Pharisees were the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They would have been educated in the Old Testament Scriptures and would have been required to memorized the first five books, the Torah—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. This is certainly commendable. They observed 613 laws of the Old Testament, or at least attempted to do so. As the Pharisee prays (see Lk 18:8-14), he expresses pride in his good deeds and upright life style. He fasts twice a week and tithes (10%) of all of his income to the temple. By anyone’s standard, he’s a good guy, but he is full of spiritual pride. Instead of being thankful for all of God’s gifts to him; he seems to think he’s a gift to God. Unfortunately, we all have a little Pharisee in us. Instead of being thankful to be part of what God is doing through our church, our giving, our volunteerism, we tend to think we are pretty good for all that we are doing for God. Spiritual pride is damaging and destructive. It keeps us from growing and living in the fullness of God’s blessings.
Scriptures – Pr 16:8; Lk 18:8-14; Mt 5:16
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.’” (Lk 18:10-11) “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Lk 18:13-14)
Spiritual pride may come in the form of self-sufficiency. “I was raised in the church, received attendance awards and know all the Bible stories. There’s really not much the preacher can talk about that I don’t already know. I can do church at home or come when it works, because I am good with the God stuff. I provide for my family and things are going well with the job, homelife, etc. I am managing it all!” Once we think we’ve arrived, we stop listening, learning and growing. Self-importance can also derail our growth. When we start thinking we are a real blessing to the church, how would it get by without all that we do. We see ourselves as doing more, working harder and being more devout and faithful than others. This can lead to judging those who fall short of our lofty standard and thinking we deserve special consideration regarding church matters and also God’s blessings. Spiritual pride comes in many forms, but comparison is one of the biggest pits that a Christ-follower can fall into. Like the Pharisee’s prayer, we start being thankful we aren’t a big sinner like so and so. We measure our godliness against “others” and we come out on top. Humility is what God desires. The tax collector who was hated by society felt unworthy to even look up to heaven. His heart was in the right place. His prayer wasn’t about all his good deeds; it reflected his heart. He wanted to be right with God but realized his unworthiness. Jesus makes it clear that the tax collector went home justified (right) before God because of his humility.
How do you recognize sincere humility? What do you feel you deserve? How do you respond when someone makes a self-deserving statement, “I deserve _____”? Have you ever thought that by sharing how God has blessed your life you might be perceived as spiritually prideful? Do you feel God has slighted you when others praise God for their blessings? How do you handle a compliment or thank you for something you’ve done? How can self-sufficiency and self-importance topple the ministry, church, mission of Jesus Christ? What have you observed?
Response – Only compare yourself with Jesus. You will never measure up and that’s a great way to stay humble. Don’t worry about everyone else by comparison. Be thankful for God’s mercy and that he didn’t give you what you deserve.
Prayer – Gracious Lord, help me to always recognize my need for your grace, mercy and forgiveness. I know that I’ll never arrive until I am with you in heaven. Keep me open that I may listen and learn from your word every day of my life. Help me to compare myself only to you and to recognize your love and mercy for every person no matter their flaws. In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.