Firstfruits
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Firstfruits

Romans 8:23

The message of this verse is magnificent.
Some might complain that it is too magnificent.
They might complain that it moves us into an atmosphere which only a saint or an apostle can be expected to breathe.
Many of us seem to think we need something more than this to help us combat the petty temptations of our day.
But, if we look at these words, we will see that the man who wrote them was most familiar with the everyday sufferings of men.
We imagine that such lofty yearnings rise far above the common day experiences
to give us any strength in meeting the temptations of everyday life.

Paul, and the people to whom he wrote, were surrounded by severe, earthly temptations.
And yet, Paul tells those tempted people that both he and they were praying for the redemption of the body.
And in our day such aspiration is the only safeguard against temptation's daily snares.

Paul now proceeds to call our attention to our own feelings and experiences.
This means that if the unintelligent and inanimate creation is longing for the revealing of the sons of God,
how much more we should long for that glorious event.
Even now we enjoy a blessed freedom.
We are delivered from the guilt and dominion of sin and the curse of the law.
Still, we have much to suffer while we live in this world.
But we wait for the full manifestation of our adoption as children of God.

Paul had turned aside from his main theme about present trial and coming glory for the children of God,
and had drawn an illustration of the greatness of that glory from the prospect,
which lies before the whole created universe.
Then, his thought swings back to focus itself on the pain and travail which are common to the world of nature,
and to the sons of God before we can receive the glorious destiny which He has planned for us.

We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, but we have not yet received our inheritance.
We have received the Spirit, but as yet only as a firstfruits and guarantee of the glory that is to be.
The inheritance is assured, but the full possession is not yet ours.
We have received the Spirit and already live in the security of our sonship,
but we still live in the flesh looking forward to the fulfillment of which Paul calls the "revealing of the sons of God."

So, Paul moves from the creation to the church which is the new creation of God.
Notice, the transition from the one to the other as we see from verse 22 and verse 23.
"Not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit,..."
It is as though Paul would invest the truth with as strong a personal element as words would permit.
Its meaning is defined by the qualifying parenthesis: "Which have the firstfruits of the Spirit."

Paul borrowed the image of firstfruits from the ancient custom of a thank offering at the time of harvest.
Used figuratively, the firstfruits; signify the assurance of much more to follow.
It is the first down payment which secures the rest of the payment in God's time.
The first portion of the harvest is regarded as a first installment and as a pledge of the final delivery of the whole.
The Holy Spirit is regarded as an anticipation of final salvation, and has a pledge that we,
who have the Spirit shall receive the fullness of the glory of our Lord.
Possession of the Spirit is a great privilege, but that possession is not God's final gift
for which we, as Christians, still look forward to eagerly.

So, the present experience of God's children is that of the firstfruits. (5:23)
The meaning of firstfruits is expressed with other metaphors,
such as anointing, sealing, and earnest or guarantee. (2 Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:20)

The same teaching about the Spirit as firstfruits is conveyed by the use of the words "pledge" or "earnest."
The word "earnest" is employed in modern Greek for an engagement ring as the pledge of the coming marriage.
It has been suggested that some readers of the epistle may have inferred
from Paul's use of "firstfruits" in this passage that the possession of the Spirit
is the believer's identification card.
There is papyrus evidence for this sense of the word.
Although that is not precisely what Paul means here, this is something similar to that,
which is implied by the "sealing" with the Spirit as seen in Eph.1:13 and Eph. 4:30.

Firstfruits refers to the Jewish custom of presenting to God
the earliest ears of corn or fruit as a thanksgiving and a prayer.
Used figuratively, "the firstfruits" for the Christian signify the assurance of much more to follow,
namely the revelation of the glory or the liberty of the glory.

These are the firstfruits because:

  1. They come first -- as the wave-sheaf was the first of the harvest,
    so the graces which adorn the spiritual life are the first gifts of the Spirit of God in our souls.
  2. They were the pledge of the harvest - as soon as the Israelite had plucked the first handful of ripe ears.
    They were to him proofs that the harvest had already come.
    When God gives us His Spirit, we have the fruits of the Spirit.
    So, when God gives us the fruits of the Spirit which are love, joy,peace, etc., this is a prophecy of the coming glory.
  3. They were always holy to the Lord. The first ears of corn were offered to the Most High.
    Surely our new nature with all its powers must be regarded by us as a concentrated thing.
  4. They were not the harvest. Not one Jew would have ever been satisfied with just the firstfruits.
    So, when we get the firstfruits of the Spirit of God, we are not to say, "I have it all."
    Oh! No! The firstfruits should only excite us and induce anticipation of much more glorious things to come.
    They should give us an insatiable thirst for the so much more.

The influences of the Spirit are not merely a promise of the future,
they are the actual commencements of the golden harvest of eternal glory.
Whatever blessings the Spirit has bestowed are pledges of the future possession.

The Spirit of our Lord who lives within us will destroy the love of sin and induce within us the desire for purity.
He will inspire within us faith, love, and hope.
These are all to be regarded as pledges of what we shall be in the future.
Heaven begins in us on earth.

These are the seeds of the harvest of glory.
The firstfruits are the roots of the future tree of blessedness.
They are the embryo of the perfect man that we shall be when see Christ.
They are the outline of the picture which shall be finished in eternity.
They are the first streaks of light.
They are the first gleams of that dawn which shall brighten into the splendor of glory.

"I have read of a beautiful city,
Far away in the kingdom of God;
I have read how its walls are of jasper,
How its streets are all golden and broad.
In the midst of the street is life's river,
Clear as crystal and pure to behold;
But not half of that city's bright glory
To mortals has ever been told.

I have read of bright mansions in heaven,
Which the Saviour has gone to prepare;
And the saints who on earth have been faithful,
Rest forever with Christ over there;
There no sin ever enters, nor sorrow,
The inhabitants never grow old;
But not half of the joys that await them
To mortals have ever been told."

"Numberless blessings He since has bestowed,
Mercies from heaven like rivers have flowed;
So many wonderful things He has done,
And praise His glorious name,
He has only begun!"

Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White Email Dr. White at hleewhite@aol.com