by Richard Bishop
I don’t know about you, but I love a fresh bag of potato chips. Ripping it open and grabbing that first chip off the top, the one that looks like it was cut from a football-sized potato, is a great feeling. After working through all of other whole chips at the top of the bag, you get into the middle part where things start to change; the chips get a little smaller, many of them broken, but they still satisfy your craving. The worst part, however, is at the bottom of the bag, with the little slivers and crumbs; these are what my mom used to call “the dringles”, the pieces she wouldn’t waste time digging out and would just dump out for the birds and squirrels.
For many Christians, this is how they treat their financial gifts. They use the majority of their income to take care of their needs (and satisfy their wants, lots and lots of wants), and God gets what’s left over at the end of the month. There’s always a reason people give for this, like bills to pay, mouths to feed, saving for retirement, piano lessons and braces for the kids, a new car for Dad, a bigger house for Mom, and that family vacation every summer. These all cost money, and God just needs to understand that we’re doing the best we can.
The problem is that we’re really not doing “the best we can”. As Doug referenced in a recent sermon, American Evangelical Christians give approximately 2.5% of their income, with 80% of those giving 2% or less. 30% of all those Christians give based on net, not gross, income, and even more concerning is that 37% of regular church attendees don’t give any money at all to the church, being only consumers of what the church has to offer but not supporters of it.*
With all this talk about percentages, some of you are probably thinking I’m going to write about tithing, but that is a topic for another month, or two, or three. Instead, I’m going to start with a much more basic concept, that of “firstfruits”, which is a word that our leaders use sometimes when calling for the offering on Sundays.
“Firstfruits” are initially mentioned in Exodus 23:16 and later expanded upon in Leviticus 23:9-20. They were to be a portion of what the Israelites brought to the Lord as an offering at several of their feasts. The firstfruits were the best of their crops and livestock. By selecting the best of the tree or vine at the start of the harvest, the Israelites were not giving their leftovers, the pieces of fruit that had grown overripe while still hanging on the vine or had even fallen to the ground. The sheaves of wheat were to be freshly-picked, not the grains that were swept up from the threshing floor along with the dirt and chaff after they had made their flour. It meant bringing the young unblemished calves, goats, and lambs for sacrifice, not the old and sickly animals that were no longer good for milk or meat.
The idea was that believers were to give the best of what they had to God first. They were then to live off of what remained, rather than taking the choice pieces for themselves and letting God have what they did not need or want. It was meant to be a sacrifice. It was to be given out of gratitude for the blessings that God had bestowed on them; honoring the One to whom all of creation belongs (as David describes in Psalm 24:1). It was to give to Him from what He had given to them. This was a foreshadowing of how God would send Jesus. He would be His first and only Son, the perfect, unblemished Lamb. And how would Jesus give His life for us? As the only begotten, firstfruit, for the underserving and broken, who were dead in sin.
As Christians, we need to remember that God is the greatest Giver of all. All that we have came from Him. We give, not out of obligation, not because God needs anything from us, but rather out of gratitude for His providing abundant provision; even our wants. As you consider your financial gifts to God, ask yourself: “Am I giving my best, or am I giving what’s left over?”
*statistics courtesy of www.nonprofitsource.com