Suppose I were to drop by your house holding a foil-covered saucer. “Hello, friend,” I say. “A few days back Denalyn made a strawberry cake. It was so good. It came out of the oven hot, moist, and sweet. I wish you could have tasted it. Today, as I was eating the last piece, I thought of you. Just before I took the final bite, I put my fork down and thought, I’m taking these crumbs to my friend.”
How would you feel?
Contrast that emotion with the one you feel if I were to knock at your door holding a cake pan with oven mitts. “Denalyn pulled this out of the oven a few minutes ago. It’s still hot. No one has touched it. I got here as fast as I could. I want you to have the first piece. I want you to have the whole cake (although I did bring my fork in case you want to share).”
How would that invitation make you feel? Or, better asked, how does that make you feel? God offers you the whole cake. You do not receive crumbs or leftovers. You have received his best. Why? Because he loves you based on the “Principle of Firsts.”
Since this is the first day of a new year, it’s appropriate to re-visit the theme of “firsts” in the Bible. Open a concordance to the word and prepare yourself for an avalanche of entries. First. Firstborn. Firstbegotten. Firstfruit. Firstling. First-ripe. My concordance contains seven columns of tiny-fonted words and verses. Apparently, “first” is a big theme in scripture and a big thing to God!
Is it possible, with all these references, to reduce them to a single message? I think so.
God went first. We love because he first loved us (I John. 4:19).
God made the first move. God took the first step. God placed the first call. We did nothing and do nothing that wasn’t and isn’t prompted by God. He went first. He not only went first, he gave his firstborn son. The Bible calls Jesus “the firstborn among the brethren” (Romans 8:29). In the great, expansive, innumerable family of God, there is a firstborn: Jesus Christ. What did God do with his firstborn Son? He sent him as a sacrifice. He didn’t redeem us with apostles, angels, prophets or preachers. He gave the best gift.
Jesus is not only the firstborn, he is the firstfruit. “But now Christ is risen from the dead and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Corinthians 15:20 NKJV). First-fruit is an agricultural term used to describe the initial harvest. The farmer would take the best portion of his harvest to market and tell the customer, “Taste and enjoy. There is more to come.” Jesus is the firstfruit of God’s eternal harvest. He will do with his children what he did with Jesus: he will call us out of the grave. How do we know? Jesus is the firstfruit.
In addition, God gives us the “firstfruits of the Spirit” (Rom.8:23). Love, joy, peace, patience…all the fruits of the Spirit are ours because God gives, not leftovers but firstfruits. These are foretastes, samplings of the full harvest that awaits us in heaven.
God gives us firstborn Son and the firstfruit of the Spirit. We have received his best. Let’s follow his lead.
Go first to God with your problems.
Don’t take your problems to the bar. Don’t numb your fears with narcotics. Don’t hide from or deny the existence of struggles. No, go first to Christ. Jesus tells us, rather bluntly, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will put on” (Matthew 6:25 NKJV).
He then gives two commands: “look at the birds” (vs. 26) and “consider the lilies” (vs. 28). If God cares for the birds and the grass, won’t he care for us? For that reason, he commands: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Mathew 6:33). Would you like a word of advice that will save a thousand headaches and heartaches in 2017? The moment a problem surfaces is the moment you take it to God. Take it to him first.
Honor God with the firstfruits of your income.
In the thirteenth chapter of Exodus, God unveiled a beautiful, yet challenging principle. “Consecrate to me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is mine” (Exodus 13:2).
The firstborn lamb belongs to God. The firstborn donkey belongs to God. The firstborn child belongs to God. This was true, not just with flocks and family, but with harvest and salary. “The first of your firstfruits of your land you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God” (Exodus 23:19).
If a farmer has an apple tree that bears ten baskets of apples, he sets aside the first basket as holy, belonging to God. “All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or the fruit of the tree, it is the Lord’s, it is holy to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30).
Nine-tenths of the farmer’s harvest was common. But the first tenth, or the tithe, was holy. It was unique; set apart for a special purpose. Our relationship with God is built on firsts. He loved us first. We love him first. No crumbs. No leftovers. No Sirree.
Let this be the year that you excel in this grace of giving. And, one more, let’s
Gather on the first day of the week with God’s people.
Let six days be used for work and acquisition. But set one aside for spiritual and physical restoration. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Under the older covenant, this day was Saturday. As Christians, we set aside Sunday, though many Christians still observe a Saturday Sabbath. The day of the observance matters less than the message of the observance: God wants us to worship and to rest. He designates the first day of every week as holy. This was the practice of the New Testament Christians (see Acts 20:7).
Would you like God to bless your six days? Then give him the first day. Make it your aim to gather with God’s people in God’s house for corporate worship.
God has something to say to you. He may say it through a hymn, through a friend, through a prayer, or through a passage.
God has something to say through you. The story is told is told of a west Texas rancher who attended the same church for decades. Even in his later years, when he was half blind and hard of hearing, he sat on the front row. One day a young man asked him: “You can hardly hear and scarcely see; why do you keep coming to church?” The old rancher replied, “I don’t come for me; I come for you.”
What if your church attendance is less about what you receive and more about who you can encourage?
I want to be crystal clear: we are under the new covenant, not the old. We are saved by grace, not by works. No tithe or attendance will ever add one iota to the finished work of Christ on the cross. These disciplines are part of God’s plan to keep us from drifting. “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1 ESV).
Most people who grow cold in their faith do so incrementally, gradually, inch by inch over a period of time. These disciplines of the firstfruits recalibrate us day by day, week by week. I hope you will consider them.
I have a feeling that someone is groaning inside. “Max, my life is already burdened. So many obligations. So much work. And now you talk to me about firstfruits and first days of the week. I can’t take another load.”
If those are your thoughts, I must have underemphasized the promise of Jesus. He said, “Seek first the kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33 NIV).
If you find this message to be burdensome, I must have failed to share God’s promise from Malachi 3:10-11: “Bring your full tithe to the Temple treasury so there will be ample provisions in my Temple. Test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams” (Malachi 3:10 MSG).
If this teaching on firsts weighs you down, I must have forgotten to tell you about this verse. “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine” (Proverbs 3:9-10 NIV).
When God’s people put God first, God’s blessings began to flow.
God gave you his firstborn Son. Jesus is the firstfruit of the resurrection. The Holy Spirit gives you the firstfruits of heaven.
Let’s make this the year that we respond in kind.
©Max Lucado, January 1, 2017