Prayer: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
In Luke 18 Jesus teaches us about humility, and self-righteous in prayer through the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
In verses 10-12 the Pharisee compares himself to others. He focuses on his good works. The man was full of praise, but he rejoiced “not for who God was but rather for who he was!” By most standards he was a good, upright church member. … The reality is, he was self-righteous and arrogant. His prayers focused on himself not on God.
It is possible to address your words to God, but actually be praying to yourself, because your focus is on yourself, not on God. It isn’t hard to have such a high opinion of self when you compare yourself to other people; it often is not difficult to find someone worse.
In verse 13 the Pharisee is contrasted with a tax collector who stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ What did the Tax Collector focus on?
- Measured himself against SCRIPTURE and found himself lacking.
- He recognized that he was a sinner.
- Understood that his focus was God and not SELF.
- The tax collector relied on the mercy and compassion of God.
- He asked for forgiveness, repentance, and mercy.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “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. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
– Luke 18:9-14
The justification of the tax collector was immediate. He humbly came to God on the basis of His (God’s) atoning sacrifice and was justified. He didn’t earn his justification, and he didn’t have a probationary period; he was simply justified.
Essentially, the Pharisee saw prayer and his spiritual life as a way to be exalted, but the tax collector approached God in humility. True humbleness is simply seeing things the way they are. The Pharisee saw himself as something great when he wasn’t, and the tax collector saw himself as a sinner needing God’s mercy, which he was.
We gain nothing by coming to God in the lie of pride. Scripture is clear that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).
“AND WHEN YOU PRAY, DO NOT BE LIKE THE HYPOCRITES, FOR THEY LOVE TO PRAY STANDING IN THE SYNAGOGUES AND ON THE STREET CORNERS TO BE SEEN BY OTHERS. TRULY I TELL YOU, THEY HAVE RECEIVED THEIR REWARD IN FULL.”