Do you ever struggle with performance or comparing yourself with others? In this message, Blake Holmes will help us to look at the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector. This parable is ultimately a story about Jesus warning us against the spiritual pride in all of us and how it blinds us from the truth.
Pray Through to God’s Breakthrough | Luke 18:1-8
The Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector | Luke 18:9-14
Don’t Waste Your Life | Matthew 25:14-30
The Forgiven Forgive | Matthew 18:21-35
A Warning to Rule Followers | Luke 15:25-32
The Forgiving Father and His Two Lost Sons: The Prodigal Son | Luke 15:1-32
Which Soil Are You? | Matthew 13:1-9
The Path to Being Built Different | Matthew 7:24-27
How to Get Into Heaven | Luke 10:25-37
Problems, Prayer, and Provision | Luke 11:5-8
Your Best Summer with Jesus | Matthew 13:44-46
This passage serves as a great reminder that the gospel is not about living a life to which you respond in earned obedience; quite the opposite, it is about the motivation of our hearts. Are you living a life surrendered to the One who loves you because you already know you are accepted, or do you feel you have earned God’s love by following biblical rules or traditions?
Well, it is summertime in Texas, and we can all feel that. I love summertime. I especially love it when you consider that the Texas Rangers are in first place. That's miraculous. The Texas Rangers are relevant. You're paying attention to the trade deadline, and here's what's even better: the Texas Rangers are in first place, and the Yankees are dead last. (We have sports fans in here. That's the most applause I've ever received. Something might be wrong with that.)
I think I don't like Yankees fans. Do you know why? I think it goes back to the fact that I went to a Rangers game, we played the Yankees, and this guy and his buddies came down and sat really close to my family and me, and they had on their Yankees garb. Literally, necklace, hat, tee shirt…just so obnoxious. Even when the Rangers started to win, do you know what they did? They were yelling, "Twenty-seven!"
Do you know what that means? They've won 27 World Series championships. Well, we've won a big zero. Zero! I mean, I'm still… The biggest sports loss that brought the greatest heartache was when the Rangers lost the World Series. I'm like, "Oh! We couldn't win won." But there was my Yankees friend reminding me they had won 27 World Series championships. I didn't like him much.
Now fast-forward. When I went to Baylor, I met a lot of friends from Houston, and Houston friends don't love Dallas. I was like, "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" So, we had a friendly banter. We went back and forth. They were really excited about their football team at that point. Do you know what I remember doing back then? Those of you who know what I'm saying… Five Super Bowl wins. What I quickly realized, guys, is I was no different than the Yankees fan.
Stop and ask yourself. Have you ever noticed something in yourself that you didn't like seeing in others? Just think about that. It may be that you grew up, and your dad had a temper. He was an angry man, and you didn't like it. Then you recognize, "Oh, wait a minute. That same anger is in me." Or you get on your kid for her sarcastic tone. You're like, "I don't like that." Then you recognize, "Oh." Monkey see, monkey do. She learned it from you. You're like, "I don't like it especially now. Stop doing that."
How many of you have ever been there before? Let's just be honest. This morning, we are talking not about sarcasm, not about anger. We are talking about pride, but the worst kind of pride. We're talking about spiritual pride. If you see yourself in the parable we're going to look at today, that's okay. I certainly see myself in the parable we're talking about today.
We're continuing our series looking at the parables, or the stories, of Jesus. Parables are stories of Jesus where he takes common, everyday objects and uses those to teach a theological or spiritual truth, a lesson for us. As you see every week in the little video, they're like pictures we can look at and mirrors where we can reflect upon what it means for our lives and a window where we can look out and view the world.
We're supposed to take these simple truths. It's not that the Lord just gives us a simple lesson, but he's constantly illustrating, using these everyday objects so they'll be memorable. They're sticky. We walk with them, and we go, "Oh. Oh, that's right. That's me." They often end with a singular point. That's what we're going to see happens today. Jesus teaches this parable, and then he goes, "Here's the main point. You've got to walk away with this point." So, turn in your Bible to Luke 18. We're going to look at verses 9-14.
"He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 'Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get."
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up 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, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.'"
We see from this passage three things. The first thing is Jesus is warning against spiritual pride. Secondly, the effects of spiritual pride. Then, finally, we're going to close with the remedy to spiritual pride.
What he does is he tells this parable, and he contrasts these two men. You see the contrast in their position, in their posture, and in their prayers. It's a simple parable but has a profound, very impactful meaning. Notice the position. You have the Pharisee, and you have the tax collector. Now, I want you to think about this.
If you've grown up in church, if you've read much of your Bible, everybody always kind of boos the Pharisee, but that's not really the way in which Jesus' audience would have understood this. The Pharisee was the religious leader of the day. Just so you can have a little more appreciation of who the Pharisee is, the Pharisee was the one who held closely to the Mosaic law. He taught the law. He was respected. He was revered by people.
This is significant, because Rome occupied Israel at the time. So, Israel is an occupied nation, and the Roman military and the Roman presence is oppressive. And there were the Pharisees, trying, despite Roman influence and oppression, to preserve the Jewish way of life and faith. They were different than their counterparts, the Sadducees. The Sadducees were the upper class, the aristocrats, and they were actually collaborators with Rome. They hung in and around the temple in Jerusalem.
The Pharisees were in the synagogues out with the people. They were the middle class. They were well respected. The Pharisees also fought against, if you remember from your history class, Hellenization, because before the Romans there were the Greeks and Alexander the Great, and Hellenism and Greek thought influenced Jewish life. They were the preservers and keepers of all that was good.
So, when Jesus tells this story, you're automatically assuming, "The Pharisee. That's the good guy. The tax collector? Bad guy." Because do you know who the tax collector is? The tax collector was a Jewish person who turned on his own people to collect taxes for Rome. They would often skim a little off the top to pay themselves from the money given by their own people. They were despised. So, you have this stark contrast of these two men in the temple.
Notice their posture. The Pharisee walks in. Where is he? He's right in the middle, center stage, just like this, looking straight up into heaven, boldly praying to God, but the tax collector is way in the back. He's way up there in the dark, and he can barely even lift his head. You can tell a lot about a person from their body language. Just look at your kids. We'll sometimes have family meetings, and I promise you, this is sometimes how my kids look. I'm like, "They're completely interested in what it is I'm about to say."
So, you have one who has all the confidence in the world, who's speaking like this, and then we have one whose head is down. Then look at their prayers. Consider the prayer. I mean, the Pharisee… What do you see? Just look in the text. What word do you see repeated time and again? Pretend like we're sitting at a table of three of us. What word do you see? That's right. You see I repeated five times.
Who's the subject of his prayer? Where is his focus? "I, I, I, I, I." "Thank you that I am not like this guy. Look at what I do." Then you have the stark contrast, where the tax collector can barely say anything but just beg for God's forgiveness. God is the subject, and he's wrecked. The prayer reveals a lot about the two men.
I love what one seminary president says. He says, "Our prayers reveal our deepest convictions about God, about ourselves, and about the world around us. Every word we utter in prayer, every idea and concept that we form as we pray, and every emotion that flows out of our heart is a reflection of what we believe about God and about the gospel of Christ."
Do you hear what he's saying? Just stop and think about your prayers. If you were to record them from this past week, what would one conclude about what you believe about God? Are your prayers filled with acknowledgment of who God is, that God is holy and sovereign and omniscient? Would they have a greater appreciation for the character of God because they listened to your prayers? Would they recognize your gratitude? Would they recognize your complete dependence upon him? Would they know that God is good and that you love him?
Or, perhaps, would they see in your mind that God is more there just to simply do your bidding and to make you happy and healthy and wise and accomplish your purposes? Just listen to the way in which you pray. I get it. Just think about what prayers reveal about what we think about God and ourselves. The point of the parable is found in verse 14. "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
This is thematic throughout the gospel of Luke, this idea of surprise and reversal. It's a complete surprise and reversal. I mean, we were talking sports earlier. Let's just think about this. If the audience is there listening, all their money would have been on the Pharisee as being the example of the one to follow. That's what they're anticipating. Jesus talking about the Pharisee… "Oh, this is the one we're going to lift up," because they despised the tax collectors.
This is not unlike the NFL draft in 2000. I had to look this up. Do you know that Tom Brady was picked in the sixth round? He was the 199th pick. How smart do the GMs feel? A hundred ninety-eight picks before Tom Brady was taken. He has since won seven Super Bowls, more than anybody, but everybody overlooked him. Appearances are deceiving.
You have this surprise, this reversal. "Oh! It's not the Pharisee who's the example; it's the despised tax collector." Surprise! What you see also, which is important, is the context around this parable. Luke is teaching a point. Chapter 18 starts with (we're going to look at it next week) a widow, and a widow, the destitute woman, is the one Jesus points at and says, "Hey, it's her faith you should follow." Then you look at the tax collector, and he's the one about whom Jesus says, "Hey, pay attention to him."
Then immediately following after this, who is it but the children, where Jesus is saying, "Oh, it's the children who recognize their need and their humble dependence upon the Lord. Those are the ones you should emulate." Then it's the rich man to close the chapter, which is in stark contrast with the widow at the beginning who has nothing. He's the one who lacks faith; she's the one who has it. It's complete surprise and reversal.
Each of these stories, friends, just so you understand… The Gospels are like mosaics. There's picture after picture after picture to paint a portrait to communicate a point. They're not randomly placed stories, but they're to shape our understanding and view of who Jesus is. The point right here is "He who exalts himself, he who has spiritual pride, will be humbled, but the humble will be exalted."
This is a warning for all of us, for everyone in this room. It's a warning for me, the recovering Pharisee. But we don't really think of warnings being for us. Warnings are for other guys. Right? Let me just illustrate the point. How many of you have ever stood on the top of a stepladder? You already know what I'm going to say, don't you? Who ever stops at the stair that says, "Warning: not a step"? No one, because you can go a little bit farther and get higher up. The warning is for the other guy.
But how many of us know someone who has fallen off the top of the stepladder, and they're like, "Oh, never on ladders again"? So, I don't want us to assume, "Oh, this message is for the other guy." I want us all to stop and consider, "Hey, wait a minute." Maybe we're more like the Pharisee than we think we are. Maybe there's more spiritual pride in me than I recognize.
It's kind of laughable. I'm from Dallas, and I'm saying to my friend from Houston, "Five Super Bowls" like I played in the Super Bowl. I did nothing. The reality is what Christ accomplished for us… He's the one who won the Super Bowl. He's the one who won victory over sin and death and Satan. We just get to wear the jersey, but he's the victor. Yet we walk as if, "Hey, look. Five Super Bowls." No one likes that guy very much, do they? So, Jesus warns all of us against spiritual pride because it's in all of us.
I do believe many of us fail to understand that the gospel is not grace plus. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not that you are saved by grace, but then you live by works. The gospel is a life of surrender to the grace of God. That's the gospel. You don't receive grace and then work hard so as to be more loved by God. That is not the gospel. That's an Americanized way of viewing the gospel. It's one of performance.
Now, I want you to think about this truth. There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make him love you less. Do you believe that? I mean, do you really believe that? Do you believe that there is nothing you could do to make God love you more and nothing you could do to make him love you less?
When you can get your arms around that truth, children of God, you will begin to scratch the surface of the significance of the grace of God, the depth and the love of God for you. When you trust in Jesus Christ and receive the gift of his grace, you are justified. You are declared righteous. You are united with Christ. You're now a child of God. His Spirit now dwells within your heart. You are sealed, and you are forever a child.
But then you don't work so as to maintain his love or earn his love; you respond in a life of gratitude because he loves you and has done everything for you. So, this isn't a message contrary to responding in obedience. Quite the opposite. It's all about the motivation as to why we do what we do. I want to live a life surrendered to the one who loves me, one that's pleasing to him, to walk in faith and obedience because I already know I'm accepted before him.
I just want to say, "Thank you," because left on my own, I would have lived in darkness and rebellion against him. John Calvin said, "Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God." Friends, God is transcendent. He is holy. He is sovereign.
That's why when Jesus teaches us to pray, we pray, "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed [holy] be your name." The moment I declare that, I recognize, "I'm a sinful man. I'm totally, 100 percent in need of your grace and forgiveness." I bring nothing to the cross except sin and resistance, as Luther said. That's all I bring.
But how many of us, when we go to the Lord, are almost trying to make a deal with God, as if I can live in a certain way that he'll then bless my life. That's just not true. It's spiritual pride that plays this game as if God is there to bless your will rather than the other way around, that we're to submit to his. Then when life doesn't go the way we want it, we become disillusioned and angry at God because he didn't respond the way we thought he should. That's spiritual pride.
Spiritual pride will blind you from the truth of who God is. It will also blind us from the truth about ourselves. When we trust in Jesus Christ, friends, what you have to recognize is we are declared righteous. We are justified, to use that legal term. Then what Christ does through the power of his Spirit, through the encouragement of the body, through the truth of his Word, through the means of grace available to us, is he allows us to walk with him, to grow in sanctification.
We cooperate and participate with his Spirit. We confess sin. We learn to live in a way that reflects his glory where we trust him. We trust and obey. That's taking steps of faith. But we still retain a sin nature. That's what you have to understand. That's why Paul says, "Hey, you have to put off the old man. You have to mortify the flesh." There's a war inside of you, and you have an opportunity to either yield and walk with God's Spirit or resist it and stiffen your neck. Spiritual pride blinds us from the flesh inside, that fallen nature we retain.
Spiritual pride is what makes us think we're doing better than we really are. Spiritual pride is what leads us to rationalize and justify and minimize the sin in our lives, the very same sin we might see in someone else's life and disdain, but when we commit it…well, we've had a bad day or we're tired or no one really understands. That's spiritual pride. It blinds us from sin, the effects of sin. In our own lives, we look the other way. We tolerate it more than we should. We fail to recognize the way we're hurting others.
I want to show you something, and I hope all of you can very, very quickly see what is wrong with this picture. For those of you who can't understand what's wrong with this picture, all of you leave. Just kidding. This, my friends, was sent to me by a friend. This is from a concert last Friday, a country music concert. That's the Texas flag upside down. Now, if you want to make money in Texas playing country music, you would think, "Hey, let's get the Texas flag right before the main act goes out onstage."
But there he was until the crowd just started yelling at him. "Hey! Hey!" I wasn't there, but I heard that the chant was "Fix our flag. Fix our flag. Fix our flag." He literally… Okay, it was Eric Church. Eric Church literally stops the whole concert. He turns around, and he's like, "Oh!" They flipped the flag, and then I imagine he probably played for an hour longer. I don't know what you do when you make a mistake like that.
Here's the crazy thing to me. My friend sent that to me, and I'm going, "How did someone not see that? No one on his production team? Eric himself? I mean, are you kidding me? You are in Texas." No one helped him. It exactly proves my point. Pride is so hard for us to see in our own lives. We need others to help us see what we can't see for ourselves. Pride blinds us about the truth for ourselves. That's why we need each other. That's why we need community. That's why we need God's Word. That's why we need his Spirit to reveal to us, "Oh, wait a minute. This is of pride."
Pride blinds us from the truth about others. This is really important. Do you remember the Pharisee? What did he do? He took great pride in what he had accomplished. Jesus says this parable is written to those who trust in themselves and look down on others. That's what spiritual pride does. All of a sudden, those who don't look like you, think like you, believe like you, act like you… All of a sudden, we take the moral high ground in our pride, and those who don't look like us become those people, the tax collectors.
Let's just be honest. We see it all the time. Those people who struggle with those certain sin issues. Those people who don't vote like us. Those people who don't have faith like us. Those people who don't [fill in the blank], whatever it is. Just watch social media. We huddle in our little tribes and become guilty of tribalism, and we speak with disdain about all of those people, as though they're people to be dealt with rather than people to be reached.
That is a problem, especially for those who recognize the only reason there's any good in your life is because of the grace of God, which he initiated with you. I'm not saying you shouldn't have strong convictions. You should have strong biblical convictions, but they should be clothed with humility, and we should never look at others who disagree with us as those people, as if somehow the tax collectors aren't loved by God. It's the height of spiritual pride.
Spiritual pride blinds us from the truth about God, ourselves, and others. It colors our whole world. We don't recognize it, but it's the lens by which we see everything. I want you to see this illustration I saw awhile back. It says it all, doesn't it? Some of you are still going, "I don't get it." I'm just going to let it sit there for a second.
We've been separated from a perfect, righteous, holy God, but God loves us and demonstrates his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He not only died, but he was buried and resurrected. Today he lives, calling us to come to him, but we don't come with a résumé, like, "Look at what I've done." We're like the tax collector, and we go, "Lord, forgive me. Forgive me. I am a sinner in need of your grace."
When we recognize our sin, and we don't come to him with our résumé but simply receive the grace that's extended to us, he changes our lives. That's the invitation for every one of you today, that we would be reminded of his love for us. Even those of us who have received that grace, that we would walk in it and every day be reminded of our need for him, because we do have that fallen nature, and he's not done with us yet.
Philippians 1 says he who began a good work in us will complete it on the day of Christ Jesus. There will be a day where we'll be in the presence of God, and no longer will we be tempted by sin, be drawn toward it, or even think of it, because we will be with him, and we will be glorified to be like him. So, the remedy to spiritual pride is to remind yourself of the gospel.
I want you to try something before you go to bed every night this week. Just try asking yourself these three questions. The first question is, "Am I performing?" Just look back in your day and simply ask yourself, "Lord, where in my life today was I performing, where I might have been guilty of grace plus, where I may not have been believing the truth that there is nothing I could do to make you love me more and nothing I could do to make you love me less?"
Where am I creating these arbitrary standards of righteousness? Like, "If I do this, then I'll check that box, and I'll check that box. I went to church. I read my Bible. I joined the journey. I'm taking an Equipping class. I went to Community Group. Check, check, check." All of the things that make us feel like we're winning in the eyes of God, all healthy things, good things, but maybe done for the wrong motive. Where in my life am I performing rather than simply receiving and celebrating the grace of God?
Secondly, "Where am I comparing?" In elementary school, I remember sitting beside (fellows, I imagine you probably sat beside her too) a really cute girl who somehow, in some way, always got better grades than me. I think I was too focused on video games, Atari, television, and all those things. I think she actually studied. What ended up happening was we would receive our tests back, and do you know what she would always do? "Hey, what did you get on the test?"
That was a cue for me to know she got 100, because she really didn't care what I got on the test, but she certainly wanted me to know that she did well. The reality is we kind of look at others and go, "Hey, how are you doing?" and we're comparing. That's not what the Lord would have us do, to compare to how others are doing. That's not the motivation by which we pursue the Lord and seek to honor him.
I want to ask you a question to really think about this. Be honest for a second. If you're one who struggles with comparison, and you're just honest, "Hey, that's far too much more of my life than I want to admit," or if you're sitting there and think, "Oh, I don't do that at all," I want you to think about who makes you feel better about yourself.
You go and speak to people on the street. You engage them. You share the gospel. Do you know who everybody feels better than? You speak to someone, and it's always… We're always going, "Well, I'm better than that guy." Do you know who I always hear? "I'm not Hitler." I mean, it's constant. It's like God grades on a curve in people's minds. It's like, "Hey, the good outweighs the bad, and at least I'm not as bad as that guy." That's comparing. Nonbelievers do it and believers do it, because we're performing and comparing. That's spiritual pride.
The last question I want you to ask yourself is "Am I boasting?" Remind yourself what Ephesians 2:8-9 says. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. It's not of yourselves; it's a gift of God, not by works, so that no one may boast." Look at what Paul says about boasting over and over again throughout his letters…Galatians, Romans. He's like, "Hey, boasting is excluded."
There is no boasting, because I recognize it's a gift, and a gift is something I've received, not something I've earned, worked for, or done. I just simply am a recipient of the grace of God in my life. There is no boasting. I didn't win a Super Bowl. I didn't win the World Series. I simply was given a jersey to put on to clothe myself in his grace and be reminded of his love for me.
So, where are you potentially looking for recognition? Where do you feel that temptation to perform or to compare or to boast? Spiritual pride, gang, is not unlike… I was trying to think about this. It's not unlike natural gas. You know, natural gas is combustible. It'll explode. It'll blow up your home if it goes undetected.
I called one of my engineering friends. I was like, "Hey, I've been told natural gas doesn't have an odor to it, does it?" He goes, "Nope." Natural gas can go throughout your house and you not know it and it be ignited, and everything blows up. So, what we do is we put a gas in it called mercaptan, and it creates that egg smell. So, when you smell natural gas, what you're really smelling is mercaptan. It's there to tell you, "Hey, something is not right. There is a leak, and if you don't deal with it, it's going to lead to horrific damage."
I was sitting there thinking, "You know what? If we're not careful, within our hearts, there's a substance that just runs naturally, that if we don't apply the gospel to it, it causes horrific damage, pain, and regret." So, friends, today I want to remind you. You don't need to perform for God. You don't need to compare yourself with others. You certainly shouldn't boast.
This is a warning for all of us. We celebrate not our deeds done in righteousness. What we celebrate is the goodness of God, the grace of God extended to us through his Son Jesus Christ. It's in that…in his kindness, in his goodness, in his grace…that we boast, and it's in his name we pray. Let's do that now.
Father in heaven, we thank you for this simple passage and the warning it is for us in our lives that pride runs deep within us, and if we don't deal with it, Lord, then we are going to be blinded to the truth about who you are, about ourselves, and about our world around us. So, Lord, would you help us?
Would you remind us that there is nothing we could do to make you love us more and nothing we could do to make you love us less? May we clothe ourselves in humility, reminding ourselves, Lord, of your great love for us, that none of us are the exception to your grace, no matter where we've been, no matter what we've done, no matter how many times we've done it.
Father, expose to us in our lives where we are having a hard time believing the gospel, where we're attempting to perform or where we don't see you the way we should, where we're comparing ourselves to others, where we're looking down on those people, and where we're boasting in ways that simply are not of your Spirit. Lord, we thank you for your love, your kindness, and your goodness toward us. Help us to think rightly about you and respond in faith and now in song. In Christ's name, amen.