The Parable of
the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Luke 18:9-14

To some who were confident of their own righteousness
and looked down on everybody else Jesus told this parable:

'God, I thank you that I am not like other men-- robbers, evildoers, adulterers-- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said,

"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."


This parable is about the relationship between the character qualities of humility, contriteness, the fear of God, and obtaining righteousness which is from God.

"This is the one I esteem:
  • he who is humble and
  • contrite in spirit, and
  • trembles at my word." Isaiah 66:2
  • These are the three essential characteristics a person must have before God will listen to him.

    1. HUMILITY:  An honest evaluation of yourself in the sight of God.
    2. CONTRITENESS: Calling sin for what it is and being willing to repent from sin.
    3. REVERENCE FOR GOD'S WORD: Fully convinced that God has spoken through the Bible and taking it seriously in view of God's judgment.

    Of these three, Humility is most essential. If a person is humble in spirit, after honestly evaluating what the Bible says, he will be convinced that God has spoken and since he realizes that he is created by God, it would seem reasonable to the humble person to take God's word very seriously and even fearfully in light of the coming judgment. But when he evaluates himself against what the Bible says, he is convicted of sin for we know that "all have sinned an come short of the glory of God" Rom 3:23. This is the process through which God leads the humble to become righteous through the blood of Christ.

    The Pharisee in this parable is characterized as one who is confident of his own righteousness and looks down on others. One application of this is that those who are confident of their own righteouness lack the humility necessary to obtain the righteousness which is from God, which Jesus offered. This lack of humility is often evident by the condescending attitude of the Pharisee while he fails to make an honest evaluation of himself. Jesus said "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mark 2:17 Not that there are people who are righteous of themselves, but there are plenty who think they are. (Notice Luke 18:18-23)

    Paul teaches extensively on this subject, particularly with respect to self-righteous Jews as in this parable.

    "What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the "stumbling stone." As it is written: "See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame."

    Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes." Romans 9:30-10:4

    His writings in Romans chapters 2 and 3 also deal extensively with this subject.

    Jesus' teachings dealt with this subject quite a bit. For example, notice the next two incidents that occur in Luke 18 after he taught this parable. They deal with humility and contriteness again.

    Another way of looking at this parable is to consider what it teaches about what effect the presence of God has on people who approach Him.

    If a person lacks humility, the presence of God has no effect on the person.

    The humble will most commonly be convicted of sin.

    "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple." Isaiah 6:1

    "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." Isaiah 6:5

    But if one lacks humility, or you know someone who lacks this essential characteristic, how can it be obtained?

    The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources

    Edition: Jul 29,2015