Selling Our Soul for a Bowl Full of Gruel

Last week I read an alarming passage in Hebrews: “See to it … that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.” I thought: Who would ever condemn in the same sentence both adultery and poor, hungry Esau?

Then I remembered a blogger I read. Last fall he urged followers to sign up for a goal-setting course called 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever. He shared his own goals for 2015, and I quote:

  1. Publish a bestselling book and sell at least 50,000 copies in the first year.
  2. Get a six-figure advance for my next book contract by the end of the year.
  3. Make a million dollars in revenue from my business.

If these were the goals of a secular entrepreneur, I’d merely pity him. But he’s a Christian writer. His perverted goals didn’t stop at numbers. He dug his grave deeper when he said,

Now, please hear my heart on this. All of the above is not about money. Money has never made me any happier. What has changed my happiness … is my belief in myself.

I suppose I still feel sorry for him. He’s a young man, unsure of how to handle success. He’s hungry for something—money or fame or self-esteem—but I pity him the way I pity Esau.

He’s selling his soul for a bowl full of gruel. Which God equates with adultery.

Tilling Soil or Digging Graves?

It’s great to evaluate goals. We examine our lives and intentionally focus on areas for which we sense God’s call. We shed distracting activities to nurture God-inspired pursuits. But whenever our goals focus on the results instead of the call, we’ve begun to walk a path toward adultery.

It’s obvious when our goals are worldly: to write a “bestseller” or become a millionaire by the age of twenty-five. But what about the seemingly innocent goals of growing our church to five hundred people, or helping our thirteen-year-old cellist become the next Yo-Yo Ma?

God invites us into comradeship with him, not to measurable fruit. God calls Ezekiel with these cheery words:

The house of Israel will not listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me … Go to your people, and speak to them saying, “Thus says the Lord God,” whether they listen to you or refuse to hear. (Ez. 3:7 and 11)

Are we devoted to a cause or devoted to God himself? God calls us to act as he leads, and to leave the results up to him. He invites us up into partnership with him. He even calls Ezekiel (and us) into friendship with him through the shared suffering of God’s rejected Word.

Whenever we try to force the results, our devotion is to our cause not to our King. God calls us to till the soil and spread the seed, but to leave the growth up to him.

Visible and Invisible

Sometimes God shows his love for us by limiting our visible fruit. Our hearts can’t handle it and remain pure. My blogger friend accomplished all three of his 2015 goals, and then he found his resulting happiness in “my belief in myself.” Yikes!

Of the two tests of God—seeming success or seeming failure—any intense concentration on visible fruit will form an impregnable prison from which we can’t escape.

God invites us into such a deep devotion to him—a personal, intimate connection with the Almighty—that sunshine or storms, safe-harbors or shipwrecks, all pale in an inexplicable joy of knowing him. Lasting happiness is found through a belief in him, not a belief in ourselves.

Ezekiel never got a million shekels from his ministry, nor a six-figure advance for his next scroll; he probably didn’t make the bestseller’s list while he lived, nor sell 50,000 copies the first year.

Though a few people have heard of him.


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What do YOU think?

17 thoughts on “Selling Our Soul for a Bowl Full of Gruel

    • Hi Lloyd,

      Ouch indeed. We’ve all heard the expression that the things we criticize in other people are very often the very same things we are guilty of.

      I think God sometimes lets us see an extreme expression of life in someone else to point us to a path we ourselves are taking. For me as a writer, it is ever-so-easy to want to know measurable statistics (number of readers, book reviews on Amazon, etc.). And yet God invites me into a relationship with him, and he invites me to be satisfied with that intimacy.

      It means that intimacy itself can be all that will ever satisfy; it means there is more for me in him, just in him.

      I hope my sharing convicts others of the life we can have, and we all share more and more how to find that life in Christ alone.


      • Sam,

        This week you are on a theme which all Christians who are laboring to be faithful need to really meditate into their lives.

        Not to set you up for a pride-fall, but to encourage you, I have shared several of your blog’s with my Catholic brothers and even some deacons and two priests in the past. Responses where received were positive.

        BTW, my name is Stan Knotts (go by my middle). Bob Allums, a friend of ours, is a friend from 10th on. God brought the light of the gospel to me through his witness.

        Peace & Blessings!


        • Hi Stan (aka Lloyd!),

          Thanks for your personal sharing and encouragement.

          So glad to know that you know Bob. He and I have become great friends. In fact, in all my years of knowing him, he seems to be a man concerned with knowing God’s will more than measurable results. He’s a good man.


  1. Just exactly what I needed today. Thank you Jesus! My 15 yr old son has had tremendous success in soccer. Yet I’ve found it to become a “prison” as we watch each match for his performance, wait for the next Natl call up – or not, or wait for the phone call today to see if a big club wants him which may result him moving away at 16. The anxiety has made the game impossible for me to watch and enjoy! But what do I long for? Really just the simple gift of my son knowing and loving and enjoying our Lord and being loved by Him. So, with your encouragement, I’ll choose for this moment the discipline of rest that the outward success or fruit isn’t important or what I truly want. Jesus is who I want for my son, for me, for my family. Thanks Sam

    • Hi Bonnie,

      Thanks. I love your line, “outward success or fruit isn’t important or what I truly want.”

      It’s true! We don’t always believe it, or feel that way, or act that way; but it’s true.


  2. Hmm. Can you help me get to your worthy conclusion (“Setting our hearts on goals is a kind of adultery because our hearts should be wedded to God alone”) from this passage in Hebrews?

    I think the author of Hebrews is saying, “Think of Esau when you are sexually tempted, because you like him are considering exchanging your full inheritance in Christ to satisfy a fleeting appetite of the flesh.”

    Never mind. I see it. You just jumped over the plain application to the broader implication, and I had trouble keeping up. 😉

    • Yeah, like you said, we are “exchanging our full inheritance in Christ to satisfy a fleeting appetite of the flesh” (or things “under the sun” as Ecclesiastes like to call things of this world).

  3. “God invites us into comradeship with him, not to measurable fruit.” I love that, it’s so true and very counter cultural.

    My brother once lost his funding for church planting in a very tough area of Texas because he didn’t meet the quota of numbers of church members he was supposed to get in six months, and had to stop even though many people’s lives were being radically changed.

    Julia Cameron in her book the Artists Way talks about something similar when she says you are in charge of the quantity of work, but God is in charge of the quality, meaning to me that we still work and have goals and even measure them, but the meaning of our efforts and the results are in Gods hands and flow out of relationship with him. That really takes the pressure off.

    • I like your rephrasing when you say the “meaning of our efforts” (as well as “the results”) are in God’s hands, and that they “flow out of our relationship with him.”

      That’s really good.

  4. Great post, Sam! Might be even top 5!? I’ve been struck recently that humans, but especially American men, are reflexive performance-evaluators. We’re always “hewing out cisterns that hold no water” (Jer 2:13) instead of running to his full one of perfect achievement!

    • Thomas,

      You are a funny man! “Maybe even in the top “5”!! Excellent!

      But I especially like the metaphor you reference when Jeremiah say we “hew cisterns that hold no water.” Thanks for that (scary) thought.

  5. Sam, I just learned another insight on Esau and Jacob with the stew this past Shabbat in Torah class.
    I leaned that the Jews on eat lentil stew when someone passes away. Also, that Esau took his birth right for granted and gave it away because he saw no hope, so he might as well eat be merry and die. Paul refers to this attitude in I cor. 15 if our Lord had not risen from the dead. Jacob saw the importance of the birth right and more so the promise of a resurrected life. Like your blogger he has taken his birth right lightly for wealth over his responsibility to God and the resurrection to come.

    • We all take the resurrection too much for granted. Paul (in that same 1 Cor. 15 passage) says that if the resurrection isn’t true, “we are to be most pitied.”

      For me to be “most pitied” would mean that all my life is based on that event. And I (for one) am not there yet.


  6. Sam,
    The consensus of the Thursday Night Guys (aka Jake, Aaron, and me) is that you nailed it on this one. Whether in the form of adultery (seeking relationship with someone or something other than the intended Beloved), idolatry (giving allegiance or devotion to the temporal and tangible rather than the immortal, invisible), or worldliness (assessing by the pervasive rather than the transcendent standard), we are infatuated with the bigger and better immediate gratification rather than seeking the city in the heavens whose builder rewards those who seek Him in faith. Framed in this fashion, the choice of alternatives appears obvious, but the sources of distraction are so prevalent, compelling, and persistent.
    Keep the provocations coming.