Tithing and First Fruits
By Bishop Jerry Sherer
Although our giving goes far beyond tithing, the principle of tithing was ingrained in the beliefs and life styles of early Christians, most of whom grew up in Jewish homes. We see this in reading of Leviticus, Chapter 27, v. 30: “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s; it is holy unto the Lord.”
We are told it belongs to the Lord and not to people. It applies to “everything,” not just some things. It was “holy,” to be set apart and given to God, not used for any other purpose.
The meaning of the word tithe is “a tenth part.” The Remnant Church practices, and always has determined, that to mean “a tenth part of our increase.” The Bishopric has suggested, for budgeting purposes, a good way to estimate tithing owed is to take 3 to 4% of our gross income. However, when determining the owed tithing, we still use 10% of our increase.
In Malachi 3:8, we are asked the question: “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.” He then goes on to say “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse.” Whatever God provides for us, we should consider 10% of the increase, that which belongs to God.
The practice of tithing began long before the Law of Moses. Abraham tithed to Melchizedek and Jacob promised a tithe to the Lord. “And the place of this stone which I have set for a pillar, shall be the place of God's house; and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee” (Genesis 28:22).
Tithing’s scriptural purpose is found inDeuteronomy 14:23: “And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always.”
”That thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God.” God is trying to train people to put Him first in their lives. It gives us perspective. It reminds us that all we are, and all we have, is from God.
Tithing requires calculation. When we deal specifically with the amounts God has provided, we see God’s goodness to us. We literally count our blessings and thank Him for His generosity. Tithing begins as a duty but, as we draw closer to Him, we realize it has become a delight. Unclenching our fists and opening them to God has a thousand trickle-down benefits. There are times and circumstances when some may feel it necessary to withhold their tithing, however we need to think this through.
Jesus was raised in a devout Jewish home. That meant His parents tithed and instructed Him to tithe. We read throughout all of Jesus ministry that He was put under a microscope by His enemies and accused of every possible offense, including breaking the Sabbath. But never once was He accused of breaking the law of tithing. In fact, the Jewish Talmud forbade a strict keeper of the law from sitting down to eat with anyone who did not tithe. Yet, on several occasions, the Pharisees ate at the same table with Jesus. Obviously Jesus tithed.
The giving of ‘first fruits’ made an important statement to ancient Israel, as well latter day Israel. It simply states:“All the best of the oil, and all the best of the wine, and of the wheat, the first-fruits of them which they shall offer unto the Lord, them have I given thee” (Numbers 18:12). We give of our first and best to you, Lord, because we recognize all good things come from you.
Tithing represents the amount of the offering, ‘first fruits’ represents the nature of the offering. In ancient Israel, tangible goods were the natural things to tithe. The same principle applied to money. The first 10% of our increase of what God has provided us is to be returned to the Lord. God was regarded as the provider of the harvest. The ‘first fruit’ offering reminded people of God’s ownership. They saw God as the source of all life and blessings. The first offering also said “We trust you, God, to help us harvest the past.” To hold back any of the ‘first fruits’, or give anything less than the best, was to incur God’s wrath.
I Samuel 2:12-17 tells us about the temple priests who took off the top of the sacrifices the people brought for an offering, and left what was left to the Lord. The Lord referred to “the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord” They were struck down in battle because they had stolen from God. This is a good lesson for anyone who is tempted to hold back from God, both temporally and spiritually.
The name ‘first fruit’ requires to be taken off the top. It is the cream of the crop. It is both the best and first. As soon as it was harvested or preserved, it was to be given unto the Lord. It is not to be stored, hidden up, horded, or distributed in any other way. Those who kept the best and gave God the leftovers brought God’s judgement on Israel. What we give back to the Lord is a thermometer of faith. When Israel slid spiritually, they ceased to give as they should. When they ceased to give as they should, they slid spiritually. The cycle continued.
These principles of giving are timeless, and they apply as much today toward Latter Day Israel as they did to ancient Israel. Why? Because we live in a time of abundance, perhaps like no other time in the past. No one knows for how long this will last but, as a people, our standard of living is far above other peoples of the world. As we look at our individual standard of living, perhaps we also need to examine our standard of giving.
I have read that there are three levels of giving. First, less than our ability. Second, according to our ability, or three, beyond our ability. In my opinion, our nation is noted for its giving but would it be fair to say 96% would give less than their ability? Perhaps 3% or more give according to their ability, and less than 1% give beyond their ability?
What does it mean to give beyond our ability? It means to give away not just the luxuries, but also some of the necessities. For most of us, giving according to our means would stretch us. Our giving beyond our means, or sacrificing, feels like an inconvenience. We need to look within ourselves and remember our blessings and examine our giving. We can never out give the Lord.