Weekly Devotional: Luke 18:9-14
In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a parable that begins with a warning about self-righteousness and finishes with a timeless biblical principle:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, 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 off, would not 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 the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
As you read this passage, you’re probably thinking, “That’s Jesus, our Lord and teacher. He really knew how to speak to those insufferable, self-righteous Pharisees!” Which he certainly did—over and over throughout the gospels, we see him confronting the Jewish religious leaders about their arrogance and self-exaltation. He called them hypocrites, blind guides, a brood of vipers.
But the interesting thing about this passage is, Jesus was not speaking to the Pharisees. He was speaking to his disciples, the ones who called him Lord and teacher. Let’s look at the beginning of this passage again (verse 9):
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt….
Jesus, the humble, peaceful leader of the downtrodden, whose disciples were tax collectors and fishermen—people about as far from being Pharisees as you can get—had to address those among his followers who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and who treated others with contempt.
If you thought that followers of Christ weren’t like that, think again. Self-exaltation is the oldest of sins; Lucifer sought to exalt himself above God, and tempted Jesus to do the same. Not one of us is immune to this temptation—it happens in the blink of an eye. One moment you’re trying to be patient, the next you’re posting a comment on Facebook that makes you look good and someone else look bad. One moment you’re trying to be understanding, the next you’re saying something that makes it clear how little you think of someone, or something held dear by others. James is right to call the tongue a fire that sets forests ablaze, a world of unrighteousness.
As hard as it is to face the fact that we are among those whom this parable is aimed at, we are not left without hope. Jesus concludes this passage with a biblical principle we can burn into our minds and souls:
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
There’s our lesson, and our goal. But is it really possible to humble ourselves when our natural state is pride? If we look back to the parable, it seems to be more of a matter of perspective than effort. The Pharisee obviously adores himself and considers himself (and his religion) the most important thing in this world. He strikes me as the kind of man who would be continually checking himself out in his own reflections. But what about the tax collector? His awareness of his sin and his need for the gospel is so strong, he can’t even look up. That’s not only the starting point of salvation, it’s a constant truth, the correct perspective to carry with us through every hour of every day. It’s a view of ourselves that will allow us to not just try our best to be humble (and fail), but to actually be humble.
In gospel humility, we will find ourselves justified before God, for he opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. As you go through your days, keep the honesty and wisdom of the tax collector in mind, and you might just start being humble.
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” —James 4:10