“And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).
Just as humility was not a very often sought-after character trait in Jesus’ day, neither is it sought after in today’s society of “self-esteem” and “Me” generation.
Pride is promoted in our schools and paraded in our streets! Pride was the cause of Lucifer’s fall (now the devil, and Satan), and pride is at the root of all of our anger, and hatred toward one another and toward God. “There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up” (Proverbs 30:13).
The above parable spoken by Jesus to those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous” illustrates the point. The Pharisee was of a Jewish religious sect in Jesus’ day. The proud, hypocritical Pharisees opposed Jesus Christ and were instrumental in His death.
They had made the Old Testament law into an unreasonable and unscriptural system of legalism and ignored the spiritual meaning God had intended them to receive.
The publican was a tax collector for the Roman government. The publicans were hated by the Jews (1) because they collected taxes for the despised Roman government which ruled over Israel in the days of Christ, and (2) because the publicans were notoriously dishonest. The publicans were classed with “sinners,” “harlots, and the “heathen.” (Way of Life Encyclopedia)
It is interesting that Jesus said when the pharisee prayed, that “he prayed with himself”. He was proud of himself and thought that God was, too. He was self-righteous: one who is righteous through his own good works and moral living as a way of salvation; or disregarding God’s mercy and grace through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
Moral living is evidence of salvation (justification), not the means of it. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). However, in the next verse, Paul noted the importance of good works as a result of saving faith: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
The pharisee came before God in pride and went away empty. The publican came before God in humility, admitting that he was an unworthy sinner; and he went away justified (forgiven) “declared righteous.”
One of my favorite verses of Scripture is Isaiah 57:15. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
The “high and lofty”, and holy God reaches down through Jesus Christ to the humble and contrite to forgive and revive them.
The way to the heart of God is humility, not pride. We must heed the words of the Apostle Peter that he learned the hard way, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).