Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”  It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,  and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.  Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;  that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.  For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. (Hebrews 12:3-17 ESV)
Esau gets a bad rap in this text. He is called unholy and lumped in with the sexually immoral. What is it that caused him to be viewed as such by the author of Hebrews? He gets hungry and sells his birthright for a bowl of stew (Genesis 25:29-34). So, the satisfaction of hunger is a sin, the action of an unholy man?
The Bible tells us that Esau, as evidenced in the selling of the birthright for a single bowl of stew (must have been some She-Crab soup), despised his birthright (Gen 29:34). In doing so, Esau is demonstrating that he is both unwise and unholy. He gave up his God-given birthright, which would mean a double-portion of his father’s inheritance, for a bowl of stew! Clearly he was unwise in this action. But he was also unholy. Why? Because he satisfied his carnal appetite at the expense of his godly appetite. The birthright was a gift from God. It required patient trust. Had Esau trusted God, he would have eschewed the bowl of stew for the birthright. However, he wanted instant gratification, so he took the easy way out and satisfied his immediate desire.
What does Esau’s soup gluttony have to do with you? Why is this example located in the book of Hebrews? Let’s take the last question first. This comment by the author of Hebrews concerning Esau comes within a context. In Hebrews 11, the author presents person after person who demonstrates faith. Faith, we are told, is the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things unseen. Person after person believes God’s promises to them even though they don’t receive it while on earth! Then in Hebrews 12, the author calls his hearers to that kind of faith. He calls them to persevere in light of the persecution they are facing, just like the heroes of faith (Hebrews 11) throughout all of history. Perseverance needs discipline. Those who persevere are those who are disciplined. The goal of every parent in discipline is that our children will discipline themselves so that they will succeed in life. Esau is an example of one who is not disciplined. He does not persevere. He does not have saving faith. He is hungry and he is willing to do whatever it takes to get that bowl of stew. Even if it means sinning.
And there is the tie-in to our situation. We live in an Esau world. Everything we need or want is at our fingertips. Some of it is good. Some of it is not. But even the good can be abused. We are Esau-like when we choose the instant gratification at the expense of our God-given responsibility.
One area in which our Esau-likeness often manifests itself is in the area of parenting. Parenting is hard. We are called to discipline and be disciplined in our parenting. It takes sacrifice, a lot of sacrifice. Consider the following ways in which the easier way is Esau-like:
- God has given us our children. We are the primary gospel-stewards of these precious gifts. We are called to gospel our children. This means making sure that every part of our children’s day is a gospel opportunity.
- The Esau way is to give this responsibility to others. This may mean that you expect the church to be the primary source of discipleship in your child’s life. This may mean that the television disciples (children will follow who or what is the primary source of instruction) your children. It may mean that others (neighbors, Day Care workers, In-laws, etc.) may be the primary disciplers of your children. This is often the easier way, but it is not the godly way. The godly way is teach our own children to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and might (Deut 6:4).
- The Esau way is to give in to your children rather than to hold to the standards of discipline. We don’t want our child to throw a fit, so we give in. We don’t want her to hate us, so we give in. We don’t want to be embarrassed in the grocery store aisle, so we give in. This is the easiest way at the time of the tantrum/rebellion/etc. But it is not the godly way. The godly way understand that discipline seems painful (at the moment) but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Heb 12:11).
- There is a place for grace in parenting, but, we cannot use the word grace as a cover-up for permissiveness. The Esau way is to label permissiveness as grace. The godly way is to understand that we are not to continue to sin in order that grace may abound (Romans 6:1).
- The bottom line is that we may be more Esau-like in our parenting than we care to admit. The hardest job on this earth is that of a parent. Many of us shirk this responsibility either actively or passively. What is your bowl of stew? Is it time in front of the television? Is it your hobby? Is is your career? Is it money?
Godly living in an Esau world is tough. It takes faith and perseverance. Faith in God’s promises. Perseverance and discipline in everyday life. But it is worth it. I love Jim Elliot’s famous quote: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. Conversely, he is a fool who goes after what he cannot keep and loses what is assured.