“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14
The sin of the Pharisees was self-righteousness and pride. In some cases they followed the letter of the law and ignored the intent and heart of it (Luke 11:42), in others they simply found their way around it (Matthew 15:1-9), and they loved to be recognized and honored (Luke 11:43).
I believe we fall into the same general trap of thinking as the Pharisees much more often than we realize.
We are prideful.
I find pride rearing its ugly head most often when I see someone else receive recognition or a reward that I feel I deserve. A good indicator that I am jealous and prideful is when I find myself thinking “What makes them better than me?” or “Why do they get such-and-such and I don’t?” In my mind I diminish their accomplishments or character and inflate my own.
We are self-righteous and look down on others.
Being self-righteous and looking down on others often goes hand-in-hand. The only way for us to trick ourselves into thinking we are even remotely close to being right with God based on our own actions is to find someone else who is “worse” and compare ourselves. In the verses above, the Pharisee determines his righteousness before God by comparing himself to people who have sinned “more or greater” than he has. Instead of comparing their sin to his sin, he goes one step further and compares their sin to his good works–fasting and tithing–further building himself up in his own mind.
We look across the aisle at church and see a person that we heard got drunk last weekend or we talk about the parent that lost their temper in public. Maybe we don’t make the connection in our thoughts to fully realize what we are doing and why, but sin is often sneaky and we can be blinded to the ways of our own heart (Jeremiah 17:9). If we are able to keep our sinful nature from judging others in these situations, we rarely find ourselves quite as understanding when the transgression is of a more grievous nature.
The truth is that on my own, I am no more righteous than the deacon that cheats on his wife or the armed burglar whose mug shot is plastered on the news. Apart from Christ, there is nothing I do or don’t do that brings me any closer to God than the worst person we can imagine. Yet how often do we live with this mindset? When we speak about doctrine we affirm it, but is it how we live our lives and view others? Is it evident from the way we talk about and interact with people?
“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.” – Psalm 51:16-17
The tax collector walked away “justified before God” because he took this attitude. He understood his sin and asked God for mercy. Micah 7:18 says that God “delights to show mercy.”
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” – Ephesians 2:4-5
Our works have nothing to do with our forgiveness and salvation. They do not make us righteous before we come to Christ or keep us righteous afterwards. It is only by the mercy and grace of God and because of His “great love for us.”
When we remind ourselves of these truths there is no room left for self-righteousness or looking down on others, only worship and adoration for our loving and merciful savior. We don’t have to compare ourselves with others to feel right before God or better about ourselves, we just look to Christ and revel in the perfect righteousness that we receive through Him.
In my sin I am no better than the worst of sinners, in Christ’s righteousness there are none better (1 Timothy 1:15, 2 Corinthians 5:21).
So, when we are tempted to look down on someone else let us remember the words of Paul to Timothy.
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Timothy 1:15-17