Luke 18:9-14 -- Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank You that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat 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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
The Pharisee in the Luke 18 was an example of what Jesus saw in nearly all the Pharisees at that time. They were self-righteous, ego maniacs who reveled in their position and power over others. For those who may not know, a Pharisee was "a member of a Jewish sect that flourished during the 1st century BC and 1st century AD and that differed from the Sadducees chiefly in its strict observance of religious ceremonies and practices, adherence to oral laws and traditions, and belief in an afterlife and the coming of the Messiah." (From Dictionary.com) The Pharisees and Sadducees were the two main sects in the Jewish community. (This seems simple when compared to today's hundreds of denominations, each of whom thinks that they are the best one and the only one who has God figured out.) The Pharisees and Sadducees have a long, bloody and violent history in battling each other, but they found a common enemy in Jesus. Even though they were the religious leaders and the teachers and believed in the coming of the Messiah, the Pharisees couldn't see who Jesus was. They even accused him of being of Satan (Matthew 12). The Pharisees thought they had God all figured out and they didn't see Jesus as part of the picture.
Because of their character and actions, the word "pharisee" has come to mean "a sanctimonious, self-righteous, or hypocritical person." People outside the church would probably say that describes most church people. I know that this isn't a fair assessment, but perception is reality to the person with the perspective. It only takes one self-righteous person to turn off someone you are trying to win to God, and that self-righteous person could be you if you are not careful. In Matthew 23, Jesus described the true nature of the Pharisees to the disciples and warned them to not act like they do. What were they like? They dictated to people how they were supposed to act but didn't practice what they preached. They put conditions on people that were impossible to meet. They made sure to wear the finest clothing and be seen in all the right places. They loved to be praised in public and to be recognized for who they were. They were all these things and more as you read in this chapter. Jesus spoke "woe" to them, and "woe" is a pretty bad thing. It means anguish, grievous distress, affliction, trouble, tribulation or wretchedness. Jesus said woe to the Pharisees because of their ways, and that means woe to the Pharisee in me and in you, also.
A Pharisee in me? In you? Yes, we all have one inside us that can rear his ugly head. The Pharisee in me and you is judgmental, prideful, boastful, self-centered, self-important and usually in denial about his own condition. The Pharisee in me and you likes to be recognized in the church, never misses a service and has to have a hand in every thing because it feeds his ego, not because he wants to serve Jesus. Sometimes that makes him hard to spot, but eventually motives shine through. We should always be watchful for the Pharisee in us so that we can put him in his place. That's why the Apostle Paul told us we had to die daily (I Corinthians 15:31). We should pray that the Lord would humble us daily and let us see if we are becoming like the Pharisees. Jesus said that the Pharisees had become an obstacle for people who were seeking the kingdom of God. There are Pharisees in the church doing the same thing today. Jesus said "woe to you" to the Pharisees and called them a brood of vipers! Woe to us if we allow the Pharisees to take over our churches.
Jesus said that he who exalts himself will be humbled. Being humbled is not a pleasant experience. Being humbled requires being tumbled from your high horse, and it might be a very hard fall depending on how high up you started. You have to fall hard enough to break your pride and self-reliance. We might even feel some humiliation when people see us being humbled. I believe that God humbles, but people humiliate. People love to see when "the mighty have fallen". Despite any pain and embarrassment it might bring, being humbled is something we should ask God to do for us.
In order to become a truly humble person, it takes time and experience and the bursting of a few bubbles. Some people are really good at acting humble, but true humility only comes through the realization that we are not the center of the universe and we cannot control everything in our lives. We must rely on Jesus Christ and put all our trust and faith in Him. It seems like a fine line to walk knowing that we are children of the King and a member of a royal priesthood, yet we are to be humble servants of God. It's okay to know you are a child of the King and that you are blessed and highly favored. It's not okay to use it as a platform to brag or pat yourself on the back or run over others.
Proverbs 3:12 tells us that the Lord corrects those he loves. God will correct us in order to humble us, and we would be wise to accept His correction. It is important to recognize the Pharisee in me and in you-so that we can self-correct before God has to humble us, because He will. You don't understand why Sister So & So can't pay her tithes? God will let you go through a financial dry spell and then maybe you'll understand. You think it's a shame that Brother Whatzhisname can't make it to church every service? God will let you have an unreliable vehicle or an unaccommodating boss who won't let you have Sundays off, and then maybe you'll understand. There goes the Brother asking for prayer for the umpteenth time to be delivered from cigarettes and I don't know why he just can't quit. Maybe it will take an umpteenth time plus 10, but he is humbling himself to seek God's help. What will it take for you to walk a mile in his shoes and come to understand? Why do you we have to understand at all? Why can't we just accept and love? Matthew 7:2 says, "For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you."
The Pharisee in me and you has to go if the Church is to become what God called us to be. You have to throw away that little scorecard you have been keeping of "who showed up for service, who spoke to you or didn't, who was hanging out with the Pastor after church, who put something in the offering, how long the service was or wasn't, who had to get up and leave before it was over, who forgot to mention that you were on that committee, questioning why someone was chosen for a certain job, and how dare that person sit in your seat". We need to put all that junk away and be about our Father's business. The Pharisee loves himself, but the child of God loves God's people. The Pharisee asks "What's in it for me?" The child of God says let this be done to the glory of God. There is no room in the Body of Christ for the Pharisee. He who exalts himself will be humbled. He who humbles himself will be exalted. Woe to those who do not take heed.