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“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” C.S. Lewis
“Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.” – Andrew Murray
Have you ever been around that one person in the crowd that always needs to be heard? They stand in the midst of a circle of onlookers boasting about what’s going to be. They are people with a lot of talk and little action.
Jesus was the epitome of what true humbleness is. Philippians 2:7 speaks of His character, saying, “But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” The King of all kings stepped down from His throne in heaven to don the rags of the earthly garment of humanity. The King that could’ve demanded all demanded nothing.
In John 13:15 He told them, “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” Though that was written after the washing of the disciples’ feet the same principle of humility and life applies here.
Prominence is not a new and a now thing. Wanting to be seen and noticed by others even through the guise of religious intentions, is something that mankind has and continues to struggle with, and is frowned upon by our Lord. Jesus shows us the difference between a self-righteous Pharisaic attitude and that of true humility through today’s text.
Luke 18:9-10 “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others. Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.”
Parables, Jesus’ use of real-day illustrations that tell a story with an object lesson, became a way to instill in His hearers a sometimes deeper understanding of the kingdom of God. Sometimes they were the source of encouragement and at other times they stood as a strong rebuke, particularly toward the Pharisees and the religious elite.
Today’s parable is such a one. Although outwardly we may think it is about prayer. But, inwardly it tells the story of one’s heart before God. The purpose behind today’s story/parable is there were “certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” In other words, there were some who believed they were in and of themselves good enough for God, good enough for heaven, just plain old good enough above all others. In their hearts they needed to do a reality check.
The Bible strictly warns, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God,” (2 Corinthians 3:5; emphasis mine). We are also told in God’s Word, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away,” (Isaiah 64:6; emphasis mine). The words “we” and “our” in 2 Corinthians and the words “all” in Isaiah show that not one human has it altogether as he or she may think they do of their own accord. Not one human is good enough. The second word “all” emphasized focused on one’s works which are as “filthy rags” compared to the glory in heaven. All have been subject to sin. All will fade. All need to depend on God’s righteousness alone. When one trusts in themselves and their own works of “righteousness” they put themselves in the dangerous place of tossing God’s grace aside and adopting a prideful position in life that opposes God.
Not only did they distort the view of their selves, but they had a wrong opinion of almost everyone else. In their arrogant attitude they “despised others,” looking down on them with scorn. They had a habit of viewing themselves with rose colored glasses believing they are okay just the way they are, but when they looked at others all they could see was the “mote” or flaws in another’s eye (see Matthew 7:3-5).
Jesus had the remedy for setting their wrong perceptions straight. Using a story of two very different men He showed two very different views on how they saw themselves as opposed to how God really saw them.
The men in this story “went up into the temple to pray; the one Pharisee, and the other a publican.” A Pharisee and a publican (tax collector) were complete polar opposites. Their lives were contrary to one another. The Pharisee was known for adhering to the Mosaic Law with strict observance, as well as other oral traditions. They were known for their piety amongst their fellow man and people looked at them with high regard and reverence for their devotional lifestyle. Whereas, the publican was considered a traitor with the enemy Romans, by whom they were employed, and thus were generally despised by all. They were known for their loose morals and sinful living, even fleecing their own pockets off the wages of their countrymen.
In this story, though opposites in character and moral values, both went up to the “temple to pray.” Later in this lesson it reveals the true reason behind their visits.
Luke 18:11-13 “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.”
When they both arrived at the prayer meeting we see two different sorts of prayer coming from each. First, there is the Pharisee who is quoted as having “prayed thus with himself.” There are varying opinions of exactly what this means. Some renderings see it as he is separating himself by standing alone so as not to contaminate himself with other people. Most see it as, although he had addressed his prayer to God, he was actually praying or talking loudly to himself under the guise of prayer. His mind wasn’t on God at all, rather he was purposed to go down a self-complimenting list of spiritual achievements that he can attribute to his own righteousness. He wasn’t there to glorify God; he was there to glorify himself.
Once upon a time Jesus spoke against those who prayed only to be seen of men. He said, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly,” (Matthew 6:6).
Naming off the worst offenders of those “other men” he pointed out under a false sense of thanks that he was not an “extortioner” (a swindler, if you will, who stole from people by exacting from them through force and low down means), the “unjust” (illegals, sinners, anyone categorized as unrighteous compared to his own self-proposed righteousness), “adulterers” (unfaithful to spouses in defiling the marriage bed), and most of all he was glad he wasn’t as the despised “publican,” whom he was viewing and comparing himself to.
Please note: This is not only a faulty trait for this Pharisee, but for many others as well. Comparing oneself to others falls very short of comparing oneself to what the Word of God says. For if one did that, those rose colored glasses may not look as cheery as once believed. We would see our own faults and shortcomings and be comparatively more like the publican in his humbleness before God and less likely to look pointedly to others with despising attitudes.
The Pharisee went on to itemize his “good” qualities by stating, “I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” The Pharisees prided themselves in both of these areas making themselves seem more devoted than most. Fasting they did but were also rebuked by Jesus for their hypocrisy involving it. Jesus wasn’t opposed to fasting but for the Pharisees they used it as an opportunity to parade their holier-than-thou status before others. To this Jesus says they have their reward (Matthew 6:16).
Also notice that within verses 11 and 12, the praying Pharisee said “I” five times showing his priority of proclaiming and awarding self for all that he, in and of himself, had done. Let me make this really clear, there is no room in God’s kingdom for self-sufficiency and self-righteousness. Anything we have or are able to do is because of the work of God in our life. Staking the claim that one’s self had accomplished it puts them in opposition of giving glory to God.
Please note: When there is competition for glory, God will always retain His! If one is in competition with Him they are against Him.
Then, we have the publican who dares not draw any nearer than he is. Judging by his stature and prayer, it is just a humble honor for this old wretched soul to be able to traipse through the door of God’s dwelling to be near His presence. In his prayer he sincerely spoke contritely from the heart while beating his chest, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” There was no boasting for his lifestyle left little to feel proud of. He knows what he has done. He recognizes and acknowledges his sins before God.
His approach to God reminds me of another biblical character who sinned greatly but was remorseful and received God’s forgiveness. He also became one of the most well-known and well-loved Bible characters. It was King David. After his sin with Bathsheba and taking the life of Uriah (see 2 Samuel 11-12) he was confronted by Nathan who set him straight. Knowing his wrong was real and he had let God and man down David penned beautiful psalms of contrition and in one he wrote, “For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me,” (Psalm 51:3).
The publican in today’s parable stands before God and God only not caring how others viewed him. So aware was he of his own transgressions he felt unworthy to even “lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven.” But with his voice he uttered his heart’s plea that God would show him that unmerited favor he doesn’t deserve.
He knows the mess he has made with his life. He doesn’t need the Pharisee to point it out. For this is the reason he came here today. I think he must have realized as David did, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight . . .” (Psalm 51:4). It is from God he seeks forgiveness and grace; it is God and God only that can help him get his life together once again. So, with a bowed head he humbly makes his heart’s petition to the Lord. God has always, always been more interested in what one’s heart is saying as opposed to their mouth, especially the heart that personifies true repentance.
Luke 18:14 “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
In God’s economy regarding the way He view things is vastly different than the ways of this world. In fact, He said in Isaiah 55:8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.” With that being said, we see Jesus teaches the way up is down, and he that raises himself, God will put down.
Obadiah 3-4 says, “The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground? Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the LORD.” Arrogance and self-exaltation is deceptive. It is a lie that will fade as fast as any fake substance that tries to stand before a very real God. That’s God’s economy!
“A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honor shall uphold the humble in spirit,” (Proverbs 29:23). When one seeks to exalt themselves not only is it prideful, something that God is dreadfully against, but it shows that one trusts in themselves over God’s sovereignty.
Any who would seek to lift himself will be “abased;” God will put them down. But, for those that are humble God shows special favor. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones,” (Isaiah 57:17). These are the ones that are revived. These are the one’s He exalts.
Jesus stated for all to hear, “This man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” This man, in his humility of repentance, was made right in the eyes of God not the pompous Pharisee. The one who made himself righteous lost out. With Scripture backing this up we see that it is “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” (Titus 3:5).
The apostle Paul taught, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Romans 5:1). It all starts with a humble heart that seeks God with true repentance.
(Click here for PDF: Be Humble Sunday School Lesson, or simply click the print button below. Enjoy!)
Below are activities to support this week’s lesson. Enjoy!
Draw the Scene: Be Humble Draw the Scene
Memory Verse: Be Humble Memory Verse
How Many Words?: Be Humble How Many Words
Below are Activities/Links/Resources to support this week’s lesson. Enjoy!
“The Pharisee and Tax Collector” (Activity sheets with group activities such as “Humble Pie” and “Humble and Prideful Men Game.” Enjoy!)
“The Pharisee and the Tax Collector Teacher’s Guide” (Includes games, crafts, and memory verse activities. Enjoy!)
“The Pharisee and the Tax Collector” (Simply scroll down to lesson and click on craft idea. There you will see a wonderful activity your students are sure to love. Enjoy!)
“A Tale of Two Prayers” (Great lesson ideas and object lesson. It has balloons so you know students will enjoy this one. Enjoy!)
“The Tortoise and the Hare” (This old story with coloring sheet is a great example of humility. Enjoy!)
“Boastful or Humble” (Printable activity page that will help kids evaluate what is humble.)
“Pride vs. Humility” (Different lesson but can easily be applied to this one. After all, when you have boxing gloves involved it becomes a whole new way of illustrating such an important truth. Enjoy!)