Senior pastor of the Trinity House Church, Lagos, Ituah Ighodalo, speaks to VICTORIA EDEME on first fruit, tithes, and offerings
How do you describe the first fruit offering?
The first fruit is the first of the offerings that you get in the course of the harvest year or when you begin a new venture. Exodus chapter 23 verse 16 says, ‘The feast of harvest, the first fruit of your labour, which you have sown in the field’. Traditionally, in biblical times, when you get into a new field, you plant corn, yam, barley, or wheat. At the end of the planting season, when the food has grown, there will be a first set of harvest that comes out from the ground. It may be three, four, or a whole sheaf. The very first set of harvest you get, you gather them together and you go and give them as an offering unto the Lord, as an acknowledgment that He made the ground to yield for you.
It is an offering of thanks and appreciation. What the Bible says is that if you do that and you put God first, the rest of your harvest will not fail and everything else that needs to come out of the ground for you during the harvest season will come out. In those days, you could plant and then after a while, new dew of locust, blight, or wrong climate may kill the rest of the harvest and not allow it to grow. But once you give God the first of the harvest, then He’s duty-bound to protect the rest of the harvest, which is now yours. That explains the first fruit.
How do you relate your explanation of the first fruit to the modern day?
In the modern day, the recommendation is that the first salary that you earn or the first income you generate from business as a businessman is your first fruit. You should come and present it to the Lord so that your income for that year will be guaranteed. The other side of the first fruit is that if you’ve been harvesting 10 tubers of yam regularly then all of a sudden something happens and it is 12 tubers and you’d be getting those 12 tubers regularly, the first two incremental tubers are also your first fruit. That’s the first fruit of your increase. So in the modern day, if you get a salary increase from N100,000 to N150,000, the additional N50,000 you get the first time you earn that N150,000, becomes the first fruit of your increase. This is to ensure that the increase doesn’t fail and that it continues. It is biblical and spiritual. That explains the first fruit.
How do you describe tithe?
Tithe is 10 per cent of your regular harvest. According to the Bible, it was first done when Abraham gave 10 per cent of his spoils to the high priest called Melchizedek. It is also an acknowledgment that the harvest comes from God. Therefore, you’ll give Him a compulsory offering of 10 per cent of your harvest. So on your regular income, after you have paid your first fruit, you pay a tithe on your subsequent income. The tithe will guarantee that the locust and the cankerworm will not come and devour your harvest. That is, you will not get your salary and waste it on unnecessary expenses.
Tithe also protects your salary or your income. You can make a lot of money and have nothing to show for it because you have wasted the money on frivolous expenses that you were not meant to spend on. So while the first fruit will guarantee that you will make the money, the tithe protects the way you spend the money and what you use the money for. Then you have your free will offering, which is up to you. There’s no compulsion as to the size or quantum. That one also goes with the law of harvest. He who sows sparingly will reap sparingly. Freewill offering is what you decide to give God in addition to the compulsory offerings that you are obligated or advised to give.
You mentioned the blessings attached to the first fruit. Is there any curse for those who do not pay it?
Those who do not pay first fruit run the risk of losing the rest of their harvest or not being able to get the right quantum of harvest that they should have got had they paid the first fruit. Therefore, you find them struggling. If your land is supposed to have given you a thousand tubers of yam, if you get your first harvest and you don’t pay that first harvest to God, instead of getting 1,000 tubers, you may just get 200. It means that you don’t have enough to do what you want to do. And if you now get the 200 and you don’t pay your tithe, instead of getting that 200, they may be spoiled. Rain may fall or disaster may happen and you lose that money even after you’ve earned it.
So one thing is earning the money, and the second thing is keeping the money. So that’s the risk you run, especially when you say you’re born again, you’ve given your life to Jesus Christ, and you want to serve God. You have a covenant with God to obey Him. If you’re serving another master like the devil or whatever, he will also bless you and you don’t have to meet all those obligations. Although sometimes even those blessings too, there are obligations that they may not tell you. It may not be recorded like the first fruit. What it means is that it’ll also add sorrow. It is the blessings of God that maketh rich and added no sorrow to it. So a lot of blessings that people who are not of God get also come with a bit of sorrow and at the end of the day, they may lose their child, their child falls sick or it gives them problems here and there.
What would you say about churchgoers who do not pay their first fruits but things are going well for them?
Things appear to be going well with them for that time and that season. We do not know how the whole thing will end. For example, a man has stolen yam and he has not been caught does not mean that the yam has not been stolen by him. One day, he’ll be caught and be made to account for all the yams that he has stolen. So when a lot of people make money, they’re wealthy and things are going well for them, but we don’t know what will happen in the end. At the end of it, when the iniquity is full, God will bring his judgment. Even if they seem to do very well here on Earth, for that disobedience, they may not make it to heaven. We’re not there so we cannot tell. Along the line, they may lose all their riches. I’ve seen it happen many times. People are rich today and towards the end, they lose everything. Some may die very tragic deaths or they die suddenly. Some may make all that money and spend it on sickness. Because it appears okay today doesn’t mean it’ll be okay tomorrow. It’s better to obey the injunctions of what you believe in.
Some pay their first fruits and still encounter issues in their businesses. Does it mean that the first fruit blessings did not work for them?
First fruit is only one of the many obligations that you need to do to ensure that your harvest and well-being are protected. If you pay the first fruit and then you start committing adultery, it nullifies that first fruit. If you pay the first fruit and you kill somebody or tell lies, the effect of that sin will be connected to your finances. So, total holiness is absolutely important. Then others may be under one kind of curse, yoke, or family obligation. If you don’t deal with that curse, yoke, or abomination, it will negate the effects of the first fruit. Many dynamics can affect the well-being of a person, other than just paying their first fruit. Sometimes, they’ve not done anything wrong and God may just be testing them. Just like Job, everything was done right and correctly, yet the enemy got permission and God granted the permission to attack the man. It happens like that sometimes. Sometimes, God allows such trials and tribulations. But when you suffer a little while, God will settle you. You can never tell what God is doing.
Does first fruit also cover one’s new job, regardless of what time of the year the person started the job?
When you start something new, your first income on that new thing that you have started is your first fruit. In this day and age, it depends on the structure of the income. Some people earn income only once a year. They may now decide to divide it by the 12 months and offer the 12th of it. There’s no really hard and fast rule about that. For example, for a landlord who receives yearly rent from his tenants at the beginning of the year, it may be foolhardy that the whole rent, which is his entire income for that year, be paid as first fruit. But if he has the faith to do it, believing God that one way or the other, he’ll raise income from another source, then he can go ahead. But if he doesn’t have much faith and he’s being prudent, he can divide that income into 12 and pay a 12th of it as his first fruit.
Does the first fruit include one’s first child?
Your first fruit includes your first child, especially males. He’s holy unto the Lord. You give that child back unto God like Hannah gave Samuel to God. What you also can do is to give a special offering instead of the child. You can also dedicate the child to God. That’s why we do what we call baby dedication. What is scriptural is dedicating not just your first fruit but all your children into God’s hands and giving them back to God to serve Him. Serving God doesn’t just mean that they’d be priests or pastors. They can serve God in any capacity, even as a banker, accountant, doctor, politician, or lawyer. What matters is that whatever they’re doing in that capacity, they’re doing it as unto the Lord and they’re using it to preach the gospel and to benefit mankind.
Do you preach about the first fruit to your members? How are they responding to it?
I believe in it and I practice it. Most of them do, maybe we have about a 60 or 70 per cent response. Of course, some people want to, but they don’t have the faith. Others have not prepared for it; they procrastinate or still don’t believe in it. It’s up to them. My job is to teach. You can’t compel the person to pay first fruit or tithe. It’s according to their faith. Some will always forget, some will feel a bit lazy, and some will always love their money much more than their God. That’s human nature. But then, every seed brings a harvest.
Does the first fruit belong to the pastor or the church?
The tithes and the first fruit belong to the priests; that is God’s way of compensating them for their commitment and dedication to the work of God. So when you pay your tithe, your tithe goes to sort out the welfare of the priests; both the high priest, the priest, and the sons of Levi, the musicians, and all that. They share it among themselves and they pay their tithe or first fruits to the high priest. These days, the money goes to the church primarily, which was what it was then, and then the church will divide it among its people as it deems fit. Some may go to the priests, Levites, welfare cases, the poor, or church building and enforcement. That is how it generally is. What you do is that you’re giving it to God and God is giving it to his people.
A viral video of a pastor who said the first fruit belonged to him and not the church recently led to criticisms online. What are your thoughts on that?
I have already said it. In the Bible, when you give the first fruit, the first fruit goes to the priests and the Levites to share among themselves. Some people may say that they are the high priests so the first fruits should go to them. That’s up to them. But I would rather say it’s something that’s shared among the people who serve God on a full-time basis. That’s the essence of the first fruit. But these days, the church hierarchy can decide how best to use that money for the service of God. The church is then obligated to take care of the needs of the people who serve the people of God on a full-time or part-time basis.
Are you saying members have to cater to their pastors?
Absolutely, especially if he’s doing it full-time, he has obligations too. He has to feed himself, feed his family, clothe himself, send his children to school, live somewhere, or drive a car. That thing must come from somewhere. In those days, the Levites and the sons of Aaron did no work other than serve in the temple. They have no farmlands. All they had were residential quarters where they lived. They needed to be catered for so that they could spend their time catering to the people of God. That was what led to the creation of the first fruit and the tithe.