Where had this tax collector been?
What had he heard or seen than shook him from his lucrative vocation? Maybe he had been in the multitudes watching Jesus work wonders. Perhaps he had really listened when Jesus spoke about true riches in the Kingdom of God. Something somewhere, or somebody, got through his defenses and sent him to the Temple and drove him to his knees. I know he is a character in a story but let’s imagine that he was a real person.
Like bad breath, the one who has spiritual pride is always the last to know. It is a deadly disease but it is hardly invisible. Spiritual pride parades itself in public and promotes itself in private. There is only one subject of conversation and only one hero to the story. All other topics are neglected and all other characters are supporting players, sidekicks in this serial adventure.
A Matter of Trust
Why is spiritual pride so deadly? It reveals the unworthy object of our trust. Jesus told a story about two men in prayer. One trusted in his own goodness and the other knew better than to try that.
The Pharisee went to the Temple to pray. No doubt his servants went with him. One blew a trumpet in the outer court when the Pharisee threw his noisy copper coins into the metal horn—a show of public charity, an offering to the poor. Entering the Temple and straightening his expensive robes, he knelt at a prominent place and began to broadcast his prayers. He was so thankful for his own goodness—he was a blessing from God to the community!
The Tax Collector went to the Temple to pray. He, too, was wealthy but no servants accompanied him. Somehow all his life’s props had been knocked down. He had no confidence in his money for he knew it was wickedly gained. He had no trust in his charity for he had hoarded his wealth. He had no hope in his popularity for he and his profession were despised as collaborators with Rome. The hollowness of his gains had become the horror of his losses. It was all worthless. Perhaps he had heard a man preaching in the wilderness, feeding multitudes and healing all manner of illnesses and impairments. Surely this was a Man from God. Was peace to be found in God Himself, in humble prayer, with no other sources of trust? The tax collector repented of his sins.
Which man went away justified? Those who trust in their own righteousness will be sadly, hopelessly turned away. Why? Because proud hearts cannot kneel at the cross. Instead, proud hands wield the hammers and hold the nails! Pride trusts in self as its own savior, leaving no room to trust in Jesus. Later, both Peter and the Lord’s brother, James, would declare the principle:
“God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.”
(James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5)
The distance between God’s resistance and his grace is immense! Pride repulses the Holy Spirit while humility attracts Him. There is no de-militarized zone between the two.
Jesus finished the story by calling for action. If we persist in self-exaltation, there can be only one result—humiliation. It may be private or public but our prideful house of cards will topple in the winds of circumstance. On the other hand, there is opportunity—blessing from God. If we bow at the cross in repentance, if we remain at the altar in faith and humility, the Lord will lift us up to heights of true greatness we could never have imagined.
The grace is His; the choice is ours.
Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise 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, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
James 4:6 NKJV
But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5-7 NKJV
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
Lord Jesus, may I never come to you in foolish pride! You are Faithful and True so I will always boast of You and never of myself. All that I possess has come from You and exists for Your glory alone. I am Your servant, joyful and weeping, in the privilege of Your service. Today, You will lead me from task to task for You have laid this day out for me. I will sow in tears knowing that I will also reap in joy. I will humble myself under Your mighty hand. Lord, use me today to advance Your work, to extend Your Kingdom. This is my joy and my cause and it is all for Your glory and not for mine. Help me to disappear into Your wonderful grace so that others may see You in my life. Amen and amen
Words and Music: Ira Stanphill
1. Unworthy am I of the grace that He gave,
Unworthy to hold to His hand.
Amazed that a King would reach down to a slave.
This love I cannot understand.
Unworthy, unworthy, a beggar in bondage and alone.
But He made me worthy and now by His grace,
His mercy has made me His own.
2. Unworthy am I of the glory to come
Unworthy with angels to sing.
I thrill just to know that He loves me so much,
A pauper, I walk with the King.
© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved
TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.