“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thusly: ‘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” (Luke 18:11-14).
With this parable, no one has a problem identifying right and wrong. We all know that the Pharisee is wrong.
In Sunday school, if you ever have to guess at who’s wrong, one of the best answers is, “The Pharisees are wrong.” Other good answers, of course, include, “The disciples are wrong,” “The people are wrong,” or in the case of our study on the book of Job, “Job and/or his three idiot friends are wrong.”
The way we’ve been taught to read Scripture, we’re not surprised by it anymore, or—at least—we’re content with our current understanding of it, which shouldn’t be.
We know Jesus is right.
We know the Pharisees are wrong.
We know that the arrogant pride of the Pharisee who prays, thanking God that he’s unlike others, is wrong.
And we know that the poor, miserable tax collector, standing far off, who beats his breast, Mea culpa, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13), we know he’s right.
We know that we shouldn’t emulate the Pharisee.
And we know that we should emulate the tax collector.
We know all this. Right?
But the parables of Jesus aren’t simple things.
We know the Pharisee’s wrong, but—in especially one way—we’re much more like the Pharisee and in complete opposition to the tax collector.
Consider how you speak.
And I don’t mean the cursing—the lies—the opinions you give that no one asks for—the obvious ill-speech that should be given up.
I mean—consider how you use the word “pride.”
Consider how you hear the word used.
It seems harmless, right? And everyone’s does it, so it can’t be wrong.
How many of you have said: I’m proud of you, or I take pride in my work, or I pride myself in being honest or whatever. I’m bursting with pride. Or, You’re my pride and joy?
Those are common sayings. Everyone says them.
But pride is a vice—immoral, wrong, and wicked.
Pride is not a virtue—meet, right, and salutary.
And this isn’t simply Church tradition or the teachings of men. Consider the overwhelming evidence, the testimony of Scripture:
Uzziah, king of Judah, wrongly offered incense before God. He did what a priest is given to do, and he was afflicted with leprosy until his death because of it. “When he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Chronicles 26:16).
Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king at the time of Daniel, is described this way: “When his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him…his mind was made like that of a beast” (Daniel 5:20, 21).
Proverbs speaks this way: “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor” (Proverbs 29:23). “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2). And “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
The Psalms say this: “For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord. In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 10:3-4).
Saints James and Peter also quote the proverb, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5; cf. Proverbs 3:34, Greek Translation).
And from St. Mark, Jesus says, “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23).
There’s no place for our use of the word “pride” when we consider what thus says the Lord.
Because it’s the pride of the Pharisee that makes him wrong—not his words.
We read the Pharisee’s words, knowing already that he’s wrong because he’s a Pharisee, but there’s a meet, right, and salutary way to pray his words.
The Pharisee prayed: “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” (Luke 18:11-12).
Believe me when I say, I don’t criticize the words of your prayers. Even if you don’t “grammar good when pray,” I thank God that you pray.
So realize that if a man thanks God because he’s unlike others, or if a woman thanks God for keeping her daughter separated from the multitude of unbelievers, perhaps he knows that those around him are unbelieving hypocrites. Perhaps she remembers the Rite of Holy Baptism where we pray to God, “Grant that she be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers and serving Your name at all times with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope, so that, with all believers in Your promise she would be declared worthy of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”
If you’ve been here for the Rite of Holy Baptism, if you said “Amen” when you were given to say “Amen,” you prayed that prayer. You agreed with it.
That’s part of Luther’s flood prayer.
We can thank God for separating us from the multitude of unbelievers. There are, and must be, distinctions between not only believer and unbeliever but even between believers.
St. Paul writes to the Church in Corinth, “When you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (1 Corinthians 11:18-19).
So, recognizing that, we can pray the words of the Pharisee—or ones very close to them.
It’s not his words that make him wrong but his pride.
And just so, the tax collector isn’t right because of his words but because the object of his prayer and faith is Jesus.
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13), prayed by the unbelieving hypocrite, is not a faithful prayer. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
If the words are right, but there is no faith in the Lord Jesus, though the words are right, you’re wrong.
We’ve seen this throughout our study of the book of Job, right? Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz—and even Job—say things that look correct, but their worldview is wrong, the basis of their words are wrong, and so, though the words look right, they’re still wrong.
Not because of his words but because of his faith and trust in the Living God who saves sinners, Jesus says, of the tax collector, “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” (Luke 18:14).
Pride actively exalts the self.
I’m proud of you. I take pride in my work. I pride myself in being honest, or whatever. I’m bursting with pride. You’re my pride and joy.
When you say these things, you’re really talking about yourself.
It’s as if we say, “I’m proud of you. You’ve done something good, but you shouldn’t feel good about doing good, that’s not what I said, I said ‘I’m proud of you.’ You should feel good because I’m proud of you. What makes you feel good is my pride in you.”
And how terrible is that?
I take pride…I pride myself…I’m bursting with pride…you are my pride…
Pride always talks about the self—always exalts the self and stands opposed to God.
Pride is the opposite of righteousness and humility.
If you recognize this ease with pride and speaking that way, take your inspiration from Job. When confronted with all of what thus says the Lord, the Almighty God, Job responded, finally, “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
That’s the true climax of the book of Job, right there.
Learn from him.
Despise yourself—not so that you see yourself as worthless but that you would not desire to add value to Christ.
Job despises himself in that he despises his pride.
It wasn’t Jesus—and Job—and you—creating the world from nothing in six days and resting on the seventh.
It wasn’t Jesus—and you—hanging on the cross, forgiving the sins of the world.
It’s not Jesus—and you—shining light into the darkness of man’s heart.
You don’t take pride in Jesus’ work, you don’t pride yourself in your faith in Jesus, you don’t burst with pride about the work God does, and we don’t sing that Jesus is our pride and joy.
Rather, as we will sing in a few minutes, Jesus sinners doth receive, and he who humbles himself, Jesus forgives, renews, strengthens, and exalts.
Now, I’ve said that, and I also need to say this.
Being a new, young, and inexperienced father, I’ve spoken this way, regarding pride, countless times.
Pride is so common a vice in our nation, we’ve devoted one month of every year to its worship.
Pride is the way of the world.
But I try, now—and I say this so that you will, too—I try, now, to say what I actually mean.
Instead of I’m proud of you, I try to say, What a good thing you’ve done! What a faithful job-well-done!
That doesn’t speak of pride but what is truly good.
It doesn’t speak of self but of the boy, of the good thing, and even of the God who alone is good.
That was such a God-pleasing thing, good job.
How strange is that to our ears? To describe a thing as God-pleasing instead of being prideful.
Realize the difference between pride and that which is meet, right, and salutary.
The tax collector isn’t proud but humble, trusting in the God who forgives sinners.
Jesus wasn’t proud but obedient, desiring to please our Father in heaven.
The Christian isn’t proud but humble, he’s not selfish but obedient.
This is how we can speak to confess the faith—to give witness to Christ and His work for our salvation.
This is how we can speak that I may decrease and Christ may increase (cf. John 3:30).
And this is also how we, as Christians, can be examples of humility and faith to others.
St. Paul writes to the Church in Philippi:
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:17-21).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 11 Sermon, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt