The Nature of Prayer
Luke 18:9-18:14 The Parable Of The Pharisee And The Tax Collector
Last Sunday at the beginning of chapter 18 of Luke’s Gospel. We looked at 3 incentives of Praying and Not Giving Up:
- Keep on praying because sometimes the answer to prayer will be delayed.
- Keep on praying because perseverance in prayer is essential for success.
- Keep on praying because you’re special to God.
The parable that follows in Luke 18 is known as the parable of The Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Specifically, the parable of The Pharisee and the Tax Collector deals with the nature / attitude with which we offer up our prayers: “Having the proper nature or attitude makes perseverance possible; without the proper spirit, our perseverance in prayer will go nowhere.”
Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:
- Jesus directs His parable specifically to those in the crowd around Him who were self-assured, convinced, of their own moral purity and ethical standing.
- They were so very proud of their perceived moral standing before God and consequently looked down their noses at most everyone else.
10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' 13 "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' 14 "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
The Two Men
"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.”
- A Pharisee was a member of the Jewish faith set apart to maintain and further the divine cause of Judaism. They were layman zealous about keeping the Scriptures, the oral law and traditions pure.
- They were the pious ‘church-goers’ of their time who attended every Scripture study and rigorously sought to obey every law of the faith.
- Pharisees knew how to pray. In fact, “they applied themselves to the art of prayer (Emil Brunner, Sowing And Reaping: The Parables Of Jesus).”
- We today have grown accustomed to thinking negatively of them as soon as we hear their name.
- However, Pharisees were highly respected and looked up to in their community. They were the ‘deacons’ or ‘elders’ of the church so-to-speak.
- We need to see them as honored members of the Jewish community in order to fully understand this parable. They were the good guys; the best of the best of Jews. It is important to remember that Jesus is speaking of one specific Pharisee and not the whole group.
- A tax collector was at the other end of the spectrum. He would have been perceived by the community as the worst of the worst, perhaps even lower.
- Tax collectors, in the Scriptures, were Jews who worked for the ruling Roman authorities. They were considered both extortionist and traitors
- Extortionist because they were notoriously noted for collecting more taxes than was owned and pocketing the difference
- And traitors because they served the occupying power of Rome. Again, Jesus was speaking of one specific tax collector and not the whole bunch.
- As the parable opens for most people that were hearing this parable would have viewed the Pharisee positively – he would have been the hero. The tax collector is to be viewed negatively – he’s the bad guy.
- “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ’God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get’” (Luke 18:11,12).
- The Pharisee: “O Lord, it’s hard to be humble when I see how rotten others are compared to me. Thank you Lord I’m not like those people, you know, people who steal, who do bad things and who cheat on their wives or even like this guy over there who works for Rome’s IRS and Census Bureau.
- Yes Lord, I am one of the very, very few who does more than even the Law requires – you know, I give a tenth of all I get to the temple while everyone else just gives a tenth of their income.
- I also go without food and water, I fast from sunrise to sunset twice a week and not just once a year like most other folks. Yes God, thank you that I am not like these other people.”
- "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ’God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
- The tax collector “slumped in the shadows” (The Message), way at the back of the temple, out of sight. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to heaven as was common amongst those who came to pray but rather, he pounded his chest over and over again crying, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”
- "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
- The tax collector went home from the temple “justified before God” – forgiven. He received a new right standing before God.
- He had received the blessing King David spoke of in Psalm 32: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him…” (Psalm 32:1-2).
- The Pharisee went home not having been justified before God. He went home with nothing. Why the two different outcomes?
- Note the spirit with which each prayed:
- The Pharisee considered himself morally and religiously superior than others
- This Pharisee despised those whose spiritual caliber was perceived to be less than his own; he praised himself and condemned his neighbor
- Exalted in his own religious practices
- Trusted in his own good deeds to make him acceptable to God
- Acted as if God owed Him something for his goodness
- He failed to see his sin and therefore, his own need for God.
- He measured himself to others rather than to God who is absolute in holiness; he built his self-worth on the moral failings of others. He lacked a humble and remorseful or repentant heart.
- How sad that this Pharisee, zealous for the faith and well-versed in the Scriptures, had somehow overlooked passages like:
- Isaiah 64:6: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
- Proverbs 20:9: “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin?”
- James 4:6: “God opposes the proud….”
- The Tax Collector recognized the holiness of God; he knew the great gulf that lay between himself and God – “(he) stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven”
- He recognized the sin in his life; he didn’t hide it or deny it. He recognized his need for God’s grace and pleaded for it – “[he] beat his breast and said, ’God, have mercy on me, a sinner”
- What is the spirit you bring to prayer? What is the attitude of your heart when you speak with God?
A. The Bible says, “God gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). And “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up” (James 4:10).
- God told the prophet Isaiah, “I live in that high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I refresh the humble and give new courage to those with repentant hearts” (Isaiah 57:15).
- Remember Jesus’ own words in this parable: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
- How Shall We Then Pray? What does the Lord’s parable teach us about the spirit with which we are to pray? What is the attitude of our heart when coming before God?
A. Pray with a spirit of humility recognizing that we are sinners saved by grace (Eph. 2:8).
- Pray knowing that even the privilege to come before God is a gift (Ephesians 3:12).
- Pray knowing that God will turn away a prayer saturated with pride, selfishness and the defamation of others.
- God will welcome a contrite prayer, a prayer which is honest about our spiritual state, our need for God’s grace.
- “The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17; NLT)
- Pray knowing that it is to an absolutely holy God we speak (Isaiah 6:3).
- Pray knowing that God will hear a plea for mercy, help and forgiveness no matter who you are or what you have done (1 John 1:9,10).
- Pray the prayer of the tax collector for he went home right before God.
Are you more like Bob or Larry in that story?
The Parable of the Church Leader and the Drug Pusher
As Bob, church Sunday School teacher and Trustee walked into church one Sunday morning, he was disgusted to see Larry Lowlife there, for Larry was a drug pusher who had just gotten out of jail. Bob warned some of the ushers to keep a close watch on Larry because he was a no-good crook.
Before the offering, it was Bob’s time to pray. He walked proudly to the microphone and began to pray using his religious tone of voice, “Heavenly Father, I thank Thee that I’ve been a Sunday School teacher and trustee in this church for 20 years. I even remember when I built this building using my own two hands. And 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 I used to sing in the choir, until I was persecuted by the song leader who wouldn’t sing my style of music–but I can endure persecution just like Thou didest. Thou hast blessed me financially so I’ve been able to give you much more than 10 percent. I Thank thee that I’m morally pure for I don’t drink, and I don’t cuss on Sundays, and I don’t smoke unfiltered cigarettes and I don’t use drugs or sell them–like someone who is among today. Lord, we need more people just like me in our church. And, Lord, help everyone to come out tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at Oak Park field to watch our church softball team beat the Methodists again and bless the gift and the giver. AMEN.”
After napping through much of the sermon, church leader Bob strolled out of church feeling good about himself because he made it through another Sunday. He liked leaving church because he didn’t have to think about God again until the next Sunday.
Meanwhile, Larry Lowlife 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 sobbed quietly, “God, I’m the dirtiest sinner in this town. I’m so sorry. I don’t deserve it, but is there any way you can wash away my filthy mistakes? Please, God, I need you!”
I tell you, it was Larry Newlife, not church leader Bob, who went home that day 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 pick you up and clean you up.