“And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
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: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. “Luke 18:9-14
This study was first written on a 2.5″x4.5″ notepad in the spring of 2006, my first year in Bible college. I’ve tried to tie together the fragmented thoughts, but otherwise the comments came from simply reading the Bible, and asking God to help me apply it.
A Pair of Prayers: An ‘Original Manuscript’
Part 1: The Pharisee’s Performance
First, he addresses God, then promptly ignores Him. No response is required for anything the Pharisee says. “He prayed thus with himself…” The number one way to preside over a conversation and override any topic is through flattery- an overabundance of ‘thankfulness’. It was a divine filibuster.
Three things must be aligned when we come before Him: our words, works, and whys; our talk, actions, and motivation. The Pharisees heart and mouth and mind were all aligned… around himself. The pronoun “I” is mentioned five times in the prayer. Once should be enough: “In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”
Now the two men going to the temple to pray did so for the same reason (presumably). They came with two different approaches to prayer, and they left with entirely different answers to their prayers.
But notice again: the Pharisee “stood”- he was seated amongst other temple-goers. He must’ve brought his own chair. (Deuteronomy 17:12)
Part 2: The Publican’s Plea
This man we could speculate was very rich and very distained- he was a tax collector- so in fact he was not welcome in the temple because of the nature of his work. He was obviously noticed by the Pharisee; he was peculiar. Perhaps he was a person that the Pharisee normally associated with due to his rank and wealth, and yet suddenly in the company of ‘God’s people’ he condemns him as a lonely, lost sinner for his job status. When the Pharisee needs money, he needs a publican, when he seeks mercy, he needs someone to compare to.
Notice how he stands “afar off”. No seat was offered him, he was alone in the house of God. No priestly mediator, no intercessor, just one sinner before the omnipotent, pure and holy God of Gods.
Notice his prayer:
I. He makes his request known.
No beating around the bushes with uncalled for flattery. Why would God accept the praise of a sinner anyway? Prior to salvation, praise is not required; it is actually an insult to God. Accept Him first, then praise Him.
The Pharisee never did ask his request to the Lord. He had come for nothing, and he would leave with all he asked for.
II. He puts God in the first place.
The publican refers to himself in the passive voice, a third-person kind of viewpoint. He is submissive to whatever the Lord would do for him, or to him.
God is in the place of authority in this plea, not just the one being addressed, as the Pharisee’s performance. The difference is subtil, but substantial enough for the Lord to hear one prayer and ignore the other.
III. He does not assume God’s grace.
The Pharisee assumed ‘his righteousness’ before God. He assumed that what he thought of himself, and what the Lord thought of him were the same thing. They weren’t.
He assumed upon God, but the sinner relied upon Him for righteousness. The publican threw himself on the unfailing attribute of the goodness of God.
The Old Testament sacrifices resulted in attitudes like the Pharisee’s prayer. If an Hebrew could afford to make an offering every day, he would still only cover those sins he knew he committed. But covering for what you committed one day could not last, because the ‘committee’ was still sinning!
Sin, when viewed as an action, says: Good men sometimes make mistakes. Calling yourself a sinner views it as an attribute: Bad men do bad things always.
This sinner’s prayer is not scripted. He did not recite broken laws or compare himself to worse sinners. He had done and could do nothing to save himself.
After this confession is the most marvellous word: Justified. Not because he tried harder or was better than anyone, but because he put God in His rightful place: “God be merciful,” and he put himself in the place he deserved: “to me a sinner.”