Have you ever been selective as to who should be in church? Is there a criterion that should be met for people who attend? Is church for Christians who have it all together (or at least for those who appear like they do)?
If we are real with ourselves, all of us have probably thought this to some extent at one time or another.
Even though thousands of years have passed since the wayward thinking of the Pharisees was written down in the New Testament, the prideful condition of man’s heart never seems to change. Jesus realized this, and He provides a reality check for us in the book of Luke so that Christians won’t hold themselves up higher than they ought.
To some who were confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everyone 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 by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” — Luke 18:9-12 (NIV)
This could seem strikingly prideful to most of us as we shake our heads at the Pharisee, but what kind of attitudes do we often have towards others who aren’t openly walking with God? Are we better than them on our own merit? Are our sinful natures any better than the person sitting on our right or left, or on the evening news?
Earlier in Luke chapter 7, Jesus reminds us that those who have sinned and been forgiven much love much. If we forget all that we have been forgiven of and the wickedness we still have in our hearts, it’s easy for us to look down on others with contempt rather than love.
So let’s look at the blatant sinner’s heart that Jesus compares to the aforementioned church artifact:
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.” I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” — Luke 18:13-14 (NIV)
We often forget that Jesus’ ministry was to tax collectors, prostitutes and lepers. Sometimes, we get too comfortable with the typical Sunday morning crowd and subconsciously put up walls around those who we consider to not be on our level of maturity in Christ.
It is important to realize that a heart problem exists when we start referring to others as sinners – and not ourselves. Remember the humility the Apostle Paul showed, even as one the most influential Christians to walk this planet:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. — 1 Timothy 1:15 (NIV)
To have an attitude any less humble than Paul would be arrogant. Let’s remember this when we flip on that TV, walk down that street or greet others in church foyer.
Remember … we’re all patients in a hospital – not religious artifacts in a museum.
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