The phrase “firstfruits of His creatures” in James 1:18 refers to believers in Christ being set apart and born again by the Word of truth. Just as the firstfruits of a harvest are considered special and set apart for God, believers are set apart from the rest of creation through spiritual rebirth. Let’s explore this verse and concept further:
The Context of James 1:18
James 1:18 says “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” To understand this verse fully, we need to look at the surrounding context.
In James 1:16-17, the author speaks out against being deceived and reminds readers that every good gift is from above, coming from the unchanging Father of lights. Verse 18 then continues this thought – God has given believers new spiritual life according to His will and truth. James goes on to say believers should be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (v.19), meaning they should apply God’s Word with humility rather than pride.
Born Again by the Word
“Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth” – this describes God causing spiritual rebirth in believers through the truth of the gospel message. When someone hears the good news of Jesus Christ and puts their faith in Him, they become a new creation born of the Spirit (John 3:3-8). Salvation is a work of God according to His sovereign will and by the regenerating power of His Word.
A New Creation
The language of being “brought forth” indicates believers are like a new creation brought to life spiritually. 2 Corinthians 5:17 expresses it this way: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Through spiritual rebirth, believers become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). Their identity is now found in Christ.
Firstfruits of His Creatures
In the Old Testament, the firstfruits of the harvest belonged to God and were an offering expressing thanks and trust in His provision (Deut 26:1-11). As firstfruits of God’s creatures, believers have a special place and purpose. 1 Peter 2:9 describes the church as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” Believers are chosen and set apart by God out of the world.
As those born again by the Word, Christians are the first stage of God’s new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). They are set apart to bear fruit for Him and to live for His glory (John 15:1-8). All of this is according to God’s sovereign will and amazing grace.
Implications of Being Firstfruits
Some key implications of believers being “firstfruits” include:
- All glory goes to God for our spiritual rebirth, since it is His work and will.
- We belong completely to God as His treasured possession.
- We are called to bear fruit through obedience to Christ.
- We have a purpose – to live for the praise of His glory (Eph 1:6, 12, 14).
- We have hope that one day all creation will be restored and freed from decay (Rom 8:21-23).
Set Apart to Bear Fruit for God’s Glory
James 1:18 illustrates that as Christians, we have been divinely set apart through spiritual rebirth to bear fruit for God’s glory. By His grace, we belong to Jesus Christ and have a new life in Him. This should move us to live in holiness, obedience, and service for the praise of God.
The “firstfruits” metaphor is a beautiful picture of God’s work in His people. He has chosen and called us out of the world to make us new creations in Christ – the firstfruits of an even greater harvest still to come when Jesus returns. As believers born again by His Word of truth, may we passionately pursue His purpose for our lives.
Old Testament Background on Firstfruits
Since James 1:18 uses Old Testament imagery of “firstfruits,” looking at the background of firstfruits in the Law provides helpful context:
- The firstfruits of the harvest belonged to God and were holy (Exodus 23:19). They were an offering to express dependence on and thankfulness for God’s provision.
- Firstfruits were brought to the priests as an offering to the Lord (Deut 26:1-11). This honored God as the source of all blessing.
- Firstfruits were presented weeks after Passover, at the Festival of Weeks/Pentecost (Lev 23:9-21). This foreshadowed the coming of the Holy Spirit.
- The firstfruits offering came after the larger harvest had started – it was just the choicest portion that ripened first (Exodus 23:16).
- All of Israel was called to be God’s holy firstfruits: “For I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled My land and made My heritage an abomination” (Jeremiah 2:7).
So James draws on rich Old Testament imagery of God deeming the first portion of the harvest as set apart and holy for Himself. Now He has set apart a people for Himself through new birth in Christ.
We Are Firstfruits of an Even Greater Harvest
While James emphasizes the “firstfruits” status of believers, Scripture also reveals that God’s redemptive plan is bigger than just the church age. The full number of the redeemed throughout history is so vast, it cannot be counted by man (Revelation 7:9).
The firstfruits metaphor encompasses both ideas – believers have a special status now as firstfruits, but more harvest is to come. 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 explains this: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep…But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
Though chosen and called out first, believers are still just the initial part of God’s harvest. More await salvation when Christ returns. So the firstfruits imagery is both a blessing for believers now and a future hope of greater harvest as all creation is renewed.
Firstfruits Indicates a Promise of More to Come
The concept of firstfruits in the Bible carries the promise of a greater harvest still to come. The initial firstfruits offering came weeks after the barley harvest had started and signified more harvest was on the way. It was the choicest portion given as a pledge of the full crop.
Similarly, Christ’s resurrection as the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20) signaled the promise of future resurrection for all who belong to Him. And the firstfruits status of believers indicates a future fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan.
Romans 8:23 expresses this ongoing aspect of firstfruits: “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Believers have the firstfruits of the Spirit but eagerly await full redemption.
The firstfruits metaphor is a beautiful picture of God’s plan of redemption unfolding in stages. As believers, we have amazing spiritual blessings now as the firstfruits. But the full harvest is yet to come when Christ returns to make all things new.
How We Live as Firstfruits
Since Christians have been made firstfruits of God’s creatures through new birth, how should we live in light of this truth? Here are some key ways believers live as firstfruits:
- We live with gratitude and praise, recognizing God as the giver of all good gifts (James 1:17).
- We pursue holiness and obedience out of reverence for being set apart by God for His purposes (1 Peter 1:13-16).
- We prioritize bearing fruit for God’s kingdom through good works and sharing the gospel (John 15:8, 16).
- We generously use our time, talents, and treasures for God’s glory since we are His (1 Corinthians 10:31).
- We live with joy and hope in God’s promises, anticipating the full harvest to come (Titus 2:13).
In all things, we live as those made alive in Christ – set free from sin’s power and called to serve our gracious Redeemer. We have the immense privilege of glorifying God as the firstfruits of His new creation.
Firstfruits Offering as an Act of Faith
The firstfruits offering in the Old Testament required faith and obedience from the giver. Giving the first and best portion back to God was an act of trust even before the full harvest was complete. Farmers had to look past immediate needs to generously honor God first.
Similarly, living as firstfruits today requires faith and obedience. As believers, God calls us to generously give our time, talents, and treasures back to Him. This means surrendering our own priorities and agendas to honor God’s kingdom purposes first. We trust that as we seek His righteousness, God will meet our needs richly (Matthew 6:33).
When believers live generously and faithfully as firstfruits for God’s glory, we reflect His generous grace that made us new creations in Christ. Just as He gave us new life by His Word, we now live to bear fruit for Him out of thanks and praise.
Relevance of Firstfruits for Christian Living
The concept of firstfruits has important relevance for how Christians should live:
- We belong completely to God – As those made alive in Christ, we are His treasured possession and called to honor Him in all we do.
- We are set apart – Believers should live holy lives that align with being set apart for God’s purposes.
- We live for God’s glory – Our lives are no longer our own. We seek to bear fruit for God’s kingdom.
- We generously give back to God – Our time, talents, and treasures should reflect our identity as firstfruits.
- We cultivate greater harvest – Through gospel witness and good works, believers participate in God’s mission of redemption.
As firstfruits of God’s creatures, our lives are rooted in Christ. We have the immense privilege of living for the praise of His glory until He returns to bring the full harvest home.
Firstfruits Indicating a Foretaste of More to Come
The firstfruits offering in the Old Testament provided a foretaste of the full crop yet to be harvested. Though just a portion, it signaled the blessing of harvest that was coming.
In a similar way, Christians have received amazing spiritual blessings as those born again in Christ. But these firstfruits are just a foretaste of greater blessings to come for believers. Ephesians 1:13-14 describes this: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
Through the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work, we experience adoption as God’s children now. But even greater adoption and redemption awaits at Christ’s return. The firstfruits metaphor beautifully expresses this idea of partial blessing now but full blessing to come.
As firstfruits, we steward these initial blessings well when we live holy lives of worship, bear gospel fruit, generously use our gifts to bless others, and fix our hope fully on eternity. We have a foretaste that guarantees an amazing inheritance to come.
The Privilege and Responsibility of Being Firstfruits
Referring to believers as “firstfruits” indicates both privilege and responsibility:
- Privilege: We have the immense blessing of new life in Christ now as God’s special possession (1 Peter 2:9). We experience adoption as God’s children and have the Holy Spirit living in us.
- Responsibility: As those set apart and called out of spiritual deadness, we now devote our lives fully to God’s purposes. This means pursuing holiness, bearing gospel fruit, using our gifts to serve God’s kingdom, and living as sojourners on the way to our full inheritance.
Like the farmers presenting their firstfruits offering in dedication to God, we now live with joyful devotion to the One who showed us such amazing grace. Our lives are not our own – we now live all out for the glory of God.
The Purpose Behind Firstfruits
In the Old Testament law, God gave specific instructions about firstfruits offerings. But what was the larger purpose behind this requirement? We can highlight several key divine purposes:
- The firstfruits offering was an act of worship and thanksgiving toward God as the gracious provider of the harvest.
- It was a reminder of God’s faithfulness – despite challenges ahead, He who provided the firstfruits could be trusted to bring the full harvest.
- The offering was a demonstration of faith and obedience, willingly giving the best portion back to God first.
- It honored God as completely sovereign and worthy of all glory, praise, and trust.
- The offering set Israel apart from other nations who worshiped false gods.
Likewise today, living as firstfruits sets believers apart to joyfully honor and serve Christ. He is the gracious giver of all good gifts. Our lives are no longer our own – we now live totally for Him.
Some key takeaways on what it means for Christians to be “firstfruits” include:
- Through new birth by God’s Word and Spirit, believers are set apart for Him.
- We have the blessing of new life in Christ – adopted as God’s children.
- Believers belong fully to God as His treasured possession.
- We are called to live for God’s glory as holy firstfruits.
- Our lives should demonstrate Christ-like obedience and bear gospel fruit.
- We live with joy and hope, eager for the full redemption still to come.
- As firstfruits, we generously use our gifts to serve God’s purposes.
- In all things, we live with thanksgiving for the privilege of belonging to Christ.
What an amazing blessing to be called “firstfruits of His creatures!” As those divinely set apart for new life in Jesus, may we steward this privileged identity well for God’s glory.