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These exerpts are from a book that I am trying to write. (So far I've done 30 pages in two years :-) )The part on giving I wrote for a stewardship campaign in church.

Principle of First Fruits

A very important principle on the topic of stewardship is the subject of first fruits. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." An immediate application of this is that everything in the heavens and the earth belongs to God. The 24th Psalm says, "The earth is the Lord's and all it contains, the world, and those that dwell in it."

Since God owns everything, that means that we must be stewards. The second chapter of Genesis says that the Lord God put man into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

Now, one of the tasks of a steward is to give some of the increase, or in today's language, the profit, back to the owner. In fact, since the owner is the owner, he should get the first cut. This principle is first stated explicitly in Genesis 4:4, where Abel brought the firstlings of his flock.

Why does God ask for the first share? The answer is because it makes us realize that we are to not only recognize God for who and what He is, but to put Him ahead of ourselves with a concrete action. This helps to get our priorities in line. If one of the major problems today is putting ourselves first, then making a tangible effort to put God first is the first step in getting our priorities straightened out.

In Leviticus 2:12 God told the Israelites to bring an offering of first fruits of their grain. This was codified in Moses's law to the people the principle of first fruits. In Leviticus 23 this is further specified into a Festival of First Fruits. Along with the grain offerings of this festival was also an offering of a lamb without blemish. This lamb was to be only one year old. I don't think that it takes a great leap of faith to assume that this was the first fruits of the flock of sheep.

This principle of first fruits also goes a lot deeper. Do you remember the story of Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt? The movie "The Ten Commandments" that describes this is still televised sometimes on TV even though it was made over 30 years ago. Do you remember what happened? The last plague was a plague on the firstborn of Egypt, including nobles, slaves, and livestock. The only way to escape death was to put the blood on the doorway.

This episode is covered in Exodus. Later in Exodus 13:2 God said "Sanctify to Me every first born, the offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me." In verse 13 of the same chapter God tells the people to redeem the first born sons, they were not to sacrifice them. You will remember that even before this God asked Abraham to sacrifice his first born son and had him redeem him with a ram.

All this is Old Testament stuff. You ask, aren't we under grace, and not the law now? Of course! We can't keep all of those Old Testament laws perfectly so God provided Jesus so that we could live under grace. But wait a minute. Do you remember John 3:16? "For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." Did you hear that! We are under grace because God gave of His first fruits, who was Jesus. The sacrifice that He does not ask us to make, to give our firstborn, He has taken upon Himself with Jesus.

So, what does this mean for us today? Well, even though we don't have to offer our firstborn, the principle of putting God first is still in force. As I said before, making sure that we take our offering to God off the top is the first step in getting our priorities straight. There are also more mundane reasons for making our offering to God first. If you wait and make your offering to God last it is a whole lot easier for all those "nice to have" items to crowd God out.

Don't take this to mean that you shouldn't pay your bills just to make your offering first. A quick read of Malachi will show you that God has promised to bless us if we put Him first. He is more interested in Him being first in your heart, and not so much in the absolute dollar amount that you give.

At the risk of angering all the church financial officers of the world, let me state the following opinion. If you get your paycheck, you should make your offering to your church during the week that you get it. This will put you more in line with the principle of first fruits than if you wait and space your offering out over several weeks. If you wait, then "things" will arise to keep you from making your offering. You will begin to be subject to the tyranny of the urgent. I think that in the long run you will be better off to put God first.

Making Friends with Money?

There are not many things that will last forever. There are not many things that will make the transition from this world to heaven. One of them is the Word of God. Jesus said in Mark 13:31 that heaven and earth will pass away, but that His word shall not pass away. Another thing that will last forever will be people. Do you want to have friends with you in heaven? Do you want friends to welcome you even into heaven?

In Luke 16:1-13 Jesus tells us the parable of the unrighteous steward. The steward was squandering his master's possessions, so the master summoned the steward and told him that he was to be fired. What did the steward do?

And the steward said to himself, "What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the stewardship, they will receive me into their homes." And he summoned each one of his master's debtors, and he began saying to the first, "How much do you owe my master?" And he said, "A hundred measures of oil." And he said to him, "Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty." Then he said to another, "And how much do you owe?" And he said, "A hundred measures of wheat." He said to him, "Tale your bill and write eighty." And his master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind that the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
Did you hear what Jesus said? He said that we are to use money, and the other riches of this world that constitute the mammon of unrighteousness to help people and make friends! When we go to heaven, these friends will welcome us into the eternal dwellings! How is that for a promise? You read a lot about money in the Bible and wonder how to give it to God. Well here is a way use it. Make friends. Minister to people.

There are all sorts of things you can do with money and riches in this regard. Missions has to be right up there at the top of the list. We have international missions, national missions, state missions, and the local church is suppose to be doing local missions. One of our missionaries with the home mission board in the Port of Baltimore tells us of ministering to the sailors coming into the port. One thing that struck me that he said was that the first thing he did with the sailors was to be a friend. The youth from the church go to help reroof people's houses. Isn't that being a friend?

There is a warning here from the passage above, though. Did you notice that Jesus said that the sons of this age are more shrewd with regard to this than the sons of light? There is a true story that has always hit home to me about this very thing, the story of Horatio and Anna Spafford. You have probably heard the story about how they lost four daughters at sea in 1873, and how Horatio Spafford wrote "It is Well With My Soul" as he later sailed past the spot. You have heard the story, but have you heard the rest of the story? The rest of the story I got from a book on Jerusalem by Jill and Leon Uris. Leon Uris is the Jewish author who wrote the best selling novel "Exodus." Leon Uris's comment on Jesus was "Jesus, whose Hebrew name was Joshua, was never anything but a pious Jew from birth to death." (page 127) The life of Spafford, though, was so "Christlike" that even Uris heaps praise on him. On to the story:

Horatio and Anna began their public charity during the great Chicago fire of 1871. Two years later is when their four daughters died. In 1878 they lost a son to scarlet fever. The Spaffords were then thrown out of the Presbyterian Church for rejecting the doctrine that their suffering was in retribution for their sins. (Remember Jesus's comment above about the children of light not being wise, and in another place ((John 9:2)) the disciples question to Jesus about the blind man? Their question was who had sinned, the man or his parents, that he was blind?) The Spaffords went to Jerusalem with some friends and opened a salvation center for destitute Arabs. The center continued after Horatio's death and later moved to an abandoned palace just beyond the walls of old town Jerusalem. The colony later served as a model for the modern kibbutz and saved thousands of lives during World War I with a soup kitchen. One of the surviving daughters, Bertha Spafford Vester established a handicraft school for Arab girls, to help them earn money, and to help them avoid being sold into marriage at age 12 or 13. Until 1948 the Spafford House was the only health-care center for the Arabs in old town Jerusalem and surrounding countryside. Today its program is run by Oral Roberts University and treats some 14,000 Arabs a year.

Ministering to people was a centerpiece of Horatio Spafford's life. Is it central to your life? Everyone likes to have friends and Jesus told us that it is wise to use the riches of this world to win friends who will welcome us into our eternal dwelling.

The passage in Luke concludes after the parable of the unrighteous steward with some promises that it would do well to heed. The first is that if we are not faithful with this unrighteous mammon, then He will not trust us with true riches. Probably the way most people are unfaithful is to clinch our fists around the little money that God gives us, that our hands won't be open to receive God's true riches. We can also fritter away our money on things that will pass away so that we won't have anything to give to God. That is where it is important to give to God first, rather than last.

The other promise is a lot more blunt. We cannot serve both God and mammon. We cannot serve both God and the world. Since where our treasure is, there will our heart be also, it is important to put God first with our money. One of the best ways to use our money is to win friends who will welcome us into our eternal dwellings.

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This page was last updated on 18 May 1995.
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