There are many instances and lessons in the Bible of where we see that pride goes before a fall. This section of scripture shows it in the light of how we live our lives as Christians, and how not to live. It shows the difference between one who is self-righteous and another who recognises that righteousness comes only from God.
Anyone who believes they are righteous on the basis of what they do is mistaken. This Pharisee in this section of scripture was proud and arrogant, yet he thought that he was righteous. He was not even aware that his pride would lead to his fall. Let’s look at what the Lord had to say.
“God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” (Verse 11) This Pharisee was condemning other men. He was acting the part of a judge and as we know the Lord teaches us to, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2) It was neither his place nor his right to cast judgement on other for that is to take the position of God who is the great lawgiver and judge.
Then the Pharisee justifies himself by saying, “I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.” (Verse 12) Righteousness is not based upon giving tithes or fasting. Tithes have nothing to do with a righteous life and just because a person tithes it will not commend them to God. It is the same with fasting. So then we see the way the tax collector approached the Lord.
The tax collectors were not particularly well liked in the days of the Lord. (Some things never change). But we see this tax collector had a heart for the Lord. When he came to pray we see an entirely different attitude to the Pharisee. It says that he was, “…standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Verse 13)
The tax collector recognised he was a sinner. He had no illusions about his personal state of affairs and he came to God not to show how good he was, but to seek God’s mercy. He approached God with humility and so received the request that he made of God for we see Jesus then said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” (Verse 14)
Self Exaltation and the Way to God
Finally this section of scripture ends with the words, “…for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Verse 14) To coin a modern phrase, self praise is no praise at all.
On the day when we stand before the Lord we will hope that we receive the ultimate exaltation from God. Our hope is that he may say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” It is not for us to stand before him and sing our own praises. It is not for us to stand as the Pharisee did and say, “What a good boy am I.” What we may or may not say will be meaningless for the Lord will judge everyone according to his standards, not what we may think.
Thus it is important for us to learn what pleases God now and live in accordance with His standards. We must learn humility and not stand full of pride and arrogance as the Pharisee stood in judgement of others. If we are to draw near to God it must be on his terms, in humility and faith.
(Photo sourced from stock.xchng www.sxc.hu/ taken by Emiliano Spada)