The Word became flesh and dwelt among us….


March 2015

The Pharisee & The Tax Collector

One of the great barriers to belief for many is the hypocrisy of professing Christians. Those who say they are one thing and are seen clearly to be something else entirely.

We can’t stand hypocrisy, especially in other people. Especially judgemental people. We don’t like them at all…

Hypocrisy is a genuine problem, but it also has a genuine answer in Scripture which confronts us with our need for personal accountability before God.

Two men went in the temple to pray…it’s a familiar story, and we think we know the punchline. Jesus is telling this story very pointedly to a certain section of people, ‘ those who trusted in their own righteousness and despised others’ , and the parable shows us how we can be justified before God and have peace…

1- Two Men

The Pharisee in this parable seems a reasonably upstanding kind of guy.

He’s socially visible, with authority and position. He is faithful in his offerings, and tithes. He actually goes above and beyond his duty. He tithes everything, most likely including his spices and herbs ( Matthew 23:23). He fasts twice a week, even though he was only required to fast once a year, on the day of Atonement ( Leviticus 16:29). He didn’t rip people off. He was just. He didn’t cheat on his wife. Above all, he certain wasn’t like the other person he was in the temple with at the time.

The tax collector we know little about, mostly because he doesn’t tell us everything about himself in his prayer like we’re listening.

Considered a traitor to his fellow countrymen for collecting taxes for the pagan Roman empire. Tax collectors were notorious. They ripped off whoever they could whenever they could.This position and the reputation that went with it made tax collectors outsiders in the society. They associated with other outcasts like criminals, prostitutes, and “sinners”.

If these two men stood before us in a political campaign or if we had to chose between which one’s blog we would read and share with our friends, we’d probably pick the Pharisee.

If the Pharisee was our friend we may well admire her strong convictions and strong ethical standing, while we wouldn’t bother inviting the tax collector to our candle or thermomix party…

The only thing these two seem to have in common is that they are both in the temple, and both seem to be engaging in public prayer…

2- Two Prayers

As we listen in on the Pharisee’s prayer, we grow more and more uneasy. He has major ego issues, and it offends us. There’s nothing like the sound of your own trumpet, and this guy had a rather large playlist.

In sport, we don’t mind losing, so long as the winner is gracious and makes us feel like we were in with a chance and were just unlucky.

In study, we don’t mind if the person next to us gets a higher score, so long as they don’t rub it in our face. ‘ I got a C-, what did you get?’ ‘Oh, I got a HD, you didn’t find that hard, did you? I didn’t even have to study!’…

The conceit of the Pharisee offends us, but it is a sin of pride against God before anything else.

When your achievements and comparisons with others becomes the main topic of your prayers, that is ‘grace gone putrid’, blatant self-advertisement.

Our biggest mistake is thinking that the differences that matter to men matter to an Almighty God.

“ What keeps most of us from God is not the sin we know we have, but the righteousness we think we have.” – Nate Larkin

“ In the presence of self we have one ‘good’ eye on ourselves, one bad eye on others and no eyes upon God. The man who stands in the presence of God is always more aware of his need for grace than his successes in grace. The man who knows how it is to live before God is always more aware of his sin than his virtue and always cries out for mercy.” – Haddon Robinson

There are many people who talk about God, even talk to God, but they would be absolutely terrified if they actually realised they were in His presence.

Two men were in the temple, but only one was praying like God was listening, and like God could hear them, or could interact with them.

The Pharisee prayed so people could hear. The tax collector prayed so God could hear. The Pharisee prayed like he an image to uphold and plenty to lose. The tax collector prayed liked he had everything to gain by surrendering himself to God’s mercy.

When we see God in all His power,holiness and glory, we see ourselves clearly. Isaiah’s vision of God ( Isaiah 6) lead him to a radical self-awareness, he was undone, he saw who he was and what surrounded him.

Jesus’ isn’t pointing out the tax collector’s method as a way to pray,He is pointing out the heart of a man who has seen God, and knew he was in God’s presence and any who enter God’s presence can only ask for mercy.

He had no righteous works to offer. He had no interest in comparisons with his praying neighbour. He was there to speak to God and ask for mercy, and this is all any of us can do.

Around now is where you think we might wrap up and give the application –
‘Thank God you’re not like that nasty Pharisee’, and our closing prayer would be, ‘Thank you Lord, that I am not like other men, legalists, proud, conceited, judgemental, condemning. Thank you, Lord, that you have made me humble. I’m such a poor sinner, and I know that better than the person next to me. Thank you, Lord, for letting me be such a great example of simple faith. Amen.’

Humility is shy…

If we have come this far in the story and we think we are the lowly tax collector, and we don’t have a hint of Pharisee in us, we would do very well to think again.

We are all Pharisees. You may disagree, and that’s fine, but if your reason for disagreeing is that you hate Pharisees therefore you’ll never be one, or that you hate legalists, therefore you’ll never be one, you are in danger.

The fastest way to be a Pharisee is to loathe Pharisees.

3 – Two Results

There are two options on offer…
To go your own way and lead a self-justified life that leads to eternal strife…Or to seek justification by the mercy of God that leads to eternal life.

To justify ourselves we have to point out the sin of others. We are so reliant on comparison when we seek self-salvation.You will never come to know God personally until you stop comparing yourself to others.

An indication that our critique of others is based on pride is when we say our criticism without a tear in our eye or a catch in our throat.

You never, ever get past your need for mercy. You never, ever ‘arrive’ at a point where you can say you no longer need God’s grace in your life.

We can be like the Pharisee even with our testimonies. We tell the sordid details of how wretched we once were. ‘I was a terrible, depraved sinner, but now! I have turned my life right around, now I’m sorted out. Once I was sinner…’ .

We can compare churches, thanking God we have reached a fuller understanding of all things pertaining to the Scriptures. We can be guilty of theological snobbery.

These were two people in God’s house – this was a fellow believer…

How many times a day do you favourably compare yourself to others?

Try this week challenging yourself to saying out loud what you are thinking about another person…chose the right context of course, but when you are comparing yourself with someone else, say it aloud and see how prideful and foolish you sound. It could be the humbling experience you need!

What about the other comparison we make, where we wish we were like someone else…that is still a form of pride. We’re still comparing yourself to others instead of God.

There is no escaping the cold, stark reality. Yes I am a sinner, but my greatest sin is pride. I am judgemental of others. I condemn others for condemning me. I claim ‘lowly’ tax collector status,I fool myself when I say God had better material to work with compared to a Pharisee.
We’re all Pharisees.
We all forget mercy.
We all ignore our need of God

Humility is the only way to enter the Kingdom.

Humility begins when we compare ourselves to God, not others. We are always the chief of sinners, not by a feigned humility, but a genuine awareness of God’s presence and holiness and our need for mercy.

The encounter that follows this parable is most certainly connected. (Luke 19:15-17).

The only way to enter the Kingdom is through becoming like a child.

Not childish but childlike.

There is no room for boasting, no room for self-advertising of any kind. The simple faith of a child accepts truth without a need for self-justification.

We are left with the option of humility ( choosing His mercy ) or humiliation ( choosing our own way) before God.

“ The Gospel transforms us so out self-understanding is no longer based on our performance in life. We are so evil,sinful and flawed that Jesus had to die for us. We were so lost that nothing less the death of the divine Son of God could save us. But we are so loved and valued that He was willing to die for us. The Lord of the universe loved us enough to do that! So the gospel humbles us into dust and the same time exalts us to the heavens. We are sinners but completely loved and accepted in Christ at the same time…He saw your heart to the bottom and loved you to the skies.” – Tim Keller

The tax collector didn’t go home justified because he was a better man than the Pharisee. He went home justified because he saw his need, saw the answer to His need and had a meaningful encounter with God that transformed his heart.

The application certainly isn’t that we would all go and live like tax collectors. Jesus doesn’t want us leading that lifestyle anymore than He wants us to be legalistic.

The way to be justified before God is to admit you’re a Pharisee. That you’ve tried to on your own in some way, and that you have failed, that you need His mercy.

“Those who can’t accept their imperfections can’t accept grace either.” – Donald Miller

God accepts and heals the heart that asks for mercy, and every heart is broken without Jesus, whether you are a Pharisee, a Pharisee in denial, or a tax collector.


“Worthy of the Calling” – 2 Thessalonians 1

The purpose of 1 Thessalonians was to comfort the believers with the fact of Christ’s return and to instruct them how to live while they waited. The purpose of 2 Thessalonians was again comfort them, but mostly to correct false teaching about this Day of The Lord. Paul wanted them to avoid being idle (3:6-15), and to not pay attention to those who pretended to bring a word from Paul saying Christ had already returned.( 2:1-3).

This church faced troubles from every side. They faced outside trouble with the persecution that was present right from the start of their church ( Acts 17:1-9). They also faced trouble from within the church with this false teaching that was gaining ground and undermining their faith and doctrine.

It’s with that in mind, Paul writes to them to encourage them in their suffering, to affirm what they are doing right and to dismiss what is being wrongly taught.
Ch 1 – encouragement in suffering
Ch 2 – enlightenment for the confused
Ch 3 – warning to the careless.
You may well have seen the billboard or TV ad about the “unbreakable” Hilux ute, where someone who wishes to purchase and drive a Hilux must go through a series of exaggerated obstacle courses in order to prove themselves worthy of being a Hilux owner. The tagline for the ad is “Are you worthy?” . The inference is that if you wish to drive an unbreakable ute, you have to be unbreakable yourself.

Worthiness and reaching a certain standard are things we all seek to accomplish, whether consciously or subconsciously. We want to be considered worthy of something. A certain job, position, relationship, possession, whatever it might be, we want to be worthwhile enough to have something or belong to someone.

Paul in writing his second letter to the Thessalonians tells them they are considered worthy of God’s Kingdom (1:5) when they suffer and his prayer for them is that God would make them worthy of His calling ( 1:11) by having a desire to see good in every situation.

Worthiness for the early church, and for us, is a high and difficult thing, and as we can see even from these two verses, it is a costly thing.

Thankfully, we have the answer before we start to get overwhelmed – that our worthiness isn’t based on whether we get glory or not, but on the glory of Christ’s Cross (1:12).

1 – Essential Ingredients For Thriving Under Suffering. v 1-4

Suffering is not something we think we deserve, no matter what form it is and for people to say it’s just something you have to get past or grit your teeth and bear is very, very hard.

We need an answer to suffering and how to suffer with an awareness of why we are, but there are no exact answers to it that we can comprehend.

The church in Thessalonica wasn’t just enduring under suffering, they were thriving and Paul lists two things they have that meant he could boast about their steadfastness to others.

their growing faith (v3a)
their increasing love (v3b)

Growing in trust and faith when things are difficult and loving others when you have afflictions are counter-intuitive. We are self-protective and distrustful, especially when something is happening to us.

The church had an abundant, growing faith, and their love for one another was increasing more and more because they managed to do what so many of us fail to do when the heat is on us. They trusted in the God who was greater than their circumstance. They were faithful, not through being super-human themselves, but in having faith in a faithful God who would never fail them.

Faith and love are meant to be key characteristics of the church, and when we love one another, we soon become self-forgetful instead of self-focused. They were not suffering in isolation, alone, without any support or help. They had each other to remind each other of the goodness and faithfulness of God.

When we face hardship, our lips may well speak doubts, but when we surround ourselves with others who will speak truth to us, we can tell our hearts a different story.

2 – A Response To Suffering. v 5-7

“ At the cross, we see the absolute uniqueness of the Christian response to suffering. In Islam, the idea of God suffering is nonsense; it is thought to make God weak. For many Buddhists, to reach divinity is precisely to move beyond the possibility of suffering, to give up your attachments to other people so that you will never have to suffer for anyone. Only in Christ do we have a God who loves us enough to suffer with us ( and for us).” – Vince Vitale

It was because of this that Paul was able to say such bold statements in v 5-7 about suffering proving us worthy of God’s Kingdom and that God will set all things right at some point in human future, even the things people seem to be getting away with now.

That God is just and that God will do what is right is a great answer to suffering. It’s not cheap or dismissive answer, because if God isn’t all-powerful and couldn’t hold everyone who has ever been born to account, then who will? There are no other reasonable alternatives.

We might well say we believe in God but don’t know why He causes suffering – that if He really is all-powerful as He claims, then He could surely wipe out all suffering now. There shouldn’t have to be suffering in this world if God is truly God…right?

The goodness and justice of God are not superseded by the injustice and evil of this world.

God in His Sovereignty has declared it to be like it is, and one day, all will be put right, and until then, to wish for a world without suffering is to wish for a world where you don’t exist.

A world without suffering would be a world without love, without cost, without courage, without relationships, without you.

That is not the world God has placed us in, and if we believe in Jesus, we have this assurance, that our suffering will one day work backwards.

All we have ever lost, or never had, will one day be redeemed. All the injustice of this fallen world, with it’s diseases, abuses, failures and fallings will be part of a great eschatological reversal.

3 – Avoiding The Greatest Suffering. v 7-10

When Jesus returns, He returns to judge the quick and the dead. ( 2Timothy 4:1).

His appearing will be a consummation of glory for those who trust in Him, but for those who don’t, it is a condemnation to the greatest suffering, the eternal destruction and death.

The vengeance of God, with flaming fire, will be inflicted on these unbelieving peoples.

those who don’t know God
those who don’t obey the gospel

Both are inclusive, and could well be said they are one and the same description, but elsewhere in scripture we are told there will be those who say, “Lord, Lord, did we not…etc.( Matthew 7:21-23).There are many who know God, but refuse the truth of the gospel. There are many who claim to know Him, but a far away from the kingdom because they have not acknowledged Him and have chosen the deceitfulness of sin instead.They have done things in His name, but not for His name.

All who face the vengeance of God in flaming hellfire have chosen that position. Hell is a monument to human freedom. The unbelievers greatest condemnation is that they will get what they have chosen.

To not acknowledge God in this life is to condemn yourself to an eternity without Him, and it won’t be an eternity spent with friends. It is total isolation. Total destruction because you are left entirely to your own devices that you chose for yourself, and it will burn you forever. That is meaningless suffering…

“ There are worse things than ceasing to exist. And living in outer darkness is not in a nice sense of ‘I’d like some down time by myself’. Rather, it’s ‘I’ll never be in touch with anyone ever again’ ..’See you in hell?’, No, you won’t.” – Gary Shogren

They are consumed by His glory, where the believers, because they stand in Christ’s righteousness and are heirs of the Kingdom He is bringing, get to witness His might an power.

Those who believe get to see the justice of God bringing all things to completion and fulfilment.

There are two options for us – ignore and disobey and face eternal destruction in separation from the God we so desperately want to ignore in this life. Or acknowledge and obey, and see Jesus face to face in full glory.

Will we be among the disbelieving or among the marvelling?

4 – The Purpose Of Present Suffering. v 11-12

Hope of future resolution is all well and good, but what about the here and now?

Paul gives a prayer that should be a prayer we pray for one another all the time also, filled with affirmation, encouragement, and challenge.

Praying like this for one another will help see why we have to go through some of the things we go through.

to make us worthy ( v11a)
to make us have a desire and resolve to see that all things will work out for good ( v 11b)
to see God at work in us as we trust in Him ( v11c)
so that Christ will be glorified by our actions under pressure ( v 12)
so we can be glorified and made more like Him, which is the ultimate purpose of all our suffering here ( v12)

“The pain I experienced has given me a tender heart for the weak and exploited of this world. The failures I knew have given me hope that lives can change and the assurance that the Grand Weaver does weave a beautiful design, albeit sometimes with strange threads. God is able to help us conquer THROUGH suffering, not just in spite of it.” – Ravi Zacharias

The encouragement that Paul gives to the believers at Thessalonica should be the encouragement that we all give one another. When we see God at work in another person, we should praise God and encourage them to continue.

Speculating about things we don’t have all the information on is dangerous thing, but just like the Thessalonians, we speculate about the timing of Christ’s return. We more concerned with when it’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen that we forget the FACT of His return…We are meant to comfort one another with the fact of His return, not confuse one another with speculations…

When we see other believers struggling under the load of suffering, whatever form it takes, we should never be quick to point out errors or sins we think we see. We should be gently reminding them that Christ suffered for them to win them a crown and make them worthy. They do have value in God’s kingdom, and they need reminders of who they are.

When we are asked difficult questions by unbelievers who want to know what we think about suffering in the world, remind them that God has a way of making things work backwards. One day all will be set right, all because on one day in history, One truly innocent man suffered for all the sufferings of mankind throughout all of history in order that people could trust in Him and escape eternal suffering.

Remind yourself, as you suffer, that although it is hard and seemingly unfair, hope in Christ means God will be glorified through it all, if we submit and wait for what we can’t yet see.

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