How to Go to Church
How to Go to Church
Words of Faith 11-19-18
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2018
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:  "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: '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, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
A great way to begin to study a parable is to read it and then make up a title for it. Jesus offers a parable here that we might title: "How to go to church... and how NOT to go to church.”
This teaching was addressed specifically. "To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else." Our first inclination might be to assume that this passage was directed, again, toward the Pharisees. After all, Jesus had a great deal to say to these pious religious leaders. They needed to know that they should not be so self righteous. Amen? Preach on Jesus. Tell those Pharisees!
But is that really the case? Was this parable directed toward the Pharisees? Let's point out a couple of things. First, Luke does not say that this was directed to the Pharisees. He was perfectly capable of making such a thing clear. Luke would have recorded it that way if that was the case. Second, it is quite unlikely that Jesus was directing these thoughts to the Pharisees because He used a Pharisee in the story as an example! That would not be very smart. If Jesus were trying to reach the Pharisees, He would have used some other person in the story. I am convinced this was not directed to the Pharisees.
So who is this for? To whom was Jesus speaking? Apparently there were some within the circle of followers closest to Jesus who had grown haughty or "confident of their own righteousness" and had begun to look down on everybody else.
The Greek word used here is peitho, which mean to "convince by argument.” Some had convinced themselves by argument that they were righteous. They had placed their confidence in themselves. The Greek also means to pacify or conciliate. They had pacified themselves that they were righteous. This was for the insiders. Perhaps even those closest to Jesus. It was FOR people who thought it was NOT for them.
That gives us pause to listen. Who is this for? Well, if our immediate response to the reading of this Scripture was to think that this was for someone else, perhaps we should listen closely! If you find yourself thinking "I am sure glad that Jesus was dealing with all those self-righteous people" or "I sure hope so-and-so is hearing this...,” perk up your ear. There are very few place in the Gospels where Jesus speaks across the ages so clearly.
So how do we NOT go to church and how DO we go to church? Jesus gave us two powerful images even if they are painted a bit in the extreme. One man was very religious while the other was a sinner, someone rejected by religious rules because of what he does for a living. One was the portrait of religious pride while the other was a portrait of contrite humility.
The contrast of spiritual pride and spiritual humility-- a haughty of spirit and the poor in spirit-- tells us there are two ways that we can go to church. We can go proudly to pray loudly, and attend loudly while thanking God we are not like sinners. Or we can go in humility. This approach is slow and comes from a distance. This approach is slow to look toward heaven but utters, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
The one approach is steeped in religious pride and tradition and is puffed up with religious works, fasting and tithing. The other is that of a sinner, aware of his sin, asking for mercy. It reminds us of what D.T. Niles the great missionary said, that "evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to get some bread to eat.”
There is great peril in religious pride and self-righteousness. We are warned that any time we begin to look down on others. We must beware in our personal life, in our family life, in our church life and even our religious life. We may find that because the first is an extreme picture that we would not fit into that picture at all. But we must be careful.
Just because you have been a follower of Jesus for a long time does not make you immune to self-righteousness. To the contrary, it makes you most vulnerable. But you may say, "I claim nothing but the blood of Jesus. I stand on nothing but the Word of God. I stand in nothing but grace." Still we can fall into spiritual pride.
Don't forget, pride is the number ONE ploy of the devil. Proverbs 6:16-19 says that "There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers." Proverbs 16:18 declares that "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.
Dear Lord, help me today to approach You in humility. Set aside any haughtiness or pride. Keep out the ploy of the enemy that would have me look down on others rather than look up to You. In Jesus' name.