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我是法利赛人还是税吏?

作者:道格·巴契勒 牧师日期:2017-04-01 23:8:20浏览数:4079
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在路加福音中,耶稣曾分享过一个强有力的比喻。这个比喻向我们提出了挑战,促使我们对灵命健康的问题作进一步的探究。在这个比喻中提到了两种人,他们同时走进圣殿,且向同一位上帝祷告,但二者的祷告却截然不同。请看经文:

“有两个人上殿里去祷告:一个是法利赛人,一个是税吏。法利赛人站着,自言自语地祷告说:‘上帝啊,我感谢祢,我不像别人勒索、不义、奸淫,也不像这个税吏。我一个礼拜禁食两次,凡我所得的,都捐上十分之一。’那税吏远远地站着,连举目望天也不敢,只捶着胸说:‘上帝啊,开恩可怜我这个罪人!’我告诉你们:这人回家去比那人倒算为义了。因为,凡自高的,必降为卑;自卑的,必升为高。”(路18:10-14)

表面上看,这个比喻显而易见地说明:谦卑胜于骄傲。但很多时候,我发觉,你读圣经的时间越长,就越能发现其含义的深广。你越是投入研究,所得到的真理就越多。随着时间的推移,我发现,在这个比喻中所隐含的信息,远比我们所认为的、只要看一眼就能明白的道理要多得多。

令人震惊的比喻

在耶稣的时代,法利赛人通常被视为所有信徒中最虔诚的人,而税吏则被定义为不忠不义的勒索之徒。用今天的话说,税吏就是黑社会。因此,在这个比喻中,耶稣给出的结论简直令当时听道的人们目瞪口呆。在这个政治立场偏颇的反常例子中,耶稣表明,税吏会被称义且得救,而法利赛人却成了未蒙赦免的失丧者。对此,我们稍后会进行研究。但从中我们首先可看出的是,在这比喻中,耶稣把当时社会的等级制度完全的颠覆了。

税吏和法利赛人,其实代表着两种人。不是指属世意义上的两个群体,而是指属灵命运相反的两等人——在教会中“得救”与“失丧”的两种人。今天,每位自称为基督徒的人,都必定是这两个群体的其中一员。并且,一个代表的是你,一个代表的是我。

我属于哪种人?

当我们思考这个问题时,每个人都需要谦卑自我,以寻求圣灵的指引。你可能觉得自己是税吏,但实际上确是个法利赛人,反之亦然。或者二者兼备。因此,学习这个比喻,对于我们每个人都非常重要。因为我们皆是其中的一员,我们需要确保自己是耶稣所赦免的那位。

我们发现,在这个比喻中的两种人之间,有一些相同之处:

第一,他们都是信上帝的。如果你想列在“得救”的人中,“相信上帝”乃是起点。

但“相信上帝”不是得救的唯一标准。因为魔鬼也信,但使徒雅各却说:“你信上帝只有一位,你信的不错;鬼魔也信,却是战惊。”(雅2:19)所以,要想“得救”,还必须符合其他更多的条件。

第二,他们都去教堂。要想“得救”,这一点也很重要。我常说,如果你连一周去一次教会的信心都没有,又怎么会有足够的信心去到永恒的天国呢?

有时候,人们会为不去教堂作辩解,说:“因为那里有假冒伪善的人。”但我要说:“不必担心,多一个不多。”此外,耶稣每逢安息日,也会照例去到挤满伪善者的会堂,其中还有想谋害祂的人。

另一些人可能会抱怨说,去教会很无聊。但我们去教会的目的,是为了娱乐,还是敬拜上帝?如果你去了教堂,却未能达成对上帝的敬拜,那么,请祈求上帝来改变你的心。在路加福音4:16节,耶稣亲自为我们设立了每周去教堂的榜样,祂在那里敬拜与施教。

第三,他们都祷告。在路加福音18:1节的比喻中,耶稣曾吩咐人要“常常祷告”。保罗也说,我们应当“不住地祷告。”(帖前5:17)“得救”之人离不开祷告。

因此,在这里,我们可以看到两种人的共同点:都信上帝;都去教堂;都在祷告。我希望这些实践信仰的基本要素,你也都有。

接下来,再看看两种人的不同点。

我有属灵的骄傲吗?

先来看看因外在虔诚,而倍显傲慢的法利赛人。他们热衷于背诵经文,拘泥于律法的字句,并在形式上保持着对耶和华敬拜的纯正——这是一群狂热的保守派。据圣经的记载我们可知,在犹太人成为巴比伦之奴时,先知曾指明,正是因着他们对上帝的不忠,才招致了这一厄运。作为回应,“法利赛”教派便应运而生——他们希望以色列民不再受周边异教国家的影响,因此,他们严苛地拘守着宗教细节。因为他们知道,如果以色列民再次陷入偶像崇拜的深渊,则上帝可能会永远撤回对以色列民族的保护。

所以,法利赛人原本是一群对信仰极为虔诚,且渴望保守自己不染世俗的良善者。

但遗憾的是,许多或大部分的法利赛人对形式主义的狂热顺服,已经超越了他们对同胞的爱。耶稣曾多次坐在草地上,论及法利赛人对外在宗教形式的专注,并责备他们自以为义的罪。“你们这假冒为善的文士和法利赛人有祸了!因为你们好像粉饰的坟墓,外面好看,里面却装满了死人的骨头和一切的污秽。”(太23:27)

同样,在这个启发性的比喻中,法利赛人所代表的,是那些道貌岸然的伪善者。

再看看税吏。这里的税吏指的是古代的税官,但和现今的税官又有所不同。在当时,罗马人若占领了一个地方,因为不会讲当地的语言,也不了解其文化,但仍要收税,该怎么办呢?于是他们就雇佣了一些当地人,作为税吏来代为收税,以免去收税的麻烦。而比喻中的税吏,则是指为罗马收税的犹太人。

这些税吏在收纳税赋时,常常会多收一定的比例,以作为自己的私得。很多税吏就是这样利用职务之便,向本族的民众敲诈巨额的税款,以中饱私囊。正因此,作为税吏的撒该,在耶利哥城很是出名,且是少有的富户。(参见 路19:1-9)

因此,犹太人中的税吏是为同胞们所憎恶的。他们认为这些税吏是卖国贼,将从上帝子民中所收取的金钱,奉献给信奉异教的罗马。税吏也因经常流连于酒肆与嫖娼之所而臭名远播。在犹太人的眼中,税吏、罪人和娼妓常常是归于一类,被视为罪人中最坏的一群。

基于当时对犹太税吏的观点,我们看到,在上述比喻中的两个人,都来到圣殿,并向上帝祈祷。这时,人们自然而然的就认为,法利赛人是最接近上帝的人,而税吏则被视为被上帝遗弃的无望贱民。但从圣经我们得知,耶稣喜爱的却是这个税吏。这又是为什么呢?

独特的祷告内容与祷告姿势

二人最大的区别,就在于他们祷告方式的不同。“法利赛人站着,自言自语地祷告说……”(路18:11)他独自一人,挺胸昂首的站在前面。他感谢上帝,自己不像这个税吏。

而税吏的祷告却完全不同。我们看路加福音18:13节,“那税吏远远地站着,连举目望天也不敢,只捶着胸说:‘上帝啊,开恩可怜我这个罪人!’”他谦恭地站在后面,甚至不敢抬起眼睛。

与此同时,法利赛人开始述说自己的好行为:“我一个礼拜禁食两次,凡我所得的,都捐上十分之一。”(路18:12)他是要告诉众人,自己是严格遵守律法的。并希望人们都知道他做了些什么,为上帝奉献了多少。他的祷告,本质上乃是在自我吹捧。

这正如耶稣在传道初期,论及法利赛人时所说话:“他们一切所作的事都是要叫人看见,”(太23:5)“故意要得人的荣耀。”(太6:2)

时至今日,这个比喻对我们依然重要,因为在今日的教会中,仍有很多“属灵上的法利赛人。”

法利赛人的问题是,他没有意识到自己有什么问题或缺点,也没有认识到自己有什么属灵上的需要。他认为自己的行为尽是美德。

但根据圣经,他的这种自以为义毫无价值。耶稣说:“你们的义若不胜于文士和法利赛人的义,断不能进天国。”(太5:20)

在这句话中,耶稣并没有将法利赛人的义高举为一种标准。相反,祂是在告诉我们,若要进入天国,我们必须超越法利赛人的标准。因为法利赛人的义只是外在的,是做在人前、做给人看的。而真正的义,却是在人前人后都一样,那是做给上帝看。

“你们要谨慎,不要在人面前行善,故意让人看见。否则你就不能得到上帝的赏赐。所以,当你行善时,不可在你面前吹号,像那假冒伪善的人在会堂和大街上所行的,故意要得人的荣耀。”(太6:1 KJV直译)

因此,真正的行善,应当是以谦卑之心,暗自付出,不让他人知晓。只有那样,才有助于培养我们柔和谦卑的性情,并揭示我们行善的动机:我们是做给人看,让大家觉得我们很慷慨,还是真正关心那些需要帮助的人?

要如何祷告?

“你们祷告的时候,不可像那假冒为善的人,爱站在会堂里和十字路口上祷告,故意叫人看见。”(太6:5)

这个比喻所要表达的观点,不是说站着祷告不好,但你要查明自己为何而站立。耶稣不希望我们在祷告时,通过行为或言语来吸引他人关注自己,让人感觉你的祷告很虔诚。

你有过小组轮流祷告的经历吗?当你开始为周围的其他人祷告时,是否只是为着别人的好处而说上一大堆,却忘记真正从内心深处去与上帝交流?我有过这种经历,在为孩子祷告时,有时也会这样。我们与孩子们一起跪下,恳求上帝帮助他们取得好成绩,让他们爱劳动,打扫房间等等。孩子们就在身旁,我们的祷告变成了小型劝勉,而不是在用心与上帝沟通。

当我们在祷告中传递出含沙射影的话语或信息时,哪怕只有一点点,其实我们和那位站着祷告的法利赛人便没什么区别,都在自以为义。“上帝啊,我感谢祢,我不像其他人…”

你是否曾质疑过别人的行为?或是感恩自己不像别人那样?甚至谴责别人不该穿成那样去教堂聚会?“他怎么穿成那样,一点都不尊重上帝,哪像我穿得这么端庄。……上帝啊,感谢祢,我没有穿成那样。”等等,这些论断他人的言语,上帝都听得见。

值得一提的是,流言蜚语只是这种假仁假义的一种外在表现。我们常常将流言蜚语放在祷告中,并伪装成真诚的祈祷!“我可不是在说闲话啊,我只是想提一下,我们应当祷告的内容,咱们一起来为这些不妥的行为祷告吧。”然后,便开始了揭发莎莉和布鲁斯一起吃午饭,但两人都是已婚,这种单独约会,竟然没有带上自己的另一半。……你曾说过样类似的话吗?或许此刻,在你的内心,正庆幸着:“感谢主,我没有像某些人,说过这样的话!”

我所信的是谁?

法利赛人不惜以论断或贬低邻舍的行为,来标榜自己在日常生活中有多么虔诚,属灵上多么高尚。他深信自己的好行为能得到上帝的认可,却没有恳求上帝帮助自己去效学基督。事实上,很多良善的人,可能无意中都做了类似的事。

希西家曾是一位品行端正的王。圣经说他“行耶和华眼中看为正的事。”(王下18:3)而后有一天,上帝差遣以赛亚去告诉希西家,要安排好后事,因为离世的日子近了。于是希西家向上帝祷告,不依不饶地哭诉,并列出自己的丰功伟绩。上帝听到他的呼求,便动了怜悯之心,加增了他十五年的寿数。上帝希望他在这十五年中能谦卑自己,吸取教训。然而在加增的岁月中,希西家王非但没有认清自己的罪,寻求上帝的帮助,反而让“法利赛式”的骄傲占据了心田。

上述比喻中的法利赛人也是如此。他用别人的行为、而非上帝的标准来衡量自己。他缺乏谦卑痛悔的灵,觉得自己不需要上帝,也就没有在祷告中提到什么需要代祷的事项。他所感谢的不是上帝,而是自己。在祷告中,他五次提到“我”,可谓是一个完全以自我为中心的演讲。

一般来说,以自我为中心的祷告,会向上帝要求一些东西。如“上帝啊,为我做这件事。主啊,给我那些!”为自己的需要献上祷告是没有问题的,耶稣也在马太福音6:11节的主祷文中恳求上帝“赐予我们日用的饮食”。但很多时候,我们的祷告只是为自己求一些并不需要的东西,却没有为他人代求。

值得注意的是,法利赛人在比喻中没有提出任何请求。他是如此的自以为是,深信自己不需要任何东西。对个人之义的错误认识,令他沉浸其中并洋洋得意。而自以为义正是作为罪人的我们,最不配进入天国的障碍!著名作家——路易斯(C.S.Lewis)曾说:“当人越来越清楚的认识到自身残留的罪时,才会变得更好;相反,人若越来越忽视自己何等有罪时,他的品行只会越来越遭!”

自我崇拜

法利赛人和税吏都相信上帝,但二者的结局却截然相反。法利赛人确信自己的行为能赚得救恩;而税吏则向上帝祈求怜悯。

这是否让你想起圣经中的另外两个人?兄弟俩分别带着各自的祭物来献给上帝。二人也都献上了祷告,该隐对自己从田里耕种的辛苦所得充满信心。而亚伯却寻求上帝的怜悯,他带来一只羊羔,并渴望藉之所流的血来涂抹自己的罪。当该隐看到自己的义(劳动所得)不被上帝看中时,便向上帝动怒,又厌恶并杀害了自己的弟兄亚伯。在世界末了,我们仍会看到同样的事情不断地上演。

进一步的,我们是否会想到,最初路锡甫也是落入了这同样的陷阱,以致从“明亮之星”的天使,沦为堕落的撒但。他迷恋自我、骄傲自大,进而变成了自我崇拜,并对上帝的政权起了觊觎之心。嫉妒生仇恨,仇恨生叛乱与杀害。凡追随撒但的人,都会在日常生活中模仿魔鬼的态度与作为,以及各种形式的自我崇拜。

再回到路加福音18:12节的比喻,法利赛人在祷告中提醒上帝关注他的好行为:一周禁食两次。而在犹太人的传统中,一年只需禁食一次,且只在逾越节才禁食。

禁食、祷告和奉献,这都没有错,事实上,我们中间的多数人对此应当做的更多才对。但关键在于,这些行为背后的动机是否正确?这正是法利赛人和税吏的区别所在。约翰·卫斯理曾说过:“好人于爱与美德中避免犯罪,恶人则于惩罚的恐惧中躲避罪恶。”

耶稣教导说:“你们禁食的时候,不可像那假冒为善的人,脸上带着愁容;因为他们把脸弄得难看,故意叫人看出他们是禁食。”(太6:16)

法利赛人在世人面前高抬自己,这带给他一种自我优越感。是的,他感到很自豪。但可悲的是,他并没认识到,在上帝的眼中,祂所看重的是什么。法利赛人想找出衡量自己的标准,他站在那里,环顾四周,发现只能与他人对比,并以此为标准。论到这种致命的错误态度,保罗说:“因为我们不敢将自己和那自荐的人同列相比;他们用自己度量自己,用自己比较自己,乃是不通达的。”(林后10:12)

祸哉!我灭亡了!

与别人比,我们总是能找到属灵状况比自己差的人。税吏其实也能找到比他差的人,但他没有将自己与他人相比。他不是站在与人相比的水平视角来祷告,相反,他是以向上垂直的视角,将耶稣基督作为标准,恳求上帝的怜悯与饶恕,因为他看到了两者(罪人与上帝)间巨大的差距。

先知以赛亚曾在上帝面前说:“祸哉!我灭亡了!”(赛6:5)但这个法利赛人却在税吏面前说:“我不像他那么差。”很多时候,我们也会犯这样的错误。无论是出于自尊,还是出于对自我保护的错用,如果我们能找到一个可供指责和批评的对象,我们便会自觉良好,且对罪麻木。我们在祷告中向上帝背诵自己的美德,并列出别人的错误清单,试图借此来说服上帝,或自我催眠:“其实我们并没有那么坏。”

由此可见,我们必须停止这种毫无意义的自我吹捧。且以耶稣为自己行事为人的榜样和标准,那才是真正造就自我、提升自我的方法。使徒雅各说:“务要在主面前自卑,主就必叫你们升高。”(雅4:10)

曾有位国王,邀请了一名音乐家在国宴上演奏并歌唱,以庆祝国庆,同时有许多贵宾一并受邀出席。

当这位音乐家将手指抚按于琴弦之上时,悠扬的旋律随即响起,乐师自弹自唱。而他所演唱的歌词,则全部是荣耀自我。一首接着一首,他在歌词中赞美着自己英俊的外表,旅行的愉悦,天赋的异禀,以及丰功伟绩。

宴会结束后,他兴高采烈地来到国王面前说:“王啊,请给我报酬。”

国王回答说:“对不起,你所唱的只是给自己听。你没有歌唱赞美你的祖国、人民、或国王,所以,你自己给自己报酬吧!”

竖琴师哭着说:“但我唱得很好听啊!”

国王回答说:“是的,可你太骄傲了。你只将天赋奉献在歌唱自己的事上。所以,出去吧,我不能继续留你在宫中作乐师了。”

耶稣在启示录3:17节告诉我们:“你说:我是富足,已经发了财,一样都不缺;却不知道你是那困苦、可怜、贫穷、瞎眼、赤身的。”(启3:17)法利赛人和税吏的比喻,对于末世的你我同样颇具寓意。我们必须警醒,傲慢与不愿承认自己的罪,不愿承认自己需要救恩,将是末时代教会所面临的长期问题。

另一方面,正是那些来到上帝面前,承认他们属灵贫穷的人,才能认识上帝的恩典、接纳、宽恕与永生。“虚心的人有福了!因为天国是他们的。”(太5:3)愿这节经文,能植根在你我的心灵深处,免得我们继续在未被赦免的罪中生活。因为,只有谦卑的人,才能远离罪恶,向往永生。愿你我都能将心思聚焦于永恒的生命,阿们!


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Am I a Phariseee … or a Publican?


By Pastor Doug Batchelor


In the book of Luke, Jesus shares a powerful parable that challenges you and me to do a little healthy soul searching. It depicts two men visiting the same church, both praying to the same God. But something between the two of them is very different.

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 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. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other” (Luke 18:10–14).

The lesson plainly exposed on the surface, of course, is that humility is better than pride. But I have found many times with the Word of God that the longer we gaze into it, the deeper and wider it gets. The more we invest exploring it, the more dividends of truth we accrue. And over time it has occurred to me there’s much more in this parable than what we commonly see with just a brief glance.

A Shocking Parable

In Jesus’ day the Pharisees were considered among the most pious and religious of all the believers in God. On the other hand, the publicans were branded as unfaithful and unjust extortionists. They were seen as the mafia of their day. You can see why, then, that Jesus’ conclusion of this parable literally stunned His audience. It was an outrageous and politically incorrect illustration to suggest that a publican would be justified and saved while a Pharisee would be unforgiven and lost. We’ll look more at this later, but Jesus turned their ranking system upside down.

These men represent two groups, but we are not talking about two groups in the world. Rather, these two men represent two opposite destinies, the saved and the lost, among those who go to church. Every professed believer today falls into one of these groups. One of these men represents me. One represents you.

Which one?

We each need to ask for humility and guidance from the Holy Spirit when considering this question. You might be thinking you’re a publican when you’re really a Pharisee or vice versa. Or you might be some of both. It’s important we study this parable because we are all one of these guys, and we want to make sure we’re the one Jesus forgives.

Some Common Ground

These men had a few things in common. First, they both believed in God. If you want to be in the saved group, that’s a good start!

But believing in God is not the only criteria for salvation. “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19). Because devils also believe there is a God, there must be something more to being saved.

Both men also went to church. This too is important if you want to be in the saved group. I have often said that if you don’t have enough faith to get you to church once a week, it’s not likely you will have enough faith to get you to heaven for eternity.

Sometimes people excuse not going to church by claiming there are hypocrites there. But I say not to worry; there’s always room for one more. Besides, Jesus went to church every Sabbath even though it was peppered with hypocrites, some of whom even wanted Him dead.

Others complain that church is boring. But is the purpose of church to be entertained—or to worship God? And if your worship isn’t fulfilling, pray for God to change your heart. But go to church. Jesus set the example by teaching and worshiping in church every week (Luke 4:16).

The third thing these men had in common was that they both prayed. Jesus says in Luke 18:1 that men “ought always to pray,” and Paul writes that we should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). The saved indeed pray.

So we see both men believed in God. Both went to church. Both prayed. I’m hopeful you also practice these rudimentary elements of faith.

Now let’s consider some of their differences.

Am I Spiritually Proud?

The Pharisees proudly wore their piety. They were a hyper-conservative element of believers who were zealous about the Scriptures, the law of God, and the purity of the worship of Jehovah. When the Jews were captive in Babylon, the prophets told them they were overcome because of their unfaithfulness to God. In response, the sect of Pharisees formed so that Israel would no longer allow themselves to be influenced by the surrounding pagan nations. Fastidious in the details of their religion, the Pharisees knew that if Israel were to fall into idolatry again, God might forever withdraw His protection.

So this was generally a good group of people who were just very zealous in their belief of keeping themselves undefiled by their environment.

Unfortunately, many and perhaps most of the Pharisees let their zealotry for obedience eclipse their love for their fellow man. Jesus called them on the carpet several times for their preoccupation with external religion and rebuked them for their self-righteous wickedness. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).

In this revealing parable, the Pharisee is a sanctimonious, hypocritical man.

Meet the Publicans

A publican, on the other hand, was the ancient version of a tax collector—though they were quite different from tax collectors today. When the Romans conquered a province, they didn’t speak the language and didn’t know the culture, but they needed the tax income. So instead of collecting taxes themselves, they allowed Jews to procure contracts to be tax collectors. The tax collectors were required to amass a certain amount of tax from their district and could keep a percentage over that amount for themselves. Many of them would exploit their position to extort vast sums to fill their own pockets. Zacchaeus was fabulously wealthy because he was a tax collector in Jericho.

The publicans were detested by the Jews, who considered them traitors for taking God’s money from His people and giving it to the pagans. The publicans were also known for keeping the bars open and being involved in prostitution. They represented the worst breed of sinners.

So in this parable about two people going to the temple to pray to God, the people naturally looked upon the Pharisees as the ones who were the closest to God. They looked upon the publicans as the most hopeless, God-forsaken untouchables. Yet Jesus favored the publican. The question is “Why?”

Peculiar Prayers and Posture

An important distinction between the two men was in the way they prayed. “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself” (Luke 18:11). He stood up, by himself, up front. He then thanked God that he was not like the publican. His head was up; his arms were stretched out.

But the publican’s prayer was entirely different. “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” (Luke 18:13). The publican was humbly standing in the back, not even daring to lift up his eyes.

At this point, the Pharisee began to chronicle all his good works. “I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (verse 12). He wanted people to know what he was doing and giving for the Lord. He proclaimed his adherence to the law. His prayer was actually self-exaltation.

In contrast, Christ began His ministry by saying, “All their works they do for to be seen of men” (Matthew 23:5). Jesus says that’s all the reward they’ll get (Matthew 6:2).

This parable is important for us, even today, because we still have Pharisees in church today.

The problem with this Pharisee was that he expressed no need of help. He didn’t seem to recognize that he had any problems or faults. All he saw were virtues.

Yet according to the Bible, his self-righteousness was worthless. “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20 NKJV).

Here, Jesus is not holding up the righteousness of the Pharisees as a standard. Instead, He tells us we must rise above their standard to enter the kingdom of heaven. Their righteousness was before men. True righteousness must be before God.

Take heed that ye do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward of your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men” (Matthew 6:1 NKJV).

It requires humility to secretly do good here on earth, to give something and not let anybody else know about it. It helps tame our spirit and reveals our motivation in doing good: Do we act so others will think of us as generous? Do we really care about the one we’re helping?

How Do I Pray?

When you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing” (Matthew 6:5 NKJV).

The idea of the parable is not that standing while praying is bad, but rather to examine why you are standing. Jesus doesn’t want us to make a spectacle of ourselves while we pray. Don’t draw attention to yourself, either through your actions or by your words.

Have you ever been in a group prayer and started preaching for the benefit of those around you instead of really talking from your heart to God? I have. I sometimes still do it with our children. We kneel with them to pray, asking the Lord to help them get good grades and help them clean their room. They’re right there with us, and our prayer has turned into a mini-sermon.

When we deliver little innuendos and messages in our prayers, that’s one way we stand. That’s the prayer of the Pharisee, “Lord, I thank thee that I am not as other men.”

Do you ever question another person’s behavior? Are you ever thankful that you’re not like that? Have you ever condemned another person’s church clothing? “That’s not at all respectful as  my own modest attire is.” The Lord hears, “Lord, I thank thee I am not as other men.”

By the way, gossip is just an outward manifestation of this holier-than-thou attitude. Often we disguise our gossip as a prayer request! “I’m not gossiping, but I just wanted to mention this so we can pray about it.” Then they reveal Sally went to lunch with Bruce, and they’re both married ... but not to each other. Have you ever said something like that? In your heart, maybe you were really saying, “Lord, I thank thee I am not as other men.”

Whom Do I Trust?

The Pharisee exalted his own religious practices at the expense of his neighbor. He trusted in his own good deeds to make him acceptable to God. He didn’t plead the merits of Christ. Many good people will do this without realizing it.

Hezekiah was a good man and a good king. The Bible says he did “right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 18:3). Then one day, God told Hezekiah to get his things in order; it was time to die. Hezekiah cries “foul” to the Lord, listing his impressive accomplishments. God mercifully heard his prayer and granted him 15 more years, during which Hezekiah had to learn a lesson in humility. In those extra days, good king Hezekiah developed the Pharisee mentality and failed to sense his sin and his need for God.

The Pharisee in our parable was in the same boat. He measured himself with others rather than with God. He lacked a humble, contrite spirit. He felt no need of God and made no request in his prayer. His thanks was not thanking God for being God. His thanks was for himself. Five times in his prayer he said, “I.” It is an entirely self-centered speech.

Typically, even the self-centered prayer is to ask for something. “God, do this for me. Lord, give me that.” It’s okay to pray about our needs. Jesus even says to ask God for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). But many times we’ll throw in requests for things we don’t need, wasting breath that could be spent on praying for others.

Remarkably, the Pharisee made no request at all. He was so self-righteous that he believed he didn’t need anything. He basked in a false sense of personal righteousness, the one thing that most disqualified him for heaven! C.S. Lewis said, “When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less.”

Self Worship

The publican and the Pharisee both believed in God, but it turns out one was worshiping himself. The Pharisee was confident in his own works for salvation; the publican pleaded for mercy from God.

Does this remind you of two other men? Two brothers bring their offerings to God. They both pray, but Cain is confident in his own work, offering the fruit from his vegetable garden. Abel seeks God’s mercy, bringing a lamb and depending on the blood of this substitute to cover his sin. When he sees his self-righteousness is spurned by God, Cain despises and kills his brother. We will see this same scenario repeated in the last days.

Going back even further, Lucifer fell into the same trap. He became enamored with himself. Pride turned into self worship, which spawned jealousy and murder. Those who follow the devil model the devil’s attitude and behavior, and all its various forms of self worship.

In Luke 18:12, the Pharisee reminded the Lord about his good works, one of which was fasting twice a week. It was only required by the Jews to fast once a year at one of the feasts, during the Passover.

There’s nothing wrong with fasting. In fact, most of us ought to do more of it. There’s nothing wrong with praying nor giving either. The problem is when you do these things for the wrong reason—that’s the difference between the publican and the Pharisee. It has to do with motives. John Wesley said, “Good men avoid sin from the love of virtue; wicked men avoid sin from a fear of punishment.”

Jesus taught, “When you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they might appear to men to be fasting” (Matthew 6:16 NKJV).

The Pharisee lifted himself up in the sight of men. This gave him a sense of pride and worth, yes, but he didn’t find that in God’s eyes. When he wanted to find out what the standard was and where he stood relative to it, he looked around and compared himself to other men. Paul addresses this fatal attitude, saying, “We dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12).

Woe Is Me

We can always find somebody worse off spiritually than we are. The publican was probably not the worst sinner in the immediate area, but he didn’t compare himself to men. He didn’t pray with a horizontal perspective; rather, he compared himself to God and begged for mercy because he saw that the gap was huge.

Isaiah, in the presence of God, said, “Woe is me” (Isaiah 6:5). The Pharisee, in the presence of the publican, said, “I’m not that bad.” We all do this sometimes. Whether it’s about self-esteem or a skewed defense mechanism, we feel better, and perhaps anesthetize our guilt, if we can find someone else to criticize. We recite to the Lord our virtues and list the failures of others, trying to convince Him, or just ourselves, that we’re not that bad.

But we must stop trying to lift ourselves up like this. It simply doesn’t work. Rather, we should compare ourselves to Jesus, lifting Him up as our example and standard. That’s the only way we can be truly lifted up. “Humble yourself before the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10 NKJV).

A certain king invited a musician to sing and play at a state dinner celebrating their nation’s birthday. A great many VIPs were assembled.

When the minstrel laid his fingers among the strings of his harp, he played the sweetest melody, but the words he sang were entirely to the glory of himself. It was one ballad after another celebrating his travels, handsome appearance, talents, and exploits. When the feast was over, the harpist said to the monarch, “Oh king, please give me my pay.”

The monarch replied, “You have sung to yourself. You did not sing of your country, people, or king. Be your own paymaster.”

The harpist cried, “But didn’t I sing sweetly?”

The king answered, “So much the worse for your pride that you should dedicate such talent on yourself. Go away; you shall not serve in my court again.”

Jesus said, “You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17 NKJV). How relevant His parable of the Pharisee and publican is for you and me today in the end-times. We must be careful. Arrogance and an unwillingness to admit we need salvation will be a chronic problem in the final age of the church.

On the other hand, it is those who come to God recognizing their spiritual poverty who find acceptance and forgiveness and eternal life. “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). May this Scripture be planted deep in our hearts, lest we leave our lives unforgiven—while the humble leave their lives with eternal life.