This devotional is about Luke 18.
The major theme of this chapter is humility. That theme comes out more clearly in some of the paragraphs of this chapter than in others. But consider this:
- In verses 1-8 Jesus commanded us to pray persistently, like a woman who kept badgering a judge for justice. It takes humility to pray. It also takes humility to keep praying without giving up.
- In verses 9-14 the tax collector was justified instead of the Pharisee because “those who humble themselves will be exalted” (v. 14c).
- In verses 15-17 you have to become helpless like a child in order to enter the kingdom. Verse 17: “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
- In verses 18-30 the rich man refused the kingdom of heaven because Jesus told him to sell everything. Selling everything would have humbled him, making him dependent on God.
- Verses 31-34 doesn’t seem to fit the theme of humility except that Jesus’ death required him to humble himself, so maybe that’s why Luke included this passage in this spot.
- In verses 35-43 the beggar was not too proud to stop calling out to Jesus asking for his sight. His personal dignity and reputation among others were less important to him than receiving this healing from Jesus.
Let’s focus on verses 9-14 for this devotional.
This is a parable about two men–a Pharisee and a tax collector. Both men went to the temple (v. 10a). Both had a purpose for going to the temple–“to pray” (v. 10a).
The similarities end there. The Pharisee intended to pray, but what he really did was praise himself in the presence of God. Sure, he started his prayer with, “God, I thank you….” But the things he “thanked” God for were all action-based: that he was “not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector” (v. 11). Instead, he “thanked” God that he fasted twice a week and paid his tithes scrupulously (v. 12). In other words, he wasn’t really thanking God for God’s blessings. He was bragging to God about what a blessing he had made of himself.
These days, we call this “the humblebrag.” For example, “I can’t believe I aced that math test. I didn’t study for it at all!” The implication is that the test-taker is so good at math and so brilliant that he can outperform his class without even trying.
The other man had no reason to brag. He had no reason to believe that God would do anything for him. He was a sinful man and he knew it. He was so smitten by his sin that he called himself a sinner and cried out for God’s mercy (v. 13). Jesus said that the truly humble man–the sinning tax collector–“went home justified before God” (v. 14c). He was justified because God is a merciful God and his mercy is extended to the humble. “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Are you a humble person?
When you sin against another person, do you seek that person’s forgiveness, in addition to God’s forgiveness? Or, do you avoid owning up to your sin?
When you make a bad decision in your life, do you confess it to your spouse or your boss or whoever is in a position to help you and forgive you? Or do you blame someone else or say, “At least what I didn’t isn’t as bad as what he did.”
Humility is required for salvation. It takes an act of God on your stubborn will to turn us in repentance and faith.
But many blessings in life can be had with some humility:
- Admitting to your math teacher that you don’t understand and need some extra help.
- Admitting to your boss when you make a mistake or bad decision and need help correcting it.
- Admitting to your parents that you were a rebellious (or sneaky) teenager who broke the rules and put your life on a wicked path.
- Confessing your sins to a friend that you alienated and seeking his or her forgiveness.
My favorite jazz artist, Wynton Marsalis, says, “The humble improve.” In his context, that means a humble musician realizes that he has a lot to learn and a long way to go. So, he keeps practicing, keeps taking lessons, keeps listening to his teachers.
Compared to God, none of us is very virtuous, forgiving, kind, generous, or pure. When we remain aware of our sinfulness, we will not brag to God or others about our spiritual lives; instead, we’ll keep crying out for God’s mercy and help. And God will answer, forgiving us and helping us find new levels of growth.
Where do you need to humble yourself today in order to grow?