Jesus Taught Them The Indispensable Humility

By Zacharias T. Fomum

    "And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, "God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people, swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get." But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner!" I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted’" (Luke 18:9-14).

The Pharisee at Prayer

    The Lord told the parable of these two men who went into the temple to pray. The people prayed according to what they were. A man always prays according to what his heart is like.

    The Pharisee stood. His posture was one of arrogance. He knew nothing from the heart about the greatness of God. He knew no awe. All was the attitude of someone who was talking to an equal.

    The Pharisee prayed to himself. He was not tuned to God. He did not bother as to whether or not God was hearing him. He was satisfied to be talking. What he said came back to his ears and made him feel important. His prayers left his mouth, bounced on the ceiling and came back to him and he received them gladly.

    He addressed God and plunged into an exhibition of self. This exhibition of self was immediately manifested in the many "I’s" that characterized his prayer to himself.

     I thank Thee
     I am not like other men
     I am not a swindler
     I am not unjust
     I am not an adulterer
     I am not like this tax collector
     I fast twice a week
     I give tithes of all that I get.

    There was no room whatsoever for God in his prayer to himself. He just told God how wonderful he was and how well he had done everything. He had nothing to ask the Lord to do for him. He had done everything and done it so well. He expected God to congratulate him and clap for him. He was so blind that he could not see anything wrong in his attitude. He was oblivious of his self-righteousness. As far as he was concerned there were only four sins that could be committed: extortion, injustice, adultery, tax collecting. According to him there were two acts of righteousness that had to be committed – fasting twice a week and tithing. He did not see that there could be another sin. He could not see that there was more to do beyond fasting twice a week and tithing his income. He had set his own standards of righteousness and fulfilled them and felt very good about it. He despised others. He said that he was not like the others. He was a judge who put all the others on a balance and found them wanting. He alone was righteous. He looked with contempt at the publican who came to pray. He spoke against him to the Lord.

The Pharisee of Today

    When I read what the Pharisee said, I have to confess that I know one other Pharisee apart from the Pharisee mentioned in the passage. That Pharisee is me. I am very much like him. It is not that I say the things that he said in my prayers to the Lord but that I often utter them daily. I often say that the unbelievers are dishonest, false, corrupt, liars and so on. I do not say that I am not like them but as I list their failures, it can hardly be misunderstood that I am saying that I thank God that I am not like them. I have to acknowledge that I even compare myself favorably against some believers as if to say, "I thank God that I am not like them." I see this to be the spirit of the Pharisee. "Lord, I am a Pharisee in attitude. Lord, have mercy upon me. Lord, have mercy upon me."

    I see another aspect of the character of the Pharisee in my heart. I find that to some degree, I delight in talking about what I have done for the Lord, or about what the Lord has done in me and through me. This too is the spirit or attitude of the Pharisee. "Lord, have mercy on me. The very fact that I delight to talk about my successes and rarely talk about my failures exposes me for the Pharisee that I am. Lord, have mercy upon me. Lord, deliver me from the rudiments of the self-life and cause Your blessings to fall upon me. I need You, O Lord my God. My Lord, I need You. Have mercy on me, O Lord, my God.

    "You said that the one who exalts himself will be humbled. I have often exalted myself. I deserve to be humbled. How mighty has Your grace been to me. You have shown abundant mercy towards me. Receive praise, honor and majesty. Help me to begin to exalt You and to begin to put others first and myself next, after You have been given the very best place.

    "Change me fundamentally so that my preoccupation will be the glory of Your name, the well-being of others and only lastly will I seek my own interest. The Lord Jesus lived for You and lived for others. He was totally given to others. Let the same life be produced in me from day to day, for I ask in the name of the Lord Jesus."

The Tax Collector at Prayer

    As we have seen, the Pharisee went to pray. He prayed to himself and left the place with no touch of God whatsoever. He went in full of himself and came out even fuller of himself. He had accomplished nothing except to invite the Lord to bring him down from his high horse.

    The tax collector also went to pray. He had no personal merit to boast of. He had no dead works to boast of. He was so conscious of his own unworthiness that he could not compare himself to anyone. He considered himself to be the very last; all he did was to stand in humility afar off and cry out to God. Unlike the Pharisee, the tax collector did not talk about the other sinners. He was too unworthy to talk about them. He did not compare himself to the other sinners. His eyes were open. He saw himself and he saw the Lord. He pleaded with the Lord for mercy. He came in humility. He came as if to the Cross and pleaded there, "Lord have mercy upon me, sinner that I am." God heard him. God forgave him. He went away forgiven, justified and exalted. The Lord always does that to those who come with broken and contrite hearts.

The Indispensable Humility

    The Lord has reserved His best for the humble and for the meek. He says in His Word, "For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:11). "The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor and life" (Prov. 22:4). "Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, but humility goes before honor" (Prov. 18:12).

    The Lord looks with favor on the humble. He resists the proud of heart. Since prayer is essentially carried out in the presence of the Lord, the proud of heart offend Him.

    When Nebuchadnezzar spoke in pride, the Lord dealt with him. The Bible says, "Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’ While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes’" (Dan. 4:29-32).

    God brought down Nebuchadnezzar because of his pride but when he learned humility, God exalted him. He said, "At the end of that period I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What doest Thou?’ At that time my reason returned to me. And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counselors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was re-established in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just; and He is able to humble those who walk in pride" (Dan. 4:34-37).

The Lord Jesus Was Humble

    The Lord Jesus had every reason to exalt Himself. First of all, He was already exalted. Secondly, He could exalt Himself and no one would bring Him down. However, He did not exalt Himself. He "did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God has highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:6-11).

    He invites His disciples to learn from Him. "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matt. 11:29).

    – Taken from With Christ In The School And Ministry Of Praying by Zacharias Tanee Fomum. Copyright © 1992 by Zacharias Tanee Fomum. Used by permission.