"God, I thank You that I am not like other men.” -Luke 18:11
This is the prayer of the Pharisee who walked out of the temple unjustified. Let’s break this simple sentence down. First, the Pharisee is talking with God valuing prayer as an important religious duty. Second, he is thankful to God, entering prayer with thanksgiving to God. Third, he is thankful to God that he is more moral than other men.
Luke sets up our Lord’s parable with this: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” There is the rub. The Pharisee thought he could justify himself by valuing the duty of prayer, being thankful to God, and being moral. Jesus told this parable about the heart of people desiring to trust in their own decision making skills, moral living, and pious activity that didn’t lead their heart to trust in God for righteousness with humility; but rather with a smug, sanctimonious pride which “treated others with contempt.”
I confess, in my pride I have fallen in this trap a few times. To think, “well, I’m thankful! I’m even thankful to God that I’m a good person!” Yet, if this leads me to think of others with scorn, I have sinned greatly against God. It is evil of me to think of those not as cleaned up as me, or having made great moral failings, even going so far as to betray my kinsman in collecting taxes for a foreign power as the weeping, justified tax collector beside this Pharisee!
There I times I am tempted to feel justified having contempt for sinners who live, talk, and act in ways deserving contempt! I mean, “On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:6). Yet we read in the very next verse, “In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.” How dreadful! How wicked I am that a man as me rescued from the very sins deserving the wrath of God I, too, once walked! How ugly is the pride of my heart saved by God’s grace alone would think so highly of my good works and so lowly of others as to “treat others with contempt!”
I hate my pride. I know God opposes the proud (James 4:6). I do not want to be an enemy of our Just and Compassionate God who justifies tax collectors. The answer to my prideful heart is humility. Not like the world which sees humility only as seeing myself as lowly, but being lowly before a majestic, powerful God. Before His greatness I repent of my self-obsession and thinking so lowly of sinners that I treat with contempt the very people He in His grace is able to save.
The threat of pride in my heart is routed by His invading grace as I look to the cross of my Savior. I, too, once walked as the world in their blindness. I, too, deserve God’s wrath. Yet, His wrath was poured upon Christ for me. My only goodness was given to me in exchange for my sin by Christ. I have no boasting before God except Christ and His righteousness.
Heavenly Father, forgive us of boasting in our goodness and any treatment of others with contempt in our pride. Humble us before You and lead our gaze to the cross of Your Son where You poured the wrath we deserved upon Christ, and have given us the righteousness of Christ by faith in Him alone. Grant to us gentle, peaceable hearts to treat those we think deserving of our contempt with love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.