access to untapped power that will empower, endow, and help you endure this life.
Land Theology and Kingdom Theology
Since control of the land is the manifested blessings of Yahweh – then what is the Kingdom of Yahweh? The Kingdom of Yahweh is the ever-present power of Yahweh manifested in the lives of believers to empower, encourage, invigorate, and give them an enduring assurance that we are and will be victorious in the face of the evil and dark forces that control this world. It is both ontological and eschatological. This is identical to Land Theology. If Jeremiah is correct about Israel being the First Fruits of Yahweh’s harvest, then the church, the ekklesia, the called out ones are the First Fruits of Jesus Christ and Christ is the First Fruits of the new family that Yahweh has raised from the dead. The Church has been rescued from the pits of despair, delusion, doubt, destruction, and death. In other words, we have been rescued from Egypt. There is no difference in Land Theology and Kingdom Theology. In both, Yahweh is our redeemer and we are obligated to demonstrate our love and faithfulness because he has redeemed us. Yahweh took the Israelites and put them in Promised Land and Jesus via Calvary we entered the Kingdom of Yahweh. Because of that, we are obligated like the Hebrews to offer our First Fruits when we enter the land. So this divine directive from Yahweh to tithe is not a Hebrew Bible/Old Testament function, but a New Testament requirement that we bring the First Fruits.
First Fruits and Tithes
There are several verses that I want us to examine that will help us understand that First Fruits and tithes are the same. The first one is from the Apocryphal book of Sirach 35:10-13. It states, “Be generous when you worship the Lord, and do not stint the First Fruits of your hands. With every gift show a cheerful face, and dedicate your tithe with gladness. Give to the Most High as he has given to you, and as generously as you can afford. For the Lord is the one who repays, and he will repay you sevenfold.” In this passage the idea of generosity (giving) is tied to worship. Worship is incomplete without the offering of the First Fruits also called the tithe. When the First Fruits is a gift unto the Lord and when it is given it should not only be given generously, but with the right countenance. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 9:7 that “each person should give what he/she has decided in his/her heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for Yahweh loves a cheerful giver.” The tithe is Holy, it is dedicated to the Lord for the set purpose Yahweh has for the establishment of His Kingdom. The biblical model for giving is that the tithe comes to the priest – the pastor that Yahweh has put in Yahweh’s house of Worship (Jeremiah 3:15). The priest/pastor designates the direction the tithe should go. If the pastor should use the First Fruits not according to the will of Yahweh, then that pastor will answer accordingly to Yahweh. For us, according to the Sirach text, when you bring the First Fruits (Tithe) Yahweh will bless you sevenfold. Ezekiel 44:30 supports this thought because your house is promised to be blessed.
In Proverbs 3:9-10 “Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the First Fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” This verse addresses the movement from inner piety to the outward manifestation of worship. In the Hebrew context, to honor one means to esteem a person as having value and to declare him/her such to give him/her social weight or prominence. In this text, honor is not given in word, but in deed. The deed is giving the tithe from your wealth and prosperity. This why in Malachi 3:10 Yahweh reminds the wayward children of Israel to “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. Yahweh has plenty for us when we recognize that from our First Fruits, our wealth, our weekly paycheck, our estate, our tax return, our inheritance, our lottery winnings (most of you play anyway), and whatever our increase is, we are required to bring the tithe. When we fail to bring the tithe, we bring disease, destruction, and death upon not only us but our household. In instructing the Hebrews in tithes, Moses writes in Leviticus 27:30-31, “Thus all the tithe of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S; it is holy to the LORD. If, therefore, a man wishes to redeem part of his tithe, he shall add to it one-fifth of it.” In other words, when one steals the tithe not only do you owe the original tithe now you owe it with 20% interest.
Where’s the Power
The power comes when we fulfill our act of worship by bringing the full tithing. If we live out Matthew 6:33 we will have access to untapped power because God not money, filthy lucre, mammon would be first on our agenda. We will have a Kingdom agenda. With that, Yahweh gives us power, authority, and dominion over every situation we find ourselves. We can call worlds into existence, build dynasties, rule kingdoms, and have control over events that would have at one time destroyed us. When we accept that fact that Yahweh owns everything we are given power. The power is not to gain more worldly things, but to operate in a Kingdom mission. We will have power to heal, power to save, power to give, power to love, power to forgive, power to encourage, power to be faithful and power to raise others from dead situations. The power comes not only through reading the text, praying, fasting, going to service, but when we bring our First Fruits also known as the full tithe.