Perils of Pride #8: Pride of Self-Righteousness

Luke 18:9-14

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:
10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector.
12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “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.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The third type of pride which I confess that I find resides in my heart is the pride of self-righteousness hidden behind a thin veil of dedication to holiness. I am guilty of being proud that I do not do certain things that the world does. I am proud that I don’t go see movies with any sex or cussing and I don’t drink beer. I think that sets me apart from a vast majority of people in the church. Now I see that this is nothing but self-righteousness and a cover-up for sins I do commit on a regular basis. There is a parable in the Bible in which I star as the main character. It is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14, as quoted at the beginning of this post. When I examine the pride of my heart, I realize that my prayers and my attitudes are the same as that of the Pharisee. Let’s take a look at this parable.

The first thing we notice about this parable in verse 9 is the audience to whom this parable is addressed. It is addressed to those who are confident in themselves. It is addressed to those who are self-righteous. It is addressed to those who look down on other people. In other words, it is addressed to me. I am guilty of all these things. I am guilty of all these things in my heart. And many times these sins in my heart flow outward toward others in my actions.

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is a story of similarities and contrasts. Let’s look at the similarities in these two men first. This will not take long. The only similarity between these two men is that they both went to the temple to pray. Everything else in this parable is a study in contrasts.

The contrasts between these two men are the theme of the parable. The first contrast to notice is their station in life. The first man was a Pharisee, a highly respected member of society, known for his piety and holiness. The other man was a tax collector, perhaps the most hated member of society. How often does our pride and self-righteousness show through because we have a respectable job, keep a clean and orderly house, and go to church on Sunday morning? How often do we look down on people because they don’t measure up to our standards in these areas?

The second contrast to notice is their non-verbal attitude in prayer. The Pharisee stood up to pray. The Amplified Bible tells us that the Pharisee “took his stand ostentatiously” (AMP). The tax collector stood far away and would not even look up to heaven as he prayed. And he also beat on his breast as he prayed. How often does our pride and self-righteousness drive us to want to stand in front and be noticed?

The third contrast to notice is the audience of their prayers. The NIV says that the Pharisee prayed “about himself”; however, I like the KJV better which says that the Pharisee prayed “thus with himself”. Why did he pray with himself? Because no one else wanted to listen to his prayer. Especially not God. But how about the tax collector? What is the first word out of his mouth? God. The tax collector is praying to God. How often does our pride drive us to speak things in order to toot our own horn?

The fourth contrast to notice is the length of their prayers. The Pharisee prayed a long prayer. But why? In Matthew 6:5 Jesus says “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 men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” (NIV) But the tax collector’s prayer was short and to the point. Maybe you can identify with me here: Have you ever thought about what you would have prayed when someone else is praying in church instead of listening and praying along with the person who was praying? I think this shows pride and self-righteousness.

The fifth contrast to notice is the subject of their prayers. What did the Pharisee cover in his prayer? Take a look at verse 11. He prays about his lack of sin as compared to other people. He prays about his good works as compared to other people. The tax collector’s prayer is significantly different. He prays about his sinfulness when compared to a holy God. At the end of verse 13, we see this phrase: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (NIV). However, this is a poor translation. The words really read like this: “God have mercy on me, the sinner.” The tax collector prays for mercy when his works are held up to God’s standards. If anything in this parable is an indictment against my pride and self-righteousness, it is this. My pride drives me to compare myself to other people, especially those people who I think are worse off than me, instead of looking to the example of righteousness given to us in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The sixth contrast to notice is the petition of their prayers. What does the Pharisee ask God for in his prayer? Nothing. He asks for nothing because he feels that he needs nothing from God. He is satisfied with his self-sufficiency. But what does the tax collector ask for? Mercy. Because he knows that he is damned because of his sinfulness unless God has mercy on him. My prayers are shallow and superficial because they are driven by my pride. I never take the time to examine the ugliness of my heart and confess what I find before God.

The seventh contrast to notice is the result of their prayers. The Pharisee went back home the same way he came into the temple – unjustified before God. The tax collector went home justified before God.

The application of this parable is found in the last half of verse 14: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (NIV) What is it that made the difference in the prayers of the two men? The difference was due to the fact that one man prayed with pride, while the other man prayed with humility. So, let me ask you a question as we conclude our look at this text: Is your attitude toward pride more like the Pharisee’s or more like the tax collector’s? Don’t be too quick to answer that question. Think with me for a minute through these questions:

How often do we ask God to contribute his power to the work we’ve already begun or done ourselves?

How often do we look around at society and thank God that we’re keeping ourselves pure compared to everyone else we know?

How often do we complain to God when we think we’ve been treated unfairly?

How often do we offer to do something for God in exchange for his positive answer to our prayer?

Here is a verse to contemplate as we close today. Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (NIV)

By Berean Husband


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