May 18, 2013

Will I ever grow up…?

One definition of maturity is measuring how far I have come from “I want what I want when I want it.” This definition can also describe a lack of self-control.
And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” …. Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” 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 his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:30–34)

Esau was so hungry that he thought he would “die” without something to eat. His birthright was a major part of Hebrew life, but at that moment, it did not seem as important as a full stomach. His appetite ruled his world and he was swept away by the desires of the moment, not too much different from a hungry animal.

Esau wasn’t all bad and Jacob wasn’t any better. He tricked his brother more than once to get what he wanted for himself. His selfishness and conniving schemes may not have been as base, but Jacob was just as immature by giving no thought to others and being bent on serving himself.

I could point fingers and condemn both of them. However, Esau’s lack of self-control is no uncommon battle. What about that chocolate cake? What about those shoes that I didn’t need? What about those hasty words that were not kept behind sealed lips? What about those thoughts that no one else can see but so easily go out of control?

Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. While the natural man might have some of it, mere human self-control is a rationalization with self-betterment in mind, and still selfish. The self-control from God’s Spirit is about loving others more than me — and it comes with other qualities that prove it…

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22–26)

The mature Christian loves others with that self-sacrificing love Christ demonstrated in His death on the cross. The mature Christian is joyful, at peace, patient even when not getting what is wanted. If I am filled with the Spirit and behaving in a mature way, I will be kind, good, faithful, and gentle. I will also have a measure of self-control that enables me to put to death my fleshy desires (too much cake, shoes and so on) and walk according to the Spirit of God.

These verses describe Esau’s lack, but also expose Jacob’s behavior. He thought he should have more than he did (conceit and envy) so he pushed Esau to get it (provoking him). Both of them were walking in the flesh, and seemed to know very little about keeping in step with the Spirit.

I have no sympathy for these feuding brothers, but I cannot look down on them as if I am better at walking with God myself. The people in the Bible are real people with sinful attitudes and problems because of their self-centeredness. So am I. This is why grace and mercy are so important. Without God’s grace and without the selfless love of Jesus Christ, where is our hope? Can anyone grow up and be mature?

As the author of today’s devotional says, true self-control means willingness to resign the small for the sake of the great, the present for the future, the material for the spiritual. This is possible only by faith, and a faith that looks beyond right now. God didn’t promise me a rose garden here, but later. Only in eternity will I never have to struggle with, “I want what I want when I want it.”

Esau didn’t consider that he was losing the great by grasping at the small. When he felt a genuine and even legitimate need, the birthright appeared insignificant and far off in the distance. He had no self-restraint to keep him from surrendering to present gratification. His impulsive passion had no use for a far-off reward, so temptation could easily allure his eye, whisper in his ear, pull on his arm and offer satisfaction right now, making his birthright a poor thing compared to the stew.

The insistent “I wants” of life tend to distort my vision too. Temptation produces an exaggeration of the present need and makes those small I-wants look like the most important thing, and my immaturity and lack of Holy Spirit power will discredit the value of what giving in to temptation will lose.

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