TO CHEW ON: "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." Luke 18:11,12
Who of us has not felt slightly put off when people use prayer for other purposes than simple communication with God — to inform about a situation, perhaps, or give a little theological instruction? In Jesus' story the Pharisee uses it to point out his own good points. We'd say his prayer was sanctimonious.
Sanctimony (assumed or outward sanctity; a show of outward holiness, devoutness, moral superiority; exaggerated gravity or solemnity) is a child of pride. We see it in evidence in various places in the Bible. It came out:
- When the people made a show of religious fasting while at the same time they were mean, selfish, unjust and unfair (Isaiah 58:1-5).
- When the priests in Isaiah's time separated themselves from the people in a holier-than-thou way (Isaiah 65:1-5).
- When the guilty put on airs of innocence when confronted with their sin (Jeremiah 2:35).
- When the religious leaders of Jesus' time prayed publicly in synagogues and on street corners with a view to impressing passersby (Matthew 6:5).
We're probably most tempted to be sanctimonious when we're around other Christians — people who will be impressed by the number of missionaries we support, or the number of times we've read through the Bible. Though it is legitimate to share such details to "spur one another on toward love and good deeds." (Hebrews 10:24), Jesus put the kibosh on any such display or boasting meant to impress others. Groom yourselves as usual when you fast, He said. Go into a private place to pray for "your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly."
Sanctimonious words start with sanctimonious thoughts. Asking oneself questions like those found in the little tract "Traits of the Self Life" works as a way to detect the seeds of self-righteous boasting. Ask:
"Am I ever conscious of:
- A secret spirit of pride — an exalted feeling, in view of my success or position; because of my good training and appearance; because of my natural gifts and abilities? An important, independent spirit? Stiffness and preciseness?
- Love of human praise; a secret fondness to be noticed; love of supremacy, drawing attention to self in conversation; a swelling out of self when I have had a free time in speaking or praying?"
-- "Traits of the Self Life" published by the Western Tract Mission."
Such tendencies left unconfessed and unchecked will lead eventually to the stinky little actions, words, even prayers of self-righteousness and self-exaltation that Jesus so detested.
PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, please show me any tendencies toward self-righteous pride in my thoughts and actions. I want my life with You to be completely genuine and uncontaminated with the desire to impress others. Amen.
MORE: The real issue: Who or what are we trusting in?
In a sermon on this passage John Piper uncovers, in our tendency to boast and appear self-righteousness, an even deeper issue of the heart: who or what we're trusting in to save us. He says:
He (the Pharisee) is not presented as a legalist—one who tries to earn his salvation. That is not the issue. One thing is the issue: This man was morally upright. He was religiously devout. He believed God had made him so. He gave thanks for it. And that is what he looked to and trusted in for his righteousness before God—for his justification. And he was dead wrong.
And so are so many people today, who are turning away from the doctrine of justification by faith alone on the basis of Christ alone. What Jesus wants us to see here is that how righteous you are, or how moral you are or how religious you are or whether God has produced that in you or you have produced that in yourself—that is not the basis of your justification before God. That is not how you are accepted and declared righteous in God’s law court.
The issue is: Are you looking totally away from yourself? When you see yourself standing before the holy Judge, and you know that to escape condemnation you must be found righteous in this all-knowing, infinitely-just court, what are you going to look to and trust in? I am pleading with you on behalf of Jesus this morning that for your justification you not look at or trust in what God has worked in you. But that you look at and trust in Christ alone and all that God is for you in him. By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org.
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