“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 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.” Luke 18:9-14
Are you saved from the burning fires of eternal Hell? Has there ever been a time in your life where you called to God in heaven for His mercy? Do you understand that you are a sinner for whom Christ died to offer you His gift of eternal life? Have you ever been sorry enough for being a vile sinner that you heard yourself speak those words in prayer in repentance to God? If so, by the grace of God, you now possess eternal life. If not, I implore you, you do not have another minute to lose since, “For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” My dear friend, you are not guaranteed to draw in one more breath. Please make that decision right now. Call unto God to save you right there where you sit.
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Romans 10:9-10
For all of you who are trusting Jesus for this eternal gift, are you the picture of spiritual health? Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’m just fine”? After all, you have your golden ticket into heaven with a reservation and your name is written in the Lamb’s, “Book of Life”. While going along through life, being that you are doing so well, have you ever been in a situation where you observed sin in your neighbour and thought, “I’m sure glad I’m not like that person”? Or, worse, perhaps someone has persecuted you in a serious way and caused you harm of some sort. Have you desired that person’s destruction? Since you are “doing alright”, of course you would never word anything in a way that would offend God, like “God, you know I can’t do anything against this person, because you know I would, but I wait on your vengeance”. Instead, you may word it more piously, such as, “Lord, now I’m not asking you to wreck this one’s life, but I know your Word says vengeance is yours…” Or, maybe you did not pray at all. For all of us, could it be that the real truth is hidden in our heart’s desire, because we are doing alright and they are not? Have we not just set ourselves up on a pinnacle, “hoisted ourselves with our own petard”, as it were? (The etymology of this idiom giving the sense of being ‘lifted up’ by the exploding bomb that you intended for another.) How did we get to this place in our mind anyway? Naturally, we thought more of ourselves than we ought to have done, which goes against God’s commandment in scripture.
“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” Rom. 12:3
There is a point that came well before this moment of “righteous” prayer. We took an exit from the commandment of scripture, such as it says, to do good and bless them who persecute you. Instead, we devised our own evil heart plan and decided to imagine the destruction of the evil doer. Instead of praying for their well being, our prayer was soured by our own fleshly desires. Have we not exalted ourselves?
“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” II Cor. 10:5
But, even before this contravention of the scriptures, there was a comparison made that happened in the heart, “we are doing alright”. This is the point on the road where we saw the sign for the exit ramp. Instead of neither turning to the left nor to the right we took that exit to the road of self-justification. How did we get there? Comparison. We decided to put our own perceived righteousness on the table right beside the unrighteousness of the other person and commended ourselves on a job well done! Who do we really think we are? However, there is a healthy view we should attain to instead, one that is scriptural and will give us peace. This view is the opposite of being self-approved. This is the view of being God-approved and I would like to share a few thoughts to help us all become more conformed to the likeness of Jesus, our God.
Who Are We?
We, as human beings, have a really vaunted view of ourselves, there is no doubt about that. We can look at society around us and find there is no shortage of experts in every framework of life. Naturally, there needs to be experts in every facet of society so that non-experts have someone to follow; the globally-minded would, no doubt, be the first to show you their credentials about that! But, more so since the advent of the internet we have seen an increase of the day-to-day experts coming out of the closets. All around us we find those who think they are experts and professionals without even demanding the paycheck! We find those who are towing the Marxist-Socialist line that Lenin called, “useful idiots”. In some respects, we as Christians are quite a bit that way with our own spirituality as well. We often look at ourselves as having some innate righteousness, some merit to offer, that if we were honest with ourselves we would have to concede that to our Heavenly Father since all glory belongs to Him. If Jesus made Himself of no reputation while here on Earth, how much more should we decrease? If we think too highly of ourselves, we deceive ourselves; and to us who think we stand righteously, what does the scripture say?
“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” I Cor. 10.12
Clearly, as a society, we have a terrible habit of commending ourselves when we should be humbling ourselves. What does the Bible say about commendation? There is wise and foolish commendation. Where we follow God’s Word, we will receive commendation from God. Where we exit from God’s Word to commend ourselves, it comes from a prideful and fleshly lust in the heart that ends in destruction.
The Bible says in The Book of Proverbs, in fact, twice, word for word, that “there is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death”. If we take this in context, we can know that Proverbs also teaches that pride ends in destruction. So, if we commend ourselves by using our neighbour’s unrighteousness as a fulcrum with which to hoist ourselves up, are we not committing the sin of pride? Do not take this following verse out of context, because the Bible does say to judge righteously except where it is not your business and do not be a hypocrite! Do the scriptures not clearly teach who are we to judge another man’s servant?
“Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ’s, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ’s, even so are we Christ’s.” II Cor. 10:7
Clearly, if we rely on our own pride and do not give glory to the proper Authority for that which He hath done, then we are foolish and are headed for imminent destruction. The Bible has a lot to say about humbling ourselves before God to avoid being humbled involuntarily. I cannot help but think about that parable in our text, about the Publican who humbled himself before God and the Pharisee who commended himself. So, why are we comparing ourselves to others seeing we are in the same state? The scriptures tell us it is not wise to compare ourselves with one another and even worse to compare ourselves to those who commend themselves. Consider the following verse:
“For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” II Cor. 10:12
Looking at this verse, if we rely on ourselves we are not wise, but we can be assured that if we give God the glory, He will glorify us in due time. It may not be right away, but God sees all and will keep His promises. So, wait on Him. The scriptures are teaching us here that we must be wary of those who commend themselves and basically to stay away from them. Do not place your righteousness on the table against these ones who commend themselves. If you know someone who lifts themselves up in righteousness, do not lift yourself up in comparison. Chances are you will lower a godly standard. If you do, you may as well be lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps, because you will not even get yourself up off of the ground! My friends, look to God for your commendation. He promises it will be given in His good and perfect timing.
This society we live in is constantly seeking for approval. The psychiatric industry is rife with patients looking to improve their self; self-esteem, self-worth, self-gratification with all their selfies and the list goes on. Most certainly, we should not lift ourselves up in self-commendation nor compete with those who do, but sometimes we may wonder who will ever take notice of all our labours? (Like the church soundman whom nobody takes notice of until they hear that squawk through the loudspeakers, but without whom the gospel may not be heard as well!) Do not seek for someone to take notice. God sees it all! God’s timing is always right and best! Humble yourself and He will reward you up in due course. What is the best way for us to set ourselves up in preparation for the podium finish? We must endure until the race is won! Where can we find in scripture how to prepare as we run? The Bible has much to say about being approved by God. Firstly, the scriptures say to study to shew thyself approved;
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” II Tim. 2:15
We are to get to work! We are likened to workmen. If the workmen come to work and do a good job, there is no need for them to be ashamed, in fact, they are to be commended for a job well done! This verse says you should be, “studying”. Get in the word. Read some books from other godly men who love the Word and learn what perspectives they have to offer. Get yourself a good dictionary, such as, the “Webster’s 1828 Dictionary” to find new words to add to your vocabulary as well as a good and comprehensive concordance to work with. This will show you where the same words are used in other places of the Bible and help you find the Bible’s own definitions in the context of scripture. Second, live holy and godly using the scriptures as your guide.
“For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” II Cor. 7:11
Quite simply put: be obedient to the scriptures. Take it literally where you should and figuratively where required. If all scripture is profitable to you as the Bible says, you ought to live by it. God’s Word is only found in the King James Bible in English today, so live by it! It ought to be your final authority in all matters of faith and practice. And, finally, do not worry about the unrighteousness in others unless it affects you directly, because God has allowed for it. Consider the principle of the “tares among the wheat” in Matthew 13; and consider this verse:
“For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” I Cor.11:19
Do you want to find yourself approved by God? Live righteously according to the scriptures in this present world and He will bring it to pass. Again, do not concern yourself with when the commendation will come, it will come since God has promised it; the timing of it is not our concern. Do you seek to be used in God’s ministry? Did the Lord open your heart with the desire for the office of the bishop as taught in I Timothy 3:1? Do you believe you are called to be sent as a missionary? Get in the work in your local church! Stir up the spirit in the brethren that you are God’s man. The Bible says they will recognize it according to the leading of the Holy Spirit and you will be sent in the Lord’s will, but do not give up! If God has this calling for you, keep your head down at the work and do not compare yourself to those who commend themselves and stay faithful until death.
“For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.” II Cor. 10:18
There is a danger in comparison: comparing ourselves against others is not wise, because our focus is all wrong. If anyone were to travel to a destination using a compass and were off by only one degree, after one thousand miles they would find themselves way off course and nowhere near the correct destination! So, get your bearing on Jesus and His Word. Who is scripturally approved? Not those who commend themselves. Not those who are self-justified. Not those who compare themselves to them, because that is not wise. Only those that are approved by God are approved at all. To begin with, are you saved? If so, you are justified. How do we show ourselves to be approved? By studying the scriptures, being zealous in our holiness and increasing in our desire to bring glory to God. Purge yourself and your house of all those things that feed the flesh, that so easily lead you astray. The opposite of being God-approved is being man-approved and being approved in the flesh is no approval at all. In fact, those who are approved unto man have only approved themselves by comparing themselves with themselves! Let us perish the thought that, “I’m glad I’m not like that person”. Reconsider the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. Be sure to direct yourselves in God’s Word instead of using another to justify yourself and He will honour you in due course. ~R.
© 2016 Remi Fernhout