Esau has been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe he seems a strange person to be giving much thought to, but I think Esau has an important warning for us today.
If you remember, he is famous for selling his birthright for a pot of stew (Genesis 25:29-34).
The birthright of a family’s eldest son guaranteed him certain rights and privileges and honor. At the father’s death, the eldest son inherited the father’s role as the leader of the family and the authority and responsibilities that came with that position. In addition, he was awarded twice what was given to any other sons.
To have so little regard for the responsibility and privilege of the birthright that one would sell it for a single pot of stew was profane. Scripture puts it this way, Thus Esau despised his birthright.
His flippant treatment of his birthright was the equivalent of despising it.
Christians are warned in Hebrews 12:16 not to be like Esau, not to sell our birthright, all that was won for us in Christ Jesus, for the momentary satisfaction of the flesh. In other words, we are warned against prioritizing the desires of the flesh over the things of God.
The writer of Hebrews compares the sin of Esau to sexual immorality and unholiness and warns Christians against this sin. This comparison is fascinating in an age where Christians are increasingly encouraged by many of the voices of the day to stop obsessing over sexual immorality, and the other sins connected to it, and to stop emphasizing holy living that involves denying oneself and taking up one’s cross (Mark 8:34-35). Instead, we are encouraged to focus on temporal, worldly satisfaction and the fulfillment of our desires.
Not all desires are sinful in themselves. The problem wasn’t that Esau was hungry or wanted something to eat. The problem was that he valued a pot of stew and the momentary alleviation of his growling stomach as of greater worth than the sacredness of his birthright and the honor, the privileges, and the responsibility that came with it. He had a temporal, earthly desire and was willing to throw away his inheritance and his entire future to fulfill it.
Like Esau, many Christians in the West have decided the sacred is for sale if the price is right. Offered the right pot of stew to tickle their fancies, the right worldly promises, the right national policies, and there isn’t much they won’t sign off on.
Do we think so little of our inheritance that we would exchange it to fulfill the desires of the flesh…an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” for us (1 Peter 1:3-7)?
What are we hoping to gain? Worldly popularity, relevance, power, money, security, comfort, fulfillment? This stew may taste good going down, but it will all come to dung in the end.
Jesus said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:34-38) Christians used to know the answer to that question. Now, when the right pot of worldly profit or ear tickling is placed on the table in exchange for that which God has declared true and sacred, many shrug their shoulders and say, “Add a bit more meat, and we can talk.”
Maybe the root issue is that in a culture saturated with Christian spirituality, people remain fairly illiterate concerning the Bible.
A great number of Christians can’t define the major tenants of the Gospel, can’t tell the difference between the United States of America and the Kingdom of God or the American dream and the finished work of Jesus, self-proclaimed prophets falsely prophesy in God’s name, a growing sect deny God’s Word as actually God’s Word, redefine God’s design, and certain pulpits and spiritual leaders have replaced scripture with academic, atheistic theories. And, let’s face it, many are being led down these paths of destruction by the very ones charged with shepherding their souls.
Do we really believe Christians who are willing to sell the sacred are eventually going to be willing to suffer for the sacred? Christians around the world and in times past have been martyred for less than the truths many Christians today are willing to hand over, but pulpits that have been silent when the cost of speaking was low have not prepared their people to stand firm when the cost of standing is high. And the cost is increasing.
I recently heard a pastor say Christians need to stop taking so many stands. I get where he’s coming from in an age of social media and perpetual offense and rage, but is taking a stand really the problem?
Jesus said to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to give to God what is God’s (Mark 12:14-17). The problem isn’t that Christians take stands; the problem is that Christians can no longer discern what is Caesar’s and what is God’s and, therefore, where to submit and where to stand. Universal healthcare ends up bearing God’s image and pre-born babies Caesar’s.
In Ephesians 6:10-17, Christians aren’t told to stop taking stands. On the contrary, we are told how to stand and what to stand against. We are to put on the whole armor of God that we may be able to stand against the devil’s schemes. Putting on the whole armor of God is how we stand. The devil’s schemes are what we stand against. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. Our battle is a spiritual one. The full armor of God enables us to stand firm in the evil day.
Instead of putting on the full armor of God, though, much of Western Christianity is busy deconstructing it. They place themselves in a position higher than God and declare their personal preferences and desires as the filter through which His Word is to be interpreted. My truth is the standard by which God is to be measured instead of vice versa, and my desires are the definition of what is right. Is it any wonder we are falling prey to the schemes of satan?
Because many Christians in the West can no longer define, and even reject, or attempt to redefine, the fundamentals of the faith, the first things, so to say, the Church is divided and tossed about by every changing wind.
I’m getting motion sick from all the tossing about.
Christians unable to unequivocally declare who Jesus Christ is are a body without a head. Christians unsure of the basic tenets of the faith and the fundamentals of the Gospel are a body without a skeleton. There’s no head uniting all the parts and no skeletal framework holding the body together. A body without a head is dead. A body without a skeleton is powerless.
Or as Paul puts it, we end up with a type of Christianity that has the appearance of godliness but denies its power. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) An empty religion cloaked in the language of Christianity but devoid of God’s power, genuine love, and the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. Timothy 3:1-52 Timothy 3:1-5
Too much of Western Christianity opposes the truth.
What’s the answer for the West?
The answer is Jesus Christ.
The real Jesus Christ. And, the purity of the Gospel, and the Truth of God’s Word.
It is said that the West needs a revival. Maybe in some ways that is true. But, much of what passes as Western Christianity appears to still be in the grave. What the dead need isn’t to be revived, but to be made alive. That’s what much of Western Christianity needs as well. Historically, standing firm against the schemes of the devil has meant not only standing firm in a godless culture, but standing firm against a godless Christianity.
I think of the words of Hebrews 10:35-36,
Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.
Don’t throw away your confidence in Jesus, in the Gospel, in God’s Word, and His promises, for a bowl of worldly stew. Don’t sell the sacred for a desire of the flesh. Don’t be like Esau and despise your inheritance…all that is promised in Christ.
Fix your eyes on Jesus and endure just as He endured. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross (Hebrews 12:1-2). For the great reward being kept for us in heaven, we endure in our day. We are not those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls, (Hebrews 10:39).
Is that so? Can that be said of us?
In the midst of a hostile world and a godless Christianity, let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful, (Hebrews 10:23). He is faithful. May it not be said of us that we are faithless…no matter how savory the stew.
Amen. And, amen.