|Volume 23 Number 11 November 2021
A Pillar of the Community
and a Tax Collector
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.” (Luke 18:9-14 NKJV)
The Pharisee, a pillar of the community, demonstrated at least three different attitudes in this passage.
1. You are so lucky to have me, God. He truly seemed to feel that God was fortunate to have such a faithful servant as he was. After all, he was not doing evil things in his life, and certainly he was a shining light to observe for direction.
2. Look at me, how great I am. His prayer included 33 words. Five of those words are the word “I.” As a matter of fact, God says that he “prayed thus with himself.” His ego was so large that his prayer was with himself. He was very high on himself and his worthiness. If anyone doubted that he was worthy, all one had to do was ask him or listen to him long enough.
3. I am so much better than the publican (tax collector) over there. He obviously enjoyed looking down on those who were, in his view, inferior to him spiritually. He was so glad that he was not like that publican; the Pharisee did no wrong. That perceived righteousness made it possible, in his mind, to look down on anyone else who, to him, did not meet the high standards that he had set in his life. He felt he had earned the right to be critical of others, even in prayer.
The Jewish people despised the tax collector or publican. However, on the other hand, he displayed totally different attitudes.
1. I am inferior to the God to whom I pray. He would not even look up toward Heaven. He realized the power and might of the God to whom he prayed, and the tax collector was fully cognizant of his own inferiority. His attitude was, “I am so glad that I have God, though I don’t deserve Him.”
2. I have too much with which to deal concerning myself to worry about anyone else. He did not compare himself to the Pharisee. He did not feel that he had to sit in judgment over him, to condescend toward him or to even worry about his situation. He was too busy talking to his God about himself.
3. I am a sinner who needs help and forgiveness. He prayed seven words and no more. He recognized his need for God and for the forgiveness that only God can give. The tax collector knew that he was unworthy of God’s help but that he desperately needed His forgiveness. The Pharisee might have thought that he was the example to follow, but the fact is that the publican set an example for us to follow. Jesus said that he went to his home justified and not the Pharisee.
Jesus spoke this parable to deal with “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” While it is important to stand against the practice of sin, and the teaching of error, we must never become those who trust that they are righteous and take a condescending view of anyone we think does not come up to the standard we set for righteousness. We are all sinners. Every one of us needs to fall before God and ask His forgiveness.
No, we cannot compromise the truth. Yes, we must take unmistakable and clear stands on issues of morality and doctrine. Yes, we do need to try lovingly and kindly to help those who are embroiled in sin recognize that they must change to please God. Yet, we must never allow ourselves to think that we are so much better than anyone else that we can look down on them. We need to remember that it is not important in the least if someone pleases us but rather that they must please God.
[Editor’s Note: There is a subtle difference between unrighteous judgment and discernment or righteous judgment. Jesus Christ addressed both circumstances within the following ten verses in Matthew 7.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matthew 7:15-20)
Like Christ, His brother James cautioned against improper evaluation of fellow disciples of Christ (today, Christians, indeed). He urged Christians not to mistreat each other. Also, like Christ, the apostle John called upon Christians to be wary of even Christians who misrepresent the Word of God.
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (James 4:10-12)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
Challenging, but nevertheless, Christians need to accept as worthy of fellowship those who are genuinely in fellowship with God (1 John 1:3) but refuse fellowship to impenitent false teachers (2 John 9-11) and immoral Christians (1 Corinthians 5:11; Ephesians 5:11). ~ Louis Rushmore, Editor]