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The Parable of 
the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Luke 18:9-14

He spoke also this parable to certain people who were convinced of their own righteousness, and who despised all others.
"Two men went up into the temple to pray;
one was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this:
‘God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, 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 away, wouldn’t 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 he who humbles himself will be exalted."  (web)


"God, I thank you ..."

Having pictured the Pharisee is such a bad light, one might be provoked to pray, "God I thank you that I am not like that Pharisee", whereas in fact by doing so one may be just like that Pharisee. But should we not be thankful and acknowledge those positive qualities and works which God has produced in us and through us? Shouldn't we thank God for what sanctification he has accomplished in us? And concerning despising others doesn't it say of the godly that they "despise a vile man" Ps 15:4

But there are some problems with focussing on our goodness in thanksgiving - even despite giving glory to God for it. One is that due to our sinful human nature provoking pride in us, we tend to overevaluate how good we are - especially in comparison to others. And as such we may not be dealing with sin in our lives, which prevents God from listening to us (Isaiah 59:1,2) Another thing is that we may underevaluate God's work in other people. Notice that the Pharisee puts down the tax collector. But while Ps 15:4 advocates despsing vile men, the very next thing it says is that the godly man "honors those who fear the LORD" and prior to that "casts no slur on his fellowman".

There are examples in the Bible, such as some of the Psalms, where the godly man acknowledges his own goodness in prayer. Ps 18:21-23 "I have kept the ways of the LORD; I have not done evil by turning from my God. All his laws are before me; I have not turned away from his decrees. I have been blameless before him and have kept myself from sin." orPs 26:1-5  "I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth. I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites; I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked." (In fact the difference between Ps 26 and the Pharisee's prayer is rather subtle)

But in most cases the godly will give thanks for other people and not for themselves.  "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips" Pr 27:2 For example 2Th 1:3  "We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other"

The Necessity of Humility

This parable is about the relationship between the character qualities of humility, contriteness, the fear of God, and obtaining righteousness which is from God.
"This is the one I esteem:
he who is humble and
contrite in spirit, and
trembles at my word."Isaiah 66:2
These are the three essential characteristics a person must have before God will listen to him.
  1. HUMILITY:  An honest evaluation of yourself in the sight of God.
  2. CONTRITENESS: Calling sin for what it is and being willing to repent from sin.
  3. REVERENCE FOR GOD'S WORD: Fully convinced that God has spoken through the Bible and taking it seriously in view of God's judgment.
Of these three, Humility is most essential. If a person is humble in spirit, after honestly evaluating what the Bible says, he will be convinced that God has spoken and since he realizes that he is created by God, it would seem reasonable to the humble person to take God's word very seriously and even fearfully in light of the coming judgment. But when he evaluates himself against what the Bible says, he is convicted of sin for we know that "all have sinned an come short of the glory of God" Rom 3:23. This is the process through which God leads the humble to become righteous through the blood of Christ.

The Pharisee in this parable is characterized as one who is confident of his own righteousness and looks down on others. One application of this is that those who are confident of their own righteouness lack the humility necessary to obtain the righteousness which is from God, which Jesus offered. This lack of humility is often evident by the condescending attitude of the Pharisee while he fails to make an honest evaluation of himself. Jesus said "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mark 2:17 Not that there are people who are righteous of themselves, but there are plenty who think they are. (Notice Luke 18:18-23)

Paul teaches extensively on this subject, particularly with respect to self-righteous Jews as in this parable.

"What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the "stumbling stone." As it is written: "See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame."

Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes." Romans 9:30-10:4

His writings in Romans chapters 2 and 3 also deal extensively with this subject.

Jesus' teachings dealt with this subject quite a bit. For example, notice the next two incidents that occur in Luke 18 after he taught this parable. They deal with humility and contriteness again.

The Effect of God's Presence

Another way of looking at this parable is to consider what it teaches about what effect the presence of God has on people who approach Him.

If a person lacks humility, the presence of God has no effect on the person.

The humble will most commonly be convicted of sin.

"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple." Isaiah 6:1

"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." Isaiah 6:5

The Obtaining of Humility

But if one lacks humility, or you know someone who lacks this essential characteristic, how can it be obtained? The most common way God develops humility in a person in by putting him through humiliating circumstances.

The Old Testament is full of such examples. Consider Moses, for example, who was reckoned the most humble of his time. Consider what God put him through to get him to that point. And God commonly disciplines Israel in various ways as they sin in order that they may humble themselves and admit their sin.

De 8:3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

Another way to humiliate people is by pointing out their sin. God also does this by sending prophets. And this is what Jesus was doing when he taught this parable. However, realize that if you teach the way Jesus did, you may end of being crucified. It seems that Jesus was quite causal and unrestrained when it came to putting down the proud by pointing out their sin and even making fun of them in their hypocrisy as in this parable and very extensively in Matthew 23:13+. So it appears it's not always appropriate to "be polite" to the proud if we are to minister as Jesus did.

Humility Results in Praise

Along with conviction of sin, humility also results in praise in two ways. First it results in praise to God. For while a proud self-righteous person brings down God's standard of holiness to a level he feels that he has achieved, the humble does not do so. (Let those of a Wesleyan mindset who think they've achieved a state of sinless perfection beware! For it is not characteristic of God's children to walk in darkness blind to one's own innate sinfulness) The humble worships in spirit and in truth, but the proud in the flesh and in lies. And while the proud have no mercy on the humble, the humble acknowledge their God as being merciful.

Secondly, it results in praise from God to the humble. For He appreciates an honest person more than one caught up in self-deception though he appear clean on the outside. And it is innate within righteous men to treat each other likewise. Practically all the great men of the Bible went through times of humiliation, which developed humility in them and which resulted in praise in the long term.

"He must increase and I must decrease" John 3:30


There are some who place confidence in themselves
While looking down on everyone else
To them Jesus told this parable
But if you are proud it may be unbearable.

Two men went up to the temple to pray
One a tax collector and the other a Pharisee.
The Pharisee prayed to himself in this way
As he stood proudly in the temple that day

"I thank you God that I am not like other men -
robbers, evil doers, adulterers - Amen!
Nor am I like this tax collector the freak.
I give my tithe and fast twice a week.

But the tax collector stood a distance away.
He would not look up to heaven to pray
But beat his breast saying in humility
"God, I'm a sinner have mercy on me."

I tell you that this man, rather than the other
Went home justified, and not his brother
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
For their pride causes them to stumble
And he who is humble will be raised
The proud put down and the humble praised.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources

Jan 29,2022