The parable before us is directed at a very specific audience, an audience composed of individuals who trust in their own righteous acts while despising others who lack similar acts of righteousness. This audience should not include New Testament believers because born again Christians trust in a righteousness that is not their own —the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
While believers do not trust in their own righteousness, believers often fail to separate the sinner from his transgressions and fail to see ourselves as God sees us. The Holy Spirit would have us know and understand that we cannot be justified as was the publican unless we first repent of the Pharisee in ourselves.
Consider verse 10. Both the Pharisee and the publican went into the temple to pray. One need not enter into a house of worship to pray. Believers are called to be in prayer at all times. While God is everywhere, distractions that cause one to look away from God are also everywhere. A house of worship provides an atmosphere where one can call out to God free from worldly interferences. Both the Pharisee and the publican entered into the temple (symbolic of coming before God) for the same purpose —to pray.
The manner in which they prayed, however, was far different. The Pharisee thanked God that he was different from sinful men. The publican acknowledged that he was a sinner and called out to God for mercy. Both prayers express the manner in which the two saw themselves. The Pharisee saw himself as righteous. The publican saw himself as a sinner. The Pharisee viewed himself to be justified by his works. The publican knew that he could not be justified by his works. The attitude in which the prayers were offered up are miles apart. One assumed himself to be justified and the other did not.
Jesus makes it known that God does not see things as men see things. God judged the heart of the Pharisee and found it puffed up. God judged the heart of the publican and found it to be humble.
God’s finding and the Pharisee’s finding are in conflict in regard to the publican. The Pharisee looked upon the publican and saw one filled with extortion, unjustness, and adultery. God looked upon the publican and saw one filled with repentance. God saw that which the Pharisee did not see because God separates the sin from the sinner. God is a merciful and forgiving God. God’s qualities of mercy and forgiveness were not present in the Pharisee.
The Pharisee was of a mind far different than God. Believers are called to be of the mind of Christ, but often manifest the mind of the Pharisee. We see the mind of God in Jesus and in His teaching. In Luke 6:37, the Lord said: “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” The Pharisee most certainly judged and condemned the publican. There is nothing in the Pharisee’s prayer which would suggest that he possessed a forgiving heart. The Pharisee’s words betray his heart. The Pharisee offered a prayer of thanks that lacked thankfulness to God. He thanked God that he was not as other men; he thanked God that he was better than other men. The Pharisee thanked God in error. God did not see him different from other men in the way that the Pharisee saw himself.
The Pharisee possessed a desire which caused him to fast twice a week and to give tithes of all that he possessed. Fasting and tithing can be prompted by one’s love of God and desire to obey His commands. The Pharisee’s fasting and tithing, however, appears to be an attempt to place points upon a scoreboard of righteousness. God does keep a scorecard but He does not give points of righteousness for fasting and tithing. God counts faith for righteousness. The Pharisee’s faith was in what he had done.
God saw the publican as justified. What did the publican do to be justified? He had no works and he knew it. The publican shamefully looked to the ground and poured out his heart to God. The publican prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner”, was heard. The publican called out to God in faith, believing that God could remedy his miserable condition.
Again, what did the publican do? He placed his total trust in God. The Pharisee did not distrust God. The Pharisee’s trust, however, was not totally in God.
James, the author of the epistle of James, identified himself as a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is James, the servant, who declared: “I will show thee my faith by my works.” The works of the servant reveal the faith of the servant.
In verse 14, Jesus stated “. . . for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” May the faith of the servant be seen in us.