The Publican and the Pharisee

All Topics, Good Works, Sin, Wisdom



Robert D. Pace

Luke 18:9-14

(Humor) A minister received a Christmas card with a note in it from someone in his congregation. The person’s note complimented his preaching and even compared him with Billy Graham. It concluded by saying, “I think you are one of the great preachers of all time.” Feeling good about the note, he took it to his wife and asked: “Sweetheart, how many great preachers do you suppose there actually are in the world?” She looked down at the card, looked up at her husband, and then replied, “One less preacher than you think.”

Like the saying goes: “Behind every great man, is a woman rolling her eyes.”

(Definition) Well, I want to talk to you about something that few people can claim mastery over; and that is pride! What is pride? Usually we define pride as something that exists in someone other than us. But according to the dictionary, pride means “to act arrogantly; to assume a high opinion of one’s worth; conceit.” Mary Lewis put it best when she said, “Pride, [is] the idolatrous worship of self . . . [and] is the national religion of hell.”

We all know people whose conceit would induct them into the ‘Hall of Shame.’ But we need to understand that pride shows up in everyone; and often without us even recognizing it! In fact, there are not many sins you can separate from pride. For example:

    When one cheats, it’s the pride that says: “I don’t have to play by the rules of honesty and fairness.”

    When a person lies, it’s the pride that says: “I can’t tell the truth, because I may look bad.”

    When a person steals, it’s the pride that says they deserve what someone else earned.

    When someone says, “I want my way—regardless!” or when they say, “I have to be happy or else!” that is covetousness; and it’s pride.

When you put pride under the microscope, you discover it contains a cancerous gene. It’s a gene of competition, which will stop at nothing to make sure it’s always on the winning side. Pride presses a person to make sure they are seen as the most important or attractive person in the room. It can’t stand to be unnoticed or overlooked.

God has some explicit things to say about pride that we need to understand. Listen to Proverbs 6:16. Solomon says: “These six [things] the LORD hates, Yes, seven [are] an abomination to Him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, 19 A false witness [who] speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.”

Did you notice that Solomon put pride ahead of murder? It’s not that murder is unimportant; it’s that on God’s List of Deadly Sins, pride is the worst. God hates the sin of pride. He calls it evil. While He doesn’t hate the prideful person, He hates the pride in the person. Why do you think God loathes man’s pride? I’m sure there are plenty of reasons but let’s consider a couple. God hates pride because:

1. Pride denies Christ of His rightful place of Lordship over our life.

An attitude that says, “I can master life without God,” robs Christ of His Lordship. The prideful person assumes he is smart enough to plot and plan life without any help from God. For example:

    People that think they can do it all themselves assume if they’re sick then modern medicine and high tech surgery can cure them.

    They assume if money is the answer, then their genius can create it.

    They assume if others don’t follow them, then others must be small-minded.

Saints of God, one fact is certain: You cannot make it through life without God! There are people who think they can, but in the end they always discover they have fooled themselves. One of the names that Scripture ascribes to God is, Jehovah-Jireh. When you translate that it means, “God our Provider.” That means God stands ready to assist and provide for those created in His image. But when people assume they can make it without God, they are denying God His rightful place in their life to be their companion, Shepherd, guide, helper, friend, deliverer, and problem-solver. Why would anyone want to deny God the opportunity to walk closely at their side?

2. Another reason God denounces pride is because it is virulent, deadly poison.

If the poison of pride has infected your life, you may be oblivious to the ways it is causing you to act and react.

(Illustration) A young lady went to her Sunday School and said, “Sister Jones, I have a besetting sin, and need your help. I come to church on Sunday and can’t help thinking I’m the prettiest girl in church. I know I shouldn’t think that, but I can’t help it. Would you help me with my sin?” Sister Jones replied, “Mary, don’t worry about it. In your case it’s not a sin. It’s just a terrible delusion.” (Haddon Robinson, “Good Guys, Bad Guys, and Us Guys.”

Sometimes others understand the lies we tell ourselves before we do! That’s the deception of pride. I think about celebrities who have achieved fame, fortune, and a great career. Many of them live like they are invincible, but wind up broken and shamed. Mickey Mantle, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson—all rebuffed the law of humility and suffered deeply for it.

God is serious when He warns us against walking arrogantly—like we’re impervious to His discipline or even His judgment. But don’t think that celebrities or public figures are the only ones susceptible to this dreadful sin. Pride can snare anyone!

(Transition) And there is a form of pride Jesus revealed in Luke 18 that bids us, as church goers, to take caution. It’s a religious pride; and it’s exposed in the lives of the Publican and the Pharisee.

The Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee

In Jesus’ time, the Pharisee was the good guy. All Pharisees were super-religious and extremely careful about obeying the Torah, which is the first five books of the Old Testament. They also followed the Mishnah, which explained how to obey the Torah. There might be several chapters in the Mishnah devoted to one single verse in the Torah. Then, they followed the Talmud, which was a commentary on the Mishnah. Pharisees lived by the book!

On the other hand, tax collectors were the scum of the earth. As an employee of the Roman Empire, a tax collector could charge exorbitant taxes and keep most of the money for himself. This guy was considered the villain. If you had been a good Jew listening to Jesus tell this parable, you would have cheered when he mentioned the Pharisee and booed when He mentioned the tax collector. But Jesus was always full of surprises. He introduced a good guy and a bad guy, and by the time He finished the parable, the good guy had become the bad guy and the bad guy had become the good guy!

I hope you won’t mind if I update the parable and tell it in modern vernacular. I call this, The Parable of Pious Paul and the Drug Lord.

The Parable of Pious Paul and the Drug Lord

As Pious Paul walked into church, he was disgusted to see the city drug lord there, for the drug lord was also a thief who had been released from jail. Pious Paul warned some of the ushers to keep a close watch on the drug lord because he was a vile, no-good crook.

Before the offering, Pious Paul was asked to pray. He walked proudly to the microphone and began using his religious tone of voice, “Heavenly Father, I thank Thee that I’ve been a pillar in this church for 20 years. I remember burning calluses on my hands as I built this sanctuary. I thank Thee that I haven’t missed a single Sunday for over ten years. There were times, O Lord, when I was sick, but I came anyway. And Father, thou knowest my ministry of singing solos and teaching those rowdy 10 year-old boys on Wednesday nights. I was always available when others refused to serve. I rejoice, too, that my giving always exceeds ten percent. I thank thee that I’m morally pure, for I don’t drink, and I don’t cuss . . . on Sundays. I don’t use drugs or even sell them–like someone who is among us today. Lord, we need more people with my kindred spirit in our church, so we might be respectable . . . and bless the gift and the giver. Amen.” That was Pious Paul.

Meanwhile, the drug lord was slouched on the back pew. After hearing the message about God’s forgiveness, he slipped to his knees, and began to pray. Holding his face in his hands he quietly cried, “God, I’m the dirtiest sinner in town. I’m despicable. And although I don’t deserve it, would you wash away my filth and forgive me of the torment I’ve brought to others? Have mercy on me, Lord!” I tell you, it was the drug lord, not Pious Paul, who went home right with God. For he who struts his stuff before God will eventually be slapped down. But when you admit you are like dirt, compared to God’s purity, He’ll cleanse your heart. (Adapted from Pastor David O. Dykes, “The Parable of the Deacon and the Drug Pusher.” From the sermon, The Peril of Proud Praying.)

That’s the modern version of Christ’s Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.

Why do you think the Lord took time to tell this story as He did? What’s the point? The point is this: The way to touch the heart of God comes through humility! It’s not purporting a phony self-righteousness or making boastful claims or even making excuses for how we live. The way to a right relationship with God comes by humbling yourself. And even religious people can succumb to the deadly sin of pride; the sin of thinking more of themselves than they should. You can’t read or listen to this parable without noticing the inflated opinion the Pharisee had of himself. He had the audacity to compare himself with the Publican and then instantly drew the conclusion that he was infinitely better. He repeatedly used the personal pronoun “I, I, I, I” as he spoke to God in prayer.

(Illustration) It’s never appropriate to compare our self with another person. (Tell of Marcus Hand’s sermon: “How Do You Measure a Man? When you measure yourself against Christ you will fall infinitely short.)

I want you to understand something about pride. God will not permit pride to stand in any person! I know some people strut about with an arrogance that defies belief. God seems to let them slide right past His eyes. But I want to assure you that while they may not be judged in this life, they will most certainly be judged in the next one.

Jesus said in Luke 18:14, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled” . . . everyone! God will not permit one proud person to escape His reach! It’s a guarantee. I want you to listen to the Scriptures that condemn the sin of pride:

    Solomon said in Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” God exalts the humble, but he brings low the proud.

    Psalm 31:23 says: God “fully recompenses the proud one.”

    Proverbs 15:25 says: “The LORD will tear down the house of the proud.”

    Proverbs 16:5 says: “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; assuredly, he will not be unpunished.”

    Isaiah 2:11-12 say this: “The proud look of man will be abased and the loftiness of man will be humbled, and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. (12) For the LORD of hosts will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is proud and lofty and against everyone who is lifted up, that he may be abased.”

    1 Peter 5:5 says: “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

These are strong words God uses against the proud. I would urge everyone here to deal with whatever pride may be in your life before God does.

(Illustration) A young man went into a drugstore to buy three boxes of chocolate—small, medium, and large. When the pharmacist asked him about the three boxes, he said, “Well, I’m going over to my new girlfriend’s house for supper. Then we’re going out. If she only lets me hold her hand, then I’ll give her the small box. If she lets me put my arm around her I’ll give her the medium box. But if she lets me kiss her I’ll give her the big box.” He made his purchase, thanked the pharmacist, and left. That evening he went to the girl’s house, knocked on the door and the girl’s dad invited him in. Before eating dinner the dad asked him to bless the food. The boy prayed the most amazing prayer you’ve ever heard. After about five minutes, he stopped. His girlfriend was mystified. She looked across the table and said, “You never told me you were a religious person.” He said, “And you never told me your dad was a pharmacist!”

Perhaps you’re persuaded you have the pride issue tamed in your life. Are you sure? Before I close this message, that I’m certain has unnerved nobody, I want to mention a checklist of how pride can manifest. What are some indications that pride has crouched at your doorstep?

    You are susceptible to pride if you have a weak prayer life. A paltry prayer life suggests that we don’t rely on God as we should.

    Constant anger is also a sign of pride. When you are angry for the wrong reasons, it can mean you are not trusting God’s plan and timing. Constant anger means there’s a lack of peace.

    You are in danger of living arrogantly if you are a stubborn and un-teachable person. If it takes “acts of God” to change your mind about things, or you are always obstinate and the last to “see the light,” you probably need to deal with a pride issue.

    And then pride can arise when you assume a critical spirit toward others. If you’re in the habit of degrading others in order to make yourself look better, it’s pride.

    Impatience is a form of pride. When you believe you are so important that you cannot wait in lines, or in traffic, or for others to finish a job for you it all points to a magnified sense of self.

    We can also be guilty of pride when we think we are better than other classes of people. Paul gives us a clear warning in Romans 12:16 when he says, “Don’t be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.”

    And finally, we can be guilty of pride when we fail to praise God for his blessings toward us. It’s always God, and not us, that is responsible for true promotion and our position in life. Don’t ever lose sight of God’s unmerited favor and blessing He’s given you.

So what do we do if we realize we are guilty of pride? How should we deal with it?

First, acknowledge it. This is the first step of conquering any sin. The Bible says, “If you confess your sins, God is faithful and just to forgive you of yours sins.”

Second, repent of it! That means turn from it. In other words, you do something about it before God does!

Third, resist it every day!

(Quote) One man said, “Always avoid pride. That’s because 45-minutes after your corpse is buried in the graveyard, your family and friends will be eating and laughing and asking how much money you left.”


The difference between the Publican and the Pharisee is this: “One bragged on himself and went home dignified; the other humbled himself and went home justified. I’d rather go home justified than dignified any day!”
Author’s Acknowledgment: Several thoughts within this message were taken from Pastor Lynn Floyd’s sermon: Dealing With Pride.