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To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody 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 up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
I think the NIV footnote on verse 11 is the most accurate rendering of “the Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself.” The footnote says, “He prayed TO himself.” He made himself God, which, if you will recall, is exactly how satan tempted Adam and Eve—you will be like God (Genesis 3:5).
In a portion of William Cowper’s poem Truth, he addresses the pride of the Pharisee, and warns us that this could be our pride too if we aren’t carefully guarding our hearts.
Who judged the Pharisee? What odious cause
Exposed him to the vengeance of the laws?
Had he seduced a virgin, wrong’d a friend,
Or stabb’d a man to serve some private end?
Was blasphemy his sin? Or did he stray
From the strict duties of the sacred day?
Sit long and late at the carousing board?
(Such were the sins with which he charged his Lord.)
No—the man’s morals were exact. What then?
‘Twas his ambition to be seen of men;
His virtues were his pride; and that one vice
Made all his virtues gewgaws [gyoo-gaws] of no price;
He wore them as fine trappings for a show,
A praying, synagogue-frequenting beau.
The self-applauding bird, the peacock, see—
Mark what a sumptuous Pharisee is he!
Meridian sunbeams tempt him to unfold
His radiant glories, azure, green, and gold:
He treads as if, some solemn music near,
His measured step were govern’d by his ear;
And seems to say—“Ye meaner fowl give place;
I am all splendour, dignity, and grace!”
Not so the pheasant on his charms presumes,
Though he, too, has a glory in his plumes.
He, Christian-like, retreats with modest mien
To the close copse or far sequester’d green,
And shines without desiring to be seen.
The plea of works, as arrogant and vain,
Heaven turns from with abhorrence and disdain;
Not more affronted by avow’d neglect,
Than by the mere dissembler’s feign’d respect.
What is all righteousness that men devise?
What—but a sordid bargain for the skies!
But Christ as soon would abdicate His own,
As stoop from heaven to sell the proud a throne.
When the writer of Hebrews says that we can approach the throne of grace boldly, it is clear that it is not because of our righteous deeds, even if they are as exacting and as perfect as a Pharisee. We can only come boldly into God’s presence because we come in the name and the righteousness of Jesus. “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”
Adding “in Jesus name” to the end of our prayers isn’t a password that opens the storeroom of Heaven, but it is a reminder that we have nothing in ourselves to commend us to God. We come boldly only in Jesus.
C.S. Lewis gives us fantastic insight into the temptations the devil tries to use against Christians. You can read my full book review here. Just as a reminder: When Screwtape talks about “the Enemy” he is referring to God and when he says “our Father” he is talking about satan.
“Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him.”
“Music and silence—how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell—though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could express—no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise—Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end.”
“Let his inner resolve be to bear whatever comes to him, but to bear it ‘for a reasonable period’—and let the reasonable period be shorter than the trial is likely to last. It need not be much shorter…. The fun is to make the man yield just when (had he but known it) relief was almost in sight.”
“Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.”
“Our Enemy is a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the seashore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are ‘pleasures forevermore.’ Ugh! … He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least—sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us.”
“You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
“Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, ‘By Jove! I’m being humble,’ and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt. … You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of Humility. Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character.”
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One it to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”
“Even of his sins the Enemy does not want him to think too much: once they are repented, the sooner the man turns his attention outward, the better the Enemy is pleased.”
“Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment.”
…As long as Uzziah sought the Lord, God gave him success. … But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall… (2 Chronicles 26:5, 16).
Success makes me more vulnerable to pride. Success can distract from the very One who gave me success. I am in danger of losing God’s blessings in the very moment I am enjoying God’s blessings.
Humility has to be an ongoing choice. That choice becomes harder as the successes become bigger or more frequent. But choosing pride in “my accomplishments” will undo all the previous successes.
The only way to keep these blessings is two words: IF ONLY. If only I will continue to remain humble before God and obedient to Him.
Uzziah, sadly, didn’t make that choice. His pride in God’s success led to his downfall.
His son Jotham learned this lesson. Jotham grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the Lord his God (27:6).
I like the KJV of this verse that says, “Jotham grew powerful because he prepared his ways before the Lord his God.”
Jotham was keenly aware that everything he did was seen by God. He was determined that everything he did would be pleasing in God’s sight. The word “before” in verse 6 means “in front” of or even “before the face.” Jotham didn’t live as though he might face God at the end of his life, but as though he was facing God at every moment of his life.
Notice two phrases in this sentence—grew powerful and walked steadfastly. They are directly tied to each other: Jotham became powerful only because he was determined to live righteously and humbly in God’s sight. The more powerful he became, the more he increased his commitment to live humbly before God’s face.
He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Uzziah had done, BUTunlikehim he did not enter the temple of the Lord (v. 2).
Jotham humbly prepared his ways before the Lord, and when God made him powerful Jotham re-committed to stay humble. Great choice!
I’ll say it again: The only way to keep God’s blessings on my initial humble choice is to continue to choose humility at every moment of success.