“When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, ‘Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.’ Therefore his name was called Edom.
But Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’
Esau said, ‘Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?’
And Jacob said, ‘First swear to me’; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.
Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” (Genesis 25)
Hebrews 12:15-16 commands Christians “that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.” The King James Version refers to Esau not as “godless” but as a “profane person.” This accurately captures the nature of Esau’s mistake.
The essence of the term “profane” is in “serving to debase or defile what is holy” or “to treat (something sacred) with abuse, irreverence, or contempt.” Profanity is the treatment of holy things as though they were common things.
Esau treated his birthright as though it were common currency. He took this great and precious right, and counted it as less valuable than a common bowl of soup.
Anything that is holy can be profaned. When viewed in this way, speaking of “God” or “Jesus Christ” as if they were common names is the very essence of profanity. So is speaking casually of Biblically significant concepts such as heaven or hell.
Of course, as Esau demonstrates, profanity is not only a temptation concerning the use of words. 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 refers to Christians’ bodies as “members of Christ” and “temples of the Holy Spirit.” What could possibly be more profane than using Christ’s members, or the Holy Spirit’s temple, for sexual immorality or reckless personal enjoyment?
Romans 8:17 tells us that as adopted sons and daughters of God, we are also “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Just like Esau, we have a birthright, as well as the opportunity to trade that birthright for common, worldly things.
At what cost would you sell the birthright that comes with being an heir of God?
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)