The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon 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 every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
The Pharisee is the picture of pride. He thinks he is good because he does certain things and refrains from other things. He measures himself by what others are doing and how he compares to that. He has ranked himself higher and better based upon his own actions. The publican, though, is the picture of humility. He is not presumptuous to draw near. He stands before God humble and sorry for his sins, only seeking the mercy of a holy God.
The attitude of our heart affects our perspective. Pride distorts it. And so the Pharisee exalts himself, while the publican exalts God. The Pharisee sees his own goodness, but the publican sees God’s goodness. The Pharisee thinks he is right, while the publican knows God is right. And with this view, the Pharisee doesn’t even see a need for God, but the publican realizes how desperately he does need God.
When we look too much at ourselves, we don’t notice others as much, and we especially don’t notice God. We can’t see ourselves accurately from that viewpoint. We can’t see God accurately or our need for Him. When we get to feeling so good about ourselves and what we are doing compared to others and our own standards, we fail to see that God’s standard is much higher than we could ever attain on our own. We need God’s mercy to help us with our sin, and we need the addition of Christ’s righteousness to make us who we are supposed to be.
Pride may distort our perspective, but God has a clear view of who we really are. He sees down to the deepest parts of our hearts and knows if we are willing to submit to Him or if we’ll resist. He knows whether we’re willing to trust in His righteousness or futilely seek to be righteous by our own power. He knows whether we love and honor Him or think too highly of ourselves to see a need for Him. May we not let pride cause us to think too highly of ourselves, because that makes us think too lowly of God. But may we approach God with a humble heart, understanding our need for Him, His love, His mercy, and His help.