by Otis T. McMillan
Complementary Series Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 or Sirach 35:12-17; Psalm 84:1-7 (5); 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
Theme: The Peril of Self-righteous Praying!
Message: In the first eight verses of Luke 18, Jesus taught about the importance of praying persistently. Beginning in verse 9, he tells another parable about prayer that warns against self righteous praying. In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were considered the godliest men of that day. They were the synagogue leaders in their town. All Pharisees were considered super-religious men who were extremely careful about obeying the Torah, which is basically the first five books of the Old Testament. They also followed the Mishnah, which explained how to obey the Torah. In addition, they followed the Talmud, which was a commentary on the Mishnah.
Tax collectors were considered the scum of the earth, the very bottom of the religious food chain in Israel. Hired by the pagan Romans, he could charge exorbitant taxes and keep most of the money for himself. He was considered the enemy. The Jewish audience listening to Jesus, when he mentioned the Pharisee, would probably have cheered and when He mentioned the tax collector would probably have booed. But Jesus is always full of surprises. This parable ends with the tax collector being praised rather than the Pharisee. In the parable, both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector went to the temple in Jerusalem to pray. But when you examine their actions and attitudes, you discover they went for two different reasons. The parable causes us to examine our motives. Why do we go to the temple? How do we go? Do we go to prayer in pride or humility? There are several perils of self righteous praying. (1) Self righteous praying tend to magnify one’s own goodness and minimize God’s mercy and grace. (2) Self righteous praying tends to minimize one’s own sinfulness while magnifying the sins of others. (3) Self righteous praying is designed to impress other hearers more than God. (4) Self righteous praying is rooted in pride. Pride has several character traits. (a) Pride loves to talk about “I” and “me” (b) Pride seldom admits a need (c) and Pride sees the faults of others. (5) Finally, self righteous prayers are not answered and neither is self righteous petitioners justified.
The tax collector in the parable had a totally different motive. He went into the temple seeking righteousness not self righteous. When the tax collector caught a glimpse of the greatness and holiness of God, he realized how dirty and filthy he was. The Bible says, “All our righteousness is as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) His confession was (1) I am totally ashamed of what I am and what I have done (2) I desperately need God’s mercy. (2) And I really don’t deserve God’s mercy.
In the parable, Jesus said only one of the two men went home justified. “Justified” is a great Bible word meaning to be “right with God” The only way you can be right with God is to receive His mercy and forgiveness. Whenever I read the word “justified” in the New Testament, I rejoice that God treats me “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned. In verse 14 Jesus summarized the main principle of the parable: “He who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted. The Message paraphrase of verse 14 is, “If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
C. S. Lewis wrote: “How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of God, but are all the time imagining how He thinks them far better than ‘ordinary’ people. They pay a penny-worth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound’s worth of Pride towards their fellow-men (or woman)…The real test of being in the presence of God is, you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.”
There was a little boy who was kneeling by his bed with his mom to say his nighttime prayers. He began to shout to the top of his lungs, “Dear God, I’ve been real good this year so please let me get a new bicycle for my birthday.” His mom said, “Son, God is not deaf; you don’t need to yell.” He said, “God’s not deaf, but Grandma is and she’s in the next room.”
The Parable of the Deacon and the Drug Pusher by Dr. David O. Dykes
As Baptist Bob walked into church one Sunday morning, he was disgusted to see Larry Lowlife there, for Larry was a drug pusher who had just gotten out of jail. Bob warned some of the ushers to keep a close watch on Larry because he was a no-good crook.
Before the offering, it was Bob’s time to pray. He walked proudly to the microphone and began to pray using his religious tone of voice, “Heavenly Father, I thank Thee that I’ve been a deacon in this church for 20 years. I even remember when I built this building using my own two hands. And I thank Thee that I haven’t missed a single Sunday for over ten years. There were times, O Lord, when I was sick, but I came anyway. And Father, thou knowest I used to sing in the choir, until I was persecuted by the song leader who wouldn’t sing my style of music–but I can endure persecution just like Thou didest. Thou hast blessed me financially so I’ve been able to give you much more than 10 percent. I Thank thee that I’m morally pure for I don’t drink, and I don’t cuss on Sundays, and I don’t smoke unfiltered cigarettes and I don’t use drugs or sell them–like someone who is among today. Lord, we need more people just like me in our church. And, Lord, help everyone to come out tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at Oak Park field to watch our church softball team beat the Methodists again and bless the gift and the giver. AMEN.”
After napping through much of the sermon, Baptist Bob strolled out of church feeling good about himself because he made it through another Sunday. He liked leaving church because he didn’t have to think about God again until the next Sunday.
Meanwhile, Larry Lowlife was slouched on the back pew. After hearing the message about God’s forgiveness, he slipped to his knees, and began to pray. Holding his face in his hands he sobbed quietly, “God, I’m the dirtiest sinner in this town. I’m so sorry. I don’t deserve it, but is there any way you can wash away my filthy mistakes? Please, God, I need you!”
I tell you, it was Larry Newlife, not Baptist Bob, who went home that day right with God. For he who struts his stuff before God will eventually be slapped down. But when you admit you are like dirt compared to God’s purity, He’ll pick you up and clean you up. Are you more like Bob or Larry in that story?
- Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior, by Fannie J. Cosby
- My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less, by Edward Mote, William B. Bradbury
- Amazing Grace, How Sweet The Sound, by John Newton
Holy God, our righteous judge, daily your mercy surprises us with everlasting forgiveness. Strengthen our hope in you, and grant that all the peoples of the earth may find their glory in you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.