These were purchased from among men, to be the first fruits unto God and unto the Lamb.
My home province of Fukien is famous for its oranges. I would say (though doubtless I am prejudiced) that there are none like them anywhere in the world. As you look out on the hills at the beginning of orange season, all the groves are green. But if you observe more carefully you will see, scattered here and there on the trees, golden oranges already showing up. It is a beautiful sight to see the flecks of gold among the dark green trees. Later the whole crop will ripen and the groves will turn to gold, but now it is these first fruits that are gathered. They are carefully handpicked, and it is they that fetch top market prices, often as much as three times the price of the harvest.
All Christians will reach ripeness somehow, we are assured. But the Lamb seeks firstfruits for His hour of supreme demand.
In the passage from Revelation, the first fruits are the 144,000 young witnesses who “follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” The have given up any earthly relationships including having a spouse and have given themselves completely and solely to the purposes of Christ. Having said that, to become a “first fruit Christian” can be accomplished by mere mortals as well. It’s a matter of priorities. There have been and no doubt be those like the apostle Paul who give themselves solely to the work of Christ forgoing families and human relationships, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule. Where then does that leave the rest of us? Can we not also become the “first fruits” of Christ? The answer is an emphatic yes.
Every day we are given opportunities to choose Christ and the things of God first. We are also presented with a myriad of other choices about how we spend our life, use our abilities and spend our resources. Often we we talk about these matters, the discussion seems to center around duty, responsibility, or obligation. I’d like to take another approach. In Acts, we read the story of Ananias and Sapphira who withheld money from God that they said was His. We read how they died after “lying to the Holy Spirit.” Many take from this a sense of fear or pressure to offer to God their best and first but a gift given under pressure isn’t a gift- maybe a bribe but certainly not a gift. The other issue with obligatory giving and serving is that it creates a perception that God is demanding.
There is no implication that the 144,000 are being pressured to give up everything for Christ. Instead there is the impression that their love for Christ and His mission moves them to such actions. This ought not surprise us for many of us have made great sacrifice- without begrudging- for family and friends. We do that not because we feel we must, but our love for them motivates us to go the extra mile or ten. I’m sure that if we asked most parents, they would tells us that even though it was tiring and sometimes difficult, they are glad they had the opportunity to give to their children.
“First fruits” is more than extraordinary service. It’s more of a heart matter than it is great accomplishment. To illustrate this, one day as Jesus was observing people coming into the temple and dropping their gifts into the collection box, He noticed a little widow woman as she dropped a few coins into the box. His words must have been a surprise to the disciples. They too had observed the gifts being placed in the box and in their thinking and ours, they were sure that those who gave large and elaborate gifts were indeed the best and perhaps the most committed givers. Their mouths must have dropped when Jesus said that the little widow had given more than anyone else. How, they wondered, could Jesus say such a thing? What comparison could there be between a few small coins and the large amounts others had given. Then Jesus pointed out that those who had given large amounts had done so from their abundance. Truthfully in comparison to what they had, their gift was a small token. The little woman, on the other hand, had given everything.
When Christ measures us to see if we are “first fruits” He won’t compare us to others. He won’t line us all up and mark down how much time, resource, or abilities each person has contributed to His purpose and then put those at the top who have the largest numbers. I’ve been to enough meetings and observed that quite often those who are honored are those who have given large amounts. What is never measured is how they gave in comparison to how abundant their resources were. For a millionaire to give a thousand dollars isn’t much of a gift but to an ordinary worker retired on a small retirement income, it’s a sacrificial gift. So such comparisons really do measure fairly.
Back to the story in Acts. As Peter is speaking to the couple, he makes a profound statement: “While it(the property) remained unsold, was it not yours? After the sale, was not the money yours?” God isn’t interested in forcing us to part with our time, talent, and treasure. He gives to us liberally with no strings attached. He allows us to make our choices and live our lives as we choose. Even those who become Christians do so by their own choice.
Paul tells us of the day when we stand before Christ and our work will be measured. He says that it passes through the refining fire of God’s righteousness. Some things will come forth as pure gold, other things won’t survive.
Today you and I have the opportunity to become a “first fruit” Christian. God isn’t asking us to give up our families, to quit our jobs, or to cease all hobbies or activities. He isn’t asking us to give money to the church and not pay our bills although when we give He always blesses us with more than sufficient. What makes a “first fruit” Christian is following the instructions Jesus gave us in Matthew 6:
“But first most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also.”
Anybody can do this and everybody ought to. What about you?
Dr. John Thompson