No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you! (Job 12:22 NKJV)
Christians have a problem. We know. And we know that we know. And this knowing can get us into trouble. The Apostle Paul said that “knowledge puffs up” (I Cor. 8:1), and certainly those with lots of knowledge can become arrogant about it.
There was once a Pharisee who went into the temple to pray. Jesus tells us that this man gave a very special prayer of thanks. He said, “God, I thank you.” That’s a noble way to start a prayer. But notice what he thanked God for: “ … that I am not like other men.” (Luke 18:11).
Here was a man who on the outside appeared to be everything God expected him to be. He didn’t cheat people. He didn’t sleep around. He fasted. He tithed. He did all the right stuff. He might have been a pillar in his community, but Jesus strongly intimated that the man’s prayers weren’t heard, for he “prayed with himself” (v11) rather than to God. And although he seemed to be such a righteous fellow, I would bet that you would hate to have him for a neighbor, for he “despised others” (v 9). Very few, it seemed, could come up to a level of righteousness that was worthy of his friendship.
The Pharisee didn’t know it, but he succumbed to the curse of being too religious. He, as Paul warned the Corinthians, fell into the arrogance trap. He knew. He knew that he knew. And his knowledge puffed up his bullet-proof head to the point that he became obnoxious.
I fear that Christianity in America is developing the reputation of that Pharisee. We should be a voice crying in the wilderness, but too many are a shrill scream in the hallways. If we put forth the finger in accusation, we should also put away our own wickedness and care for the needy around us (Isa. 58:9-10).
From time to time one religious leader or another will call Christians to a National Day of Prayer. Yet morals still decline, politics is still corrupt, the dollar still degrades, and culture is still warped. Could it be that our prayers were like those of the Pharisee? “Thank you, God, that we are your people. Thank you that we aren’t like those politicians. Give us a leader who is worthy of us.” Were we praying within ourselves and not to God?
Our sin is as the sin of Sodom. There was more to their depravity than their sexual proclivities. Look at what Ezekiel said: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” (Ezek 16:49-50 NIV)
She was arrogant. She was overfed. She was unconcerned. She did not help the poor and needy. She was haughty. Just like that Pharisee.
It is interesting that the church at Laodicea had the same litany of accusations against it: “I am rich and increased with goods. I am in need of nothing. I am comfortably lukewarm.” Yet they were truly poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:15-18).
There was another man praying when that Pharisee was in the temple. He was a publican, a despised member of the political establishment. Some considered him scum because of his chosen profession. Jesus tells us that he “stood afar off, and would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote on his breast, saying, God be merciful to me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13)
Guess which man went home justified.
Perhaps instead of a National Day Prayer we would have been better served with a National Day of Repentance. “Oh God, be merciful to us, who are sinners. We humbly beseech you to heal our land. Change our hearts and make us instruments of your peace.”