30 Day sin the Bible, Day 29: Luke 18:9-14
Luke tells us the intended audience for this parable was people who had two qualities. The first is that they trusted that they were able to do what was necessary to be righteous on their own. While they gave lip service to God as their help, they really believed that they were able to fully obey His commands in their power. They might occasionally sin, but they always did what was necessary to atone for that sin. When it came to keeping the law, making the right sacrifices, giving the correct offerings, and even following the rules that were created in addition to the law, they thought that they did everything necessary to please God.
The second quality was reflected in their treatment of others. They looked down on others who they did not think were as righteous as they were. The tax collector in the parable is an example of that. Tax collectors were viewed by many Jews as traitors for helping the Roman oppressors. The reputation of tax collectors was also questionable. Those who saw themselves as the keepers of true Judaism despised them as inferior in their holiness. Tax collectors were only one group; the “holy ones” looked down on anyone who they considered a sinner or insufficiently thorough in their obedience to the law.
This led to not only spiritual pride, but also to working for the wrong reasons. When the Pharisees bragged about their keeping of minute rules for holiness that went even beyond the law, they weren’t necessarily lying. The apostle Paul in his epistles talks about his own practice as a Pharisee and claims that he was exemplary, even after he had come to Jesus. The problem with this kind of practice was that it became an end in itself. They lost sight of the God they were supposedly trying to please, focusing instead on keeping score against each other and those they thought were less holy than themselves.
The temptation to do good works for the wrong reason still remains with us today. We can labor in our church so that others will see how much we do for the Lord and be impressed. We might take on a difficult job just to prove that we can do what no one else could. We start to add up everything we do and compare ourselves to others, seeing if we can score higher on whatever standard of holiness we have set up for ourselves.
When striving for holiness becomes something we do to feel good about our own spiritual progress, we need to change our focus. All of the good works we can do won’t mean a thing unless they are done for the glory of God. Our service to the Lord should be a point of humility rather than one of pride. We should labor as servants of a perfect master rather than as holy specimens of human excellence. The best people on earth are bound for hell without Jesus Christ. When we recognize that, and view our labor as an act of humble gratitude to Him, we will be able to truly give the Lord what He wants from us.