We, as human beings, are very moved by what we can see. How many times have we believed a person to be a good Christian, God-fearing and diligent in following the word of God by observing their behaviour, but something about their life seemed out of place? Their life was stagnant and expressionless even though they did everything by the book. Jesus had something to say to a group of apparent God-fearing men one day that sheds light onto why God does not answer theirs and indeed some believers’ prayers.
‘Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat 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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Luke 18:9–14)
The Pharisees were men who knew and taught the law of Moses and held a prestigious position in Jewish society. They embodied the Jewish tradition and were afforded the freedom to express it even though their country was now dominated by Roman rule. The tax collector was a Jewish man who worked for the Romans. This profession was of ill repute amongst the Jews, since most tax collectors were dishonest, corrupt, and symbolised Roman occupation and exploitation of the Jewish people.
In the eyes of the people, the Pharisee was obedient to God and righteous in everything he did. The other man; the tax collector, was considered a thief and a traitor as he overcharged on taxes and forwarded them on to the Roman occupiers.
In this teaching, we see that the first man, who was supposedly doing everything right before the law, was not approved by Jesus. His religiousness and traditions might not have revealed his true nature because his sin was not evident. His following of the law to the letter made him think that he was better than other and that is where his sin was found out – PRIDE; one of the most rotten of all. He thought that his actions and following of the word of God would automatically justify his behaviour before Him. He failed however when he began to exalt his achievements as if God had to recognise him for them, when, in fact, we all have to be humble in recognising God’s sovereignty over us. None of our works can ever make us worthy of anything from Him.
We constantly have to remind ourselves that Jesus does not look to the outward appearance, but cares for what we have and are inside. Being righteous is our obligation before man but especially before God. It is not something to boast or brag about; on the contrary, righteousness is humbleness.
That is why we must be careful when receiving or giving praise. Pride leads a person closer to their downfall, however humility makes a person know God. So, whatever we do, let the glory be given to God.
And before honour is humility. (Proverbs 18:12)