The word worldly is often used today to describe a person who is sophisticated or refined in their tastes. But the biblical meaning of this word is something quite different. Worldly in Scripture is synonymous with “ungodly.”
Hebrews 12:16 characterizes Jacob’s brother, Esau, as a worldly or profane person because he did not value his birthright. Instead of regarding it as a legacy from God and a token of divine promises made to His forefathers Abraham and Isaac, Esau treated his right to this inheritance as if it were something insignificant. When Jacob offered to purchase the family inheritance with a bowl of lentil stew, Esau agreed with an oath (vv. 29–33).
Did Esau think that Jacob was merely joking? Did Esau believe he would eventually be able to win it back? The story suggests that Esau didn’t think at all. He ate the meal and walked out without giving his rash vow a second thought. In so doing, he became the prototype of the person “whose god is their belly” (Phil. 3:19).
Esau eventually regretted this decision (see Gen. 37:36). But it was too late. We often criticize Jacob for his scheming, and other texts examine his character flaws more fully. But Scripture also lays blame on Esau. The fact that Esau did not value his inheritance indicated that he did not value the things of God. When he finally apprehended its true worth, it was too late. Esau had carelessly traded away what was most precious.
An old hymn asks, “Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God?” The implied answer to the question is “No!” Do we value the things that God values? Or are we willing to trade our spiritual inheritance for immediate gratification?
Many churches—and Christians—do not seem concerned about worldliness. Some want to show others that they are in touch with the world. Who are we trying to impress? If you find that you embrace attitudes and practices that God despises in order to fit in with the culture, repent today and seek the Lord’s righteousness (Matt. 6:33).