Matthew 16:26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
Humans are finite creatures. We also have a finite understanding and perspective of life. In other words, we live according to what we can see, touch, feel, and experience in our bodies, which are finite. As such, we have trouble seeing beyond the matters of the here and now. It is a part of our fallen nature to live in such a way, because it has darkened our understanding.
The result is that we end up becoming like Esau, who traded his birthright for a bowl of stew. A birthright was a very important thing in his day. It was given to the first born son, which he was, because he was the first twin to be born just before Jacob. The birthright meant special privilege and portion of the inheritance of his father. But in this particular family, it meant so much more. This is because of the promises that God had made to Abraham and his descendants after him. There would be a special line with a special purpose, which would receive a special blessing.
So why would Esau give his birthright up for a bowl of stew? Two main reasons: He was short-sighted and the Bible says that he despised his birthright. Both boil down to the fact that he was more concerned with short-term, temporary things than he was long-term, eternal things.
Esau did become a great man in the world. The nation of Edom came from his loins. He was wealthy and powerful. But Scripture’s final word on Esau in Hebrews 12:16-17 is that he was an immoral and godless person, who was rejected by God because of his unrepentant heart. He remained steadfast in living a short-sighted life and forfeited not only his birthright, but his soul.
What a fearful lesson for us to consider! God has provided the promise of the gift of eternal life by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, through His death on behalf of sinners and His powerful resurrection conquering death and hell. The offer of eternal salvation is made to us all. However, it is not guaranteed to us all. It will only come to those who repent of holding to and trusting in our finite understanding and the things of this world, and instead turn to holding to and trusting in Christ.
In the verse just previous to the verses about Esau in Hebrews 12 it gives a warning, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God.” God’s requirement is that we do not come short of His grace, but to instead come all the way. Don’t trade away your eternal soul for a bowl of stew, no matter how good it may seem in the here and now.
As for the second part of Matthew 16:26 above, it might be a clearer translation to say, “What would a man give in return for his soul?” In other words, can a man redeem himself by some means that he can come up with on his own?
We can actually go to Psalm 49 to get an answer to this question. In this psalm, the psalmist is making clear that the righteous need not fear nor envy those who trust their wealth or boast in the abundance of their riches in this world. Why not? Because their wealth will do them no good when it comes to that which is most important, the redemption of their souls. He plainly states, “No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him. For the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever.”
So then, no matter how much wealth, power, influence, popularity or any other such thing that seems valuable in the world that someone may possess, none of it amounts to a hill of beans for the redemption of one’s soul.
The reason why is because the redemption of a man’s soul is much too costly for him to pay the price for it. So who can pay the price for a man’s soul? Only God can provide the payment. Because what is impossible with men is possible with God.
Jesus shed his precious blood to pay the penalty for our sins and make it possible for our souls to be redeemed. The psalmist declares triumphantly that as opposed to the eternal punishment that those who trust in their riches will receive, “God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me.”
So how much is your eternal soul worth to you? Is it worth abandoning everything you have been trusting in and holding to in your finite mind and body in order to trust in and follow the One who paid the costly price for your soul so that you could have eternal life? After all, Jesus is the only way. He is the way, the truth, and the life.