Robert Morris is the founding senior pastor of Gateway Church, a multicampus church in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Since it began in 2000, the church has grown to more than 36,000 active members. He is featured on the weekly television program The Blessed Life and serves as chairman of the board of The King’s University. He is the bestselling author of 14 books, including The Blessed Life, The God I Never Knew, Truly Free, and Frequency. Robert and his wife, Debbie, have been married 36 years and are blessed with one married daughter, two married sons, and six grandchildren.
The principle of first is about putting God first not just in our finances but in our lives.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches us that our heart will follow our money. In other words, if you invest your finances in something, you’ll care about it. If you buy shares of Apple, suddenly you’re interested in the next iPhone, whether you plan to buy one or not. You track Apple’s stock price on the Internet. Your heart follows your treasure.
Have you found this true in your experience? Does your heart follow your money?
Assuming it is true, what does your spending over the last month reveal about your heart?
The Firstborn must be Sacrificed or Redeemed
Have a volunteer read Exodus 13:1-15.
In the laws that God gave Israel to live by, there were certain animals that were clean, while other animals were unclean. Clean animals were used for sacrifices and could be eaten by the Israelites, while unclean animals could be used for work but could not be sacrificed or eaten.
In Exodus 13 God declares that the firstborn son of any person or animal belongs to Him. The first son that any clean animal gave birth to was to be sacrificed to God. And the firstborn son of the family or of an unclean animal was to be redeemed, a clean animal was to be sacrificed in its place.
When we read seemingly arcane passages such as those found in Exodus, it’s easy to forget that the whole of the Bible points us towards the work that Jesus does.
Have a volunteer read Romans 3:23-26.
When God created humankind, we were inherently good. We were clean, pure, undefiled. But our ancestors disobeyed God, and that disobedience caused a systemic corruption of our world and of the human race. Our inherent goodness is gone. (Romans 3:10-12)
But Jesus was good. Jesus was the first person to ever be born clean, and He, as the firstborn who was clean was sacrificed in our place so that we might be spared.
What do you think about the idea that humankind is no longer inherently good? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
The concept of the firstborn male belonging of any animal belonging to God makes sense in an agrarian society like ancient Israel, but most of us aren’t raising livestock. What is the principle behind this rule, and how can we apply it to our lives today?
The First Fruits must be Offered
Have a volunteer read Exodus 23:19
God calls us to bring the first fruits, the tithe, into the house of the Lord. There are three key things to note here.
Tithe means 10%. It’s not 5% or 20%. It’s the same as saying “one tenth.” That doesn’t mean you can’t give more, but saying, “I tithe 5%” would be like saying ten equals five.
You can only bring the tithe, you can’t give it. It already belongs to God. You can’t give someone something that already belongs to them.
God says to bring the tithe into the house of the Lord. Giving to missionaries and a non-profits is a very good and noble thing, but that first 10% is to be returned to God’s house, not designated to someone or something else.
What do you think about this concept that the tithe, the first 10%, belongs to God?
Do you agree with the idea that the tithe is to be returned to God via the church rather than through giving in other ways? Why or why not?
Does the idea that all of the money you have is truly God’s money that you have been given to manage cause you to rethink how you spend money or manage your finances? This isn’t just about tithing but rather about how we use all of our income.
The Tithe Must be First
When God commanded the Israelites to tithe, it was always off of their first fruits. It was the first crop that was harvested, and it was of the highest quality.
Have a volunteer read Genesis 4:3-4.
God didn’t accept Cain’s offering because it wasn’t the first, it wasn’t the best.
Where do you prioritize bringing God’s portion back to him? Do you put it at the top of the list and save and live on what is left over? Or do you figure out how much money you have at the end of the month and then figure out what you can give?
Many American Christians believe that tithing will result in personal financial abundance. While the Bible teaches that we are blessed when we return to God what is His and that God promises to care for us, we are not promised material abundance. Many generous followers of Jesus throughout the world live in poverty.
Dave Schmidgall, International Missions Director for National Community Church, recently traveled to the Middle East and spent three days living in a tent with a family of Syrian refugees who are followers of Jesus. While they have almost no material possessions and no financial security, Dave found this family to be blessed with a connection to God that seems almost inaccessible in the midst of our abundance.
At times God may choose to bless us with financial abundance when we return the tithe to Him, often those blessings take other forms. Other than financially, in what area of your life do you want God’s blessing?