Being Right with God
9 There were some people who thought that they were very good and looked down on everyone else. Jesus used this story to teach them: 10 “One day there was a Pharisee and a tax collector. Both went to the Temple to pray.
11 The Pharisee stood alone, away from the tax collector. When the Pharisee prayed, he said, ‘God, I thank you that I am not as bad as other people. I am not like men who steal, cheat, or take part in adultery. I thank you that I am better than this tax collector. 12 I give up eating[a] twice a week, and I give one-tenth of everything I earn!’
13 “The tax collector stood at a distance. When he prayed, he would not even look up to heaven. He beat on his chest because he was so sad. He said, ‘God, have mercy on me. I am a sinner!’
14 I tell you, when this man went home, he was right with God. But the Pharisee was not right with God. Everyone who makes himself great will be made humble. But everyone who makes himself humble will be made great.”
Teaching Guide and Explanation
PHARISEE AND THE TAX COLLECTOR
TEXT: LUKE 18:9–14
MEMORY VERSE: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.[Matthew 5:3]
Did you ever meet someone who feels they’re better than anyone else? They love boasting about themselves. They think they look better than other individuals. They’re better than most people, they think. They think they are faster or stronger than other individuals, or more famous.
When Jesus was preaching, there were people like that. Often they even thought that just because they were so sweet, God should treat them differently.
When people felt they were better than everyone else, Jesus did not like it. He said that there was so much pride in people thinking like that. Jesus said people were not meant to be proud. People should be humble instead.
Being modest means you are not bragging about yourself. You should not want everybody to always give you special treatment if you are modest.
Jesus wanted those who were arrogant to realize that they were modest, so he told them a parable. Know what a parable is like? A parable is a simple tale that allows us to understand a very important thing.
Here is the parable of Jesus to the people who were too proud:
In order to pray, two men went up to the temple. One was a pharisee, the other a tax collector.
The Pharisees were teachers of the Bible, and they learned a great deal about the Word of God. But he was just thinking about how good he was when this Pharisee prayed. “He stood up and prayed, “Lord, I thank you that, like all the other people, I am not evil. I’m happy that I’m not as evil as thieves or cheaters. I’m glad I’m not poor over there like that tax collector.
The Pharisee then continued to pray, ‘God, I am so good. I give myself a lot of cash, and I pray a lot. I’m so sweet.”
What do you think God was thinking about the prayer of the Pharisee? The Pharisee, when he prayed, was not respectful. He had so much self-pride. Jesus said that the Pharisee and God were not right.
The tax collector then prayed. Tax collectors often trick people. The fact that this tax collector wanted to pray to God was good. In front of everyone, he did not stand up. “He stood in the distance and prayed, “God, you are so good. I’m sorry I did something wrong. Help me to be better, please.’
What do you think God thought about the prayer of the tax collector? The tax collector, when he prayed, was humble. He hadn’t talked about how good he had been. He was thinking how wonderful God was. Jesus said that, since he was right with Heaven, the tax collector would be satisfied.
After Jesus had said the parable, he told all to be humble before God, and that God would make them great.
In this parable, we know the exact audience. Jesus said this parable to “those who believed in their own righteousness and looked down on all others.” Being assured of your redemption (through the righteousness of Jesus Christ) is one thing, but being confident of your own righteousness is another.
In this parable, Jesus compares two distinct behaviors. By using unlikely characters to reflect the attitudes, Jesus renders the parable even more fascinating.
A Pharisee showed an incorrect attitude of pride in this parable, even though the people of the day held the Pharisees in high religious regard. The Pharisees were scientists who studied the Scriptures of the Old Testament and founded the rituals that regulated the Jewish religion of the day. They were what Paul later referred to as the “strictest sect” of the Jewish faith (Acts 26:5). They were outwardly religious, but Jesus also referred to them as hypocrites (Matt. 3:7).
A tax collector showed the right attitude of modesty, even though the Jews hated the tax collectors of the day. These Jews were often referred to as ‘publicans’ and served as collecting agents for Roman taxes. Their job was to raise Jewish taxes. They had a poor reputation because the taxes were always raised so that they could take a large percentage off the top. Since they mixed with Gentiles and served on the Sabbath, they were also considered unclean. They were hated and yet, when they heard John the Baptist preach, many of them turned to God (Matthew 21:31-32).
Prayer times were scheduled at the temple twice a day (morning and evening). At any time individuals may also go to the temple for private prayer.
Though outwardly religious, the Pharisee had a heart full of pride. As he went to the temple to pray, he did not have God on his mind. He thought only of himself. He would have seen himself as a sinner if he had compared himself with God’s perfection. Instead, he picked and compared a man with a poor reputation (tax collector) to himself. Until we equate ourselves to Heaven, we can never see ourselves in a true light (Matthew 5:48).
In the presence of God, the tax collector in this parable is entirely modest. When he prays, he focuses all of his thoughts on God. He’s not worried about someone else, what they have and what they haven’t achieved. He knows that he is not worthy, but he throws himself at God’s mercy.
It puts all the emphasis on our own strength when we brag about how awesome we think we are and neglects the meaning of the work of God in our lives. First and foremost, we should focus on Christ with humility, and remember that our strength comes from Him.
PRAYER: Jesus, I know that you have made me, and that you want me to obey you with all my heart. I know I have disobeyed and wanted to be my own boss. I have felt and done things against your instructions. Oh, I’m sorry. I know you gave up your life so that you could save me from these sins and make me your child again. I accept your promises, and I ask you now and forever to please save me. Amen.