I remember vividly a time in life where I wanted to be some great evangelist who would win thousands to Christ. I thought it would be cool to have the ability to speak the Gospel in simple terms that would convict hearts to the point of repentance. And in a sense, though the cause was good and right, my heart was not in the right place. You see my heart unknowingly at the time wanted God to receive countless souls into His Kingdom, but not because it was a God-given call; rather because I would become famous. Many would know my name and people would flock to hear me. I would be the talk, especially among the Christian world.
And so God has helped me to see with time that being an evangelist is not my gifting and that my desires were simply coming from my pride – wanting to feel like I was doing something grand for God. God had to humble me – and He did it through minimal responses to the Gospel invitation that I have offered. Thank God I see it now.
There’s a parable in Luke that speaks of this kind of pride – this self-righteousness. A parable that reminds us all that we can very easily fall into the trap of pride as Children of God if we’re not on guard. It’s a parable that reminds us how hard humility, for those living for God, can actually be.
Luke 18: 9-14 describes to us two men, a Pharisee and a tax collector, who both came to the temple to pray. And Jesus used this story to teach a couple of points that I want to touch on today and then spend some more time in detail in future posts.
The first point is this: Humility requires an attitude check
Daily, I said daily, we need to check our attitude. We need to ask ourselves: “Is it good? Is it bad? Is it ugly?” And whatever our attitude is for the day will affect others and also our relationship with God.
Attitudes are like viruses. They are contagious, so be careful what you are spreadingJ
The attitude of the Pharisee was one of pride. He was proud of his goodness, which in itself is not wrong. In fact, there is nothing wrong in doing the right thing, especially when it saves you from heartache and ongoing pain. So don’t be ashamed to take pride in doing what is right.
But what Jesus points out about this man’s pride was his arrogance – his self-righteousness – “I know it all; I’ve done it all.” You could almost hear the man singing, “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.”
Jesus said the Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself. He wasn’t praying to God to fulfill God’s will. Instead he was praying to God about how great he was.
The Pharisee was saying to God, “Look at what I am doing. I’m not a robber, not an evildoer, not an adulterer. I’m especially not like this tax collector over here. Look at me. I fast twice a week, which is more than is required of me by law, and I tithe. Lord you just won’t find any better than me.”
So if we don’t check our attitude daily, we can very easily become entrapped in pride, which leads us to telling God who He needs to be rather than Him telling us who we need to be.
Pride is an attitude. Make sure yours is in check.
The second point is this: When in the presence of God, how do we walk away: unchanged or unburdened?
Pride is probably one of the easiest temptations to fall into. And when you give into it, it ruins relationships, it undermines faith, and it pollutes prayer.
Just look at the Pharisee. When he walked away from God (when he went home), he was unchanged. He was religious and he was proud of it.
You see, pride is what keeps many of us from coming before the church to admit and confess our sins. Pride is what keeps many of us from even acknowledging what we know to be wrong as sin – pride causes us to justify our sin. Pride is what keeps many of us from asking for help when we desperately need it. Worse yet, pride is what keeps so many from accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior because it means I have to admit I’m a sinner.
But on the other hand, there’s humility. Humility helps keep our pride in check because it keeps things in perspective – not in perspective of our world, but of God’s.
Just look at the tax collector. His 7-word prayer, “God have mercy on me, a sinner” is dripping with humility.
His prayer said, “God I’m not worthy. I can’t even look at you or stand before you because my life has not been lived according to your will. I have no ground to stand on, no legal case to argue. I stand before you guilty as charged and I’m begging for your mercy.”
When he walked away from God (when he went home), he was unburdened. He was right with God and thankful for it! His guilt was gone.
So when in the presence of God, do we walk away unchanged or do we walk away unburdened?
God’s not looking for how good we think we are. He’s looking for humility. He’s looking for people who really understand who He is – that He is King, Lord, Creator, Judge – and He’s looking for those who come to Him reverently saying, “Have mercy on me.”
In closing let me share with you a story, which I read recently about a snake and a caterpillar.
Suppose that while we’re in Church this morning we witness 2 guests in our service: a snake and a caterpillar. They are both here to pray and to worship. During church, the snake begins to shed his skin, and the caterpillar begins to molt. After the celebration is over, the snake goes back out the door minus a little skin – but he was still a snake. The caterpillar also leaves, but he is no longer a caterpillar – he has been transformed into a beautiful butterfly.
And that’s exactly what happened to the 2 men that Jesus spoke of in his parable.
The Pharisee went home unchanged, with nothing but an experience – he came as a Pharisee, he left as a Pharisee.
He had the opportunity to pray. He had the opportunity to worship. He had the opportunity to change. But nothing happened.
The tax-collector, he went home changed – he came as a tax-collector, he went home justified.
He went home “made right.” The demand for his punishment was satisfied through his act of confession. He had all the same opportunities as the Pharisee, and he took advantage of them. He realized his position and relationship with the Living God and threw himself upon God’s mercy. And thus a transformation happened.
Today and every day, you and I have to make a choice: we can either be unchanged Pharisees or unburdened Tax-collectors.
Jesus said to pick the latter. He doesn’t want us singing, “O Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.” Instead he wants us grasping hold of his words, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”