READ : Proverbs 3:9-10
Honor the Lord with your substance 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.
Proverbs 3:9,10, RSV
“Honor the Lord with your substance 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.”
A SPECIAL GROUP
This charge “Honor the Lord” is not for everyone. I don’t mean that it isn’t God’s will for all of us. It surely is. And every person on earth would certainly be gladdened and enriched by heeding this word. For myself I wish intensely that each man and woman, each girl and boy in all the world would come to honor the Lord. But this command here in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, chapter 3, verses 9 and 10, is addressed to a special group of people.
Think of it this way: We can say to every child on earth, “Honor your father and your mother,” and most of them will understand what we mean. They can see that this applies to them because they have fathers and mothers. But suppose a child is an orphan and can’t remember her parents. Or suppose a boy has never known who his father is. It will be hard for these children to see what the command means, let alone obey it.
In a similar way, not everyone knows the Lord. He revealed Himself in the beginning, you remember, to a man named Abram and to his descendants. He entered into a covenant with His people and promised to be their God. By miraculous interventions, He freed them from slavery in Egypt and brought them through the Red Sea as though on dry land. He led them in a howling wilderness, proclaimed to them His law and gave them victory over their foes in a promised land. He made Himself known to them as their Maker, Keeper, and Redeemer. When they heard the call “Honor the Lord,” they knew what that meant. They knew who it was.
Christians know too. They also believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and they rejoice in an even fuller knowledge of Him. They believe that the Lord has revealed Himself supremely and finally in Jesus Christ. They have seen the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in Jesus’ face. When they hear about the Lord, they think of the Father who gave His Son to die for them and has breathed His own Spirit into their lives.
This command, then, “Honor the Lord” takes a good deal for granted. It assumes that people know the Lord and that they can see at least some reason for honoring Him. Otherwise, they might say as Egypt’s Pharaoh once said, “Who is the Lord that I should heed His voice?” In other words, “What is the Lord to me that I should honor Him?”
But let’s assume now that you know the Lord. Oh, I hope you do! You know Him as your gracious Father because you have trusted in Jesus, His Son. You have received Jesus as your Savior and the Holy Spirit has come to dwell within you. You know the Lord as your Maker and Redeemer, your Guide and friend, your joy and portion. You have every reason to honor the Lord, to reverence Him, to show respect for Him. You owe Him, if you do know Him, your worship, your gratitude, your utter devotion. “Now,” says the Word, “Honor him with your substance.” That’s an interesting combination of words, isn’t it? It brings together the heavenly and the earthly, the sublime and the mundane. We are to show honor to this glorious, unseen Lord by the way we deal with every-day, practical things. We can be godly with our worldly goods, pious with our possessions.
Specifically, we are to honor the Lord with the first fruits of all our increase. A proportionate part of everything people produced in the Old Testament was to be given to God. Sometimes, as described in Deuteronomy 26, it would go for the care of the poor and needy, and to provide them with food. Sometimes, as in Numbers 18, it went for the maintenance of the priesthood. At other times, it was given for feast times in which all would partake together. But a specific proportion, usually a tithe of everything produced, a tenth, was to be given over to God for His use. The more people produced, the more they offered. In this way, by their proportionate giving, His people could honor the Lord.
But there was more involved here than a specified percentage of what one gained. God’s people were expressly told to bring to Him the “firstfruits.” That is, the first sheaves of the harvest, the first wine of the vintage, the first olive oil pressed was to be set apart for the Lord. Even the firstborn child in a family was to be in a special sense offered to God symbolically for His service.
People learned by this that giving to God involves priority as well as proportion. God deserves the first and best of all we receive. Before we enjoy the fruits of our toil, we are to consider Him and His interests. By offering to God the first part of all we gain, we consecrate the whole and we affirm the truth that everything is truly His.
That has a practical bearing on how you and I may give today. Most of us no longer live in a farming culture, though some do. Our produce, the fruit of our toil, is not usually in wine or grain or olive oil. We are paid for the most part in money, by check. But the principle still applies, doesn’t it? What about us? Do we first set apart a tithe for God and His service, or do we wait to see after all our other expenses are paid if there is anything left over for God? If we do the latter, we probably will not give very consistently or very generously. And what is more grievous, we will fail to honor God by giving Him and His service priority, by seeking His kingdom and His righteousness first.
On the other hand, if we offer to God the firstfruits, if we bring our earliest and best returns to Him, we will be regular in our giving as well as large-hearted. And we will be expressing by the way we give that the Lord comes first in our whole lives, that we regard Him as supremely worthy. Don’t you want to do that?
Now, friends, I hope you won’t under-estimate the importance of what we’re talking about. If it is true, as it surely is, that our attitudes influence our actions, it also works the other way around. What we do has a profound effect on how we feel. You know, if you treat someone badly, you’ll come to like them even less after that. Or on the other hand, if you do them a good turn, you’ll find yourself feeling more friendly toward them. The same thing applies in the matter of giving to God a proportion of everything, and especially giving Him the firstfruits. You may view that as a kind of legalistic performance. You may adopt it as a burdensome duty, but if you do it, the very practice of doing it will help you to remember that everything you have has come from God, and it will encourage you to give Him priority in all the rest of your life. If you haven’t discovered that yet, I invite you now to try it. It does work that way. Putting God first in your giving will aid you to put Him first in all your living.
But there’s another promise attached to this. Listen: “Honor the Lord with your substance and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” Does that sound to you like a promise of prosperity?
There’s something about that idea that makes many of us uncomfortable. We’ve heard too many hucksters of religion in our time, too many health and wealth preachers, as they’re sometimes called. We’re weary of those who tell us that sending a gift to them will be like planting a seed of faith. If we do it, they assure us, we will surely get back a lot more than we give. Our check to their organization will turn out to be the most lucrative investment we have ever made. The more we send to them, they tell us, the more God will prosper us. Something about that doesn’t ring true, at least for me.
Part of our uneasiness arises from this: we see a number of instances in which it simply hasn’t worked out that way. There have been indignant donors ready to take prosperity preachers to court. The promised profits did not materialize so the man who gave them the pitch should have to pay, they say.
At a deeper level, we see around us all the time devoted, God-fearing people who consistently put God first but who are by no stretch of the imagination getting rich. In fact, many people who put the Lord first suffer losses and reproaches for their pains. The One who gave Himself entirely for God and for other people got Himself crucified as a result. How do we square that with the assurances we hear that faithful giving will always lead to miracles both physical and financial?
Many have noted that the New Testament seems to promise to faithful followers of the Lord not so much prosperity as adversity. “In the world,” says Jesus, “you will have tribulations.” “Don’t be surprised,” says Peter, “at the fiery trials that will try you.” “All those,” warns Paul, “who will live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Jesus pledges to those who follow after Him not a pleasure cruise but a cross.
What sense then do we make of these words about full barns and overflowing wine? There’s a practical promise here that many, many people are putting to the test. When people honor God with their giving, He sees to it that they have enough. A good friend of mine back in the 1950s was making $25 a week, supporting with that a family of four. When every paycheck arrived, he took out a tithe of $2.50. Someone asked him how he could afford to tithe when he was making so little. I’ll never forget his response, “When you’re getting the salary I make,” he replied, “you can’t afford not to tithe.”
He was saying in a humorous way what legions of people have discovered. That other nine tenths will go incredibly far when the first tenth is set apart for the Lord. We will never be the losers for having offered to Him the firstfruits. God will see to that. In the normal course of things, honoring the Lord with our possessions does lead to practical benefits. God-fearing people tend to be industrious and frugal and they often tend, therefore, to prosper in a material sense as well as in other ways.
What the New Testament does is not so much to deny the ancient promise as to deepen and extend it. Even if we suffer loss for serving Christ, even if we bear reproach and fiery trials, we will still be rich in the things that matter most. And when this brief life is past, what a joy is set before us. Listen:
Eye has not seen; ear has not heard; there has never entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9).
Honoring the Lord may not make us immediately prosperous (it’s not like a lottery ticket), but those who are heirs of a coming kingdom don’t worry too much about that.
The promise of blessing is clear and God will surely make it good, but those who earnestly seek to honor the Lord are seldom motivated chiefly by the hope of some future gain. More often, they are gripped by a wondering kind of gratitude. They remember that One who once was supremely rich became utterly poor for their sakes, that is, Jesus, so that they through His poverty might have everything. They try to say thank you with their substance. They say thank you with the firstfruits of all their increase. They try in gratitude, in lavish generosity, to show how much they appreciate all that the Lord has done for them. May the Lord help us to be in their number today – those who live day by day to honor the Lord!
PRAYER: Yes, Father, may it be so for us. Fill our hearts with the faith that recognizes all that You have done for us in Christ, let gratitude well up in our hearts, and then help us in a proportional way to give as You have prospered us, and even more, to give of the firstfruits, to put You first in our giving, in our living, and so to honor You through Christ our Lord. Amen.