How can we be religious without becoming Pharisees?
In Luke 14:7-14 Jesus gives two essentials for the doing religion right.
The first is humility.
Which, I KNOW sounds kind, of OBVIOUS, except for the fact, that a whole lot of times, it isn’t. Instead, there are a whole lot of times, when we are motivated by a desire to exalt ourselves, which is why, so often, we are so good at finding fault with others. And it’s why so often, we are so hard on others. And it’s why so often, we are more concerned about what people think of us than we are about what’s actually going on in our hearts. And it’s why so often, we are so desperate for attention and recognition. We can’t just do things, we have to have other people see us doing things. And it’s why so often we pay so much attention to people with power and so little attention to people without.
We want people to think that we are good because we think that we are basically good and important, as well.
Kind of like, the Pharisees, actually.
In chapter 14, verse 1 Luke tells us that the Pharisees had invited Jesus over to dinner and they were watching him carefully. What they didn’t know was that at the same time Jesus was watching them.
Luke writes, “Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he NOTICED how they chose the places of HONOUR.”
Apparently, in those days, when you went to a meal at someone’s house, it was about more than just a meal at a friend’s house. It was an opportunity to show everyone how important you were. And how important you were was demonstrated by where you sat. Basically, the closer you were sitting to the person who invited you, the more important people would have thought you were. Sitting next to or at least close to the host, was, what you might call, the place of honor.
And that’s what, the people who were coming to this meal obviously, were about.
Not listening to Jesus. Not getting to know Jesus. But honoring themselves. In fact, hey were so focused on that, instead of waiting for the host to seat them, Jesus noticed they were trying to grab, the most important places for themselves.
Which, looking at the gospels as a whole, is clearly, not just a one time thing that Jesus is suddenly noticing now. Instead, this was something that was a pattern for the Pharisees. They were continually using religious activity to exalt themselves. They thought of themselves as important and they used religious activity to get people to notice.
Matthew 6:1 in illustration.
Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.”
And obviously, part of the reason he says that, is because that is exactly what he saw, the Pharisees were doing.
When they gave to the needy, for example. They would sound a TRUMPET, that they might be praised by others. And when they prayed. They loved to stand and pray in public places, that they might SEEN by others. And when they fasted. They would look as SAD as possible. In Jesus’ words. They would disfigure their faces. That their fasting might be SEEN by others.
In Matthew 23:5, Jesus goes on, actually.
And sums up the Pharisees, whole approach, to religious activity as “they do ALL THEIR DEEDS to be SEEN by others.” Because of course, they think their deeds deserve to be seen by others, and he gives some illustrations how.
He says, “For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long…”
And a phylactery was a little leather box, attached to a little leather band, that contained certain Scriptures because in the Old Testament, Moses had said, the Scriptures were to be on the hand and between the eyes of God’s people, but he meant that obviously SYMBOLICALLY. Like we are always to be, thinking about the Scripture. But, the problem for the Pharisees with taking that symbolically, was that nobody can see that you are thinking about Scripture, I mean, what good is thinking about Scripture, if people don’t know you are thinking about Scripture, so they came up with a way, to show everyone, that the Scripture was on their minds, and that was with these little boxes, phylacteries, they would attach to themselves, to get people’s attention.
Because their religion was for show.
Quoting Jesus, once again.
“They loved the place of HONOR at feasts and the BEST SEAT in the synagogues and GREETINGS in the market-places and being called RABBI by others.”
Because they believed they deserved honor, they were absolutely driven by a desire to get it from people.
And, that’s part of what makes wanting glory from people a big deal.
Why does it matter if you go around wanting people to show you such respect?
It matters, because, it reveals what you believe about yourself.
If I don’t think I am that important, then it doesn’t bother me, if you don’t treat me, like I am important. It’s because I think I am important, that I work so hard, to get you to notice and I get, so bothered, when you don’t.
And this, messes us up SPIRITUALLY.
In fact, Jesus says it was one of the things that ended up keeping the Pharisees from believing Him.
John 5:44, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another, and do not seek the glory that comes from only God?”
We were made for glory and ultimately the only way we will achieve glory is if we receive glory from God as a gift, on the basis of Jesus and what Jesus has done, but a lot of people don’t like that method of getting glory. They want to get it from PEOPLE on the basis of their own efforts and that’s ACTUALLY, the kind of glory, that to them, matters MOST.
Which, I think, honestly, at first, sounds a little CRAZY to most of us.
Being MORE concerned about glory from people than glory from God.
It’s like, really?
And, we can look at the Pharisees and be like, what is your problem?
Doing all this stuff you are doing, and not even thinking about the glory of God, because, you are worried all the time, about, what other people think of you. Except, I wonder, if we were a little more honest, how many of us, are going through life, driven, basically by the same thing, that was driving them. Obviously, it might not be the good seat, that we are worried about. But other people. Noticing us. Seeing us. Valuing us. That is what drives us.
We think we are important, and so we are all worked up about getting other people to notice by what we wear, or the way we look, or what we own, or how other people treat us, or whatever, but we are going through life with this passion to have people look at us and think, ‘yeah, they really are something.’ And it’s so deep down in us, that it even impacts the small, little, nobody hardly notices, daily choices we are making, where, we are sneakily, trying to somehow grab the honor and respect, we want for ourselves.
And it, I am telling you is, dangerous!
Thinking we deserve glory. Overvaluing glory from people. Thinking it is our job, to glorify ourselves.
All that goes together and it makes up, something we call.
The spiritually proud isn’t thinking about his relationship with God, he’s basing everything on what people think of him.
It’s people opinion that matters.
And, basically, he’s trying to find ways to get people to think about him the way he thinks about himself.
He thinks, he’s great and he’s using religious activity to get other people to affirm that and you and I, need to LOOK at ourselves, and ask if that’s what driving us. If that’s a pattern. Am I often doing things because I want people to notice me, to honor me, TO AGREE WITH ME ABOUT ME.
And, we need to evaluate ourselves because that kind of motivation is dangerous.
It’s the source, honestly, of a lot of religious error.
If you look out there, there’s all kinds of nonsense going on in the name of religion, and you sometimes wonder, what is so attractive about all of that, what is at the root of all the crazy stuff, that people, are willing to believe? Often, it’s this desire to glorify ourselves through our own efforts. It’s this belief, that we even can. It’s this conviction that we are so important and that other people need to know it.
It’s this spiritual pride.
It is not only the source of a lot of religious error, but also, practical error as well.
It’s like a DOOR into our hearts, that the devil is constantly seeking to open, because he knows, we usually leave it, unlocked. It is like a HANDLE on our souls, that he grabs hold and uses to DRAG US down into all sorts of trouble. It’s like ANESTHIA, honestly.
Puts us to SLEEP.
And, so often, we don’t even notice.
It is so dangerous, spiritual pride, it’s like poison, because, it’s ANTI-GOSPEL.
It’s a BIG DEAL.
I know, we look at people striving to find the most important seats for themselves, and we are kind of like, ok, that’s not good, but what’s the problem, the problem is that Jesus knows, these seemingly small ways of living are tied, to a deep down way of thinking, that is opposite, of the how the gospel, works.
And, so in verse 8, he tells a story, to help us understand.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast. Do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.”
Which at first seems, almost TOO easy, for one of Jesus’ stories.
I don’t know how you are hearing that. But, for me, the first time, I was really wondering, what is going ON?
Is there something more?
Because it sort of sounds like. Jesus is suddenly giving advice on MANNERS.
You know. Like. When you go to a wedding? This. Is. The best way to get the good seat.
Which doesn’t sound like Jesus.
I think, the key is the fact, Luke says this is a parable.
“Now he told a parable.”
It’s like, hint, hint.
Because a parable is an ordinary story that Jesus would use to make a SIGNIFICANT SPIRITUAL point. He uses something from everyday life that people would have been familiar with to teach a truth about the gospel that he can see they weren’t.
He’s asking them to imagine going to a wedding.
Even now, when you are invited to a wedding, it’s tempting to think of yourself as more important than you are and as a result, to assume, when you go to the wedding, that you deserve to sit in the place of honor. I mean. I am here. The wedding couple must be so HAPPY that I am here. And so Jesus asks them to imagine going to a wedding, and thinking you are so important, that you don’t even need to wait, for the host to come and show you your table.
But instead, you decide to go and seat yourself, like right up front.
Which is kind of ridiculous, because everyone knows at a wedding, it’s the host who gets to decide who sits where, and what if you were not as important as you think?
Here, you have assumed you deserve a certain place when someone more important than you comes in, and the person who is putting on the wedding, has to come up to you in front of everyone else, and move you.
Not just to another table.
But to the table.
For the people, who were the least important.
Which for the Pharisees who were SO OBVIOUSLY all worked up about making sure they were honored would have been like the worst thing in the world.
Being shamed, like that, in front of everyone.
Which is why Jesus says, what’s wise, if you really want to be honored, at a wedding, is not assuming, anything.
Instead. The opposite. Go and sit at the lowest place.
Because, that way, the host himself, can come up, and say to you, “Friend, move up higher.” And Jesus says, “Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.”
And the point, of course is NOT so much what to do when you are invited to a wedding, because, this is a PARABLE, meaning, it is intended to teach us something about the gospel, and I think, if we step back, we can see, what it is intended to teach, because, the whole context, in the stories around this one, is of, Jesus talking about the feast or, the banquet that God’s going to put on in His kingdom.
You remember, Luke 13:29?
It is an introduction to this whole series of stories Jesus tells.
“And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.”
In other words, Jesus is talking about eternal life.
God’s got a plan for the end of the universe to put on a celebration, which the Bible describes as being like a banquet, or you might even say a party and as you think about that party if you can see how FOOLISH it would be to go to a wedding and assume you deserve a place of honor and seat yourself at the important table, and if you can see how terrible it would to be to have the host come up to you and say you are not supposed to sit at that table and humiliate you in front of all the other guests, then you see how much more FOOLISH, it would be to go through life, assume, you deserve a place at the table, in the kingdom of God.
You don’t get to seat yourself.
It’s like at a wedding.
We know the host is the ONE who gets to decide where you sit. You don’t just GET to sit WHEREVER based on what you think of yourself.
When it comes to eternal life, and this kingdom of God. God is the ONE who gets to decide WHO gets to enter. You don’t just come in, because YOU THINK, you deserve to come in. He’s made the requirements very clear. And one of the absolute requirements is that you HUMBLE yourself before Him.
Luke 14, verse 11.
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
And, that’s not optional.
It is something God says over and over.
James. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Peter. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time, he may exalt you. Ezekiel. Thus says the Lord God, exalt that which is low and bring low that which is exalted. David. For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.
And all that is a promise.
In other words, this is how, it is always going to work when it comes to the Kingdom of God.
Where, I don’t know, maybe at a human wedding, you might just possibly get away with sitting at a more important table, you will ABSOLUTELY never get away with exalting yourself, before God, if you think, you deserve heaven, you will be humiliated, because He PROMISES, everyone who EXALTS himself, will be humbled.
There will not be ONE single person in heaven who thinks he deserves it.
Every single person who has spent his life thinking of himself as pretty good and worthy of receiving honor from God, is going to be locked out.
And yet on the other hand, the good news is that God also promises that everyone who humbles himself will be EXALTED.
Which is part of why, we say, GO SIT at the lowest table. Because, I promise, God’s going to SEE you sitting there.
There’s NO ONE who has truly humbled himself before GOD, who has COME, empty-handed, WHO COMES TO GOD’S PARTY, saying, you know what I don’t deserve it, I can’t earn it, I just need you show me mercy because of Jesus, that God is not GOING to EXALT.
And so if you have been on the edge, in terms of your relationship with God, and over the past weeks, you have been feeling, something, spiritually, and you are starting to think, you know what, I need to pray, I need to go to church, I need to study God’s Word, but, you are not sure where to start because you don’t want it to be empty, and what’s more, you know, how many get wrong.
Listen to Jesus.
Can you hear Him speak? He’s speaking to you NOW. Pursue humility.
Becaus the absolute only people who God’s going to honor at the final judgment are the people who have humbled themselves, who know they are unworthy sinners, and who’ve put their total trust in the mercy of Jesus Christ, on the basis of his death on the cross.
This is a promise.
As one pastors explains,
“If you refuse to claim that you deserve something from God, but recognize that you do not deserve anything good at all apart from Christ, and come like a beggar to Him, trusting in His mercy, through Christ, alone, God will raise you up, to eternal life.”
And BECAUSE that’s how the gospel works.
For the rest of us, if we’re already Christians, if THAT’S how we entered the kingdom, by humbling ourselves before God. If we don’t want to become PHARISEES, that’s how we need to LIVE now that we are sons and daughters of the kingdom.
WE NEED TO BE ABSOLUTELY RELENTLESS IN OUR PURSUIT OF HUMILITY.
This is something we’ve got to want.
As a church.
As religious people.
We should think of PRIDE AS OUR WORST ENEMY.
Not only because ultimately unrepentant pride is damning, but because pride, in our own walk with Jesus, as Christians, is a SPIRITUAL SLEEPING PILL.
Every little bit you GIVE in to pride, every little bit you start worrying about what other people think of you, every little bit you start thinking you deserve people to honor me is a step toward your relationship with God, become more and more like the Pharisees.
I will give you a little insight into my life, lately, I’ve been seeing when I am out, certain places, and I am interacting with people, I really don’t like being slighted. For example, the other day, Marda and I, were at the gym, and we were in this, big room, that you are supposed to be able to use for exercising, and there were two ladies in there, and the one lady saw us come in, and I could tell, she was bothered, and she looked over at us, and said, oh, you can’t be in this room, because we’re having a class.
And I was like, what? Who do you think you are?
And I am saying, that’s like a moment for me, why does that bother me, there were other places I could go, it bothered me, because that lady was acting like she was more important than me, and I am just saying, that exposed something, in my heart, and if I let that go, if God didn’t help me see that and deal with that, over time, that pride, would grow, and it would end up, making my relationship with God, a little more like a Pharisee.
Are you hearing me?
I just love this illustration, Jesus is giving, in Luke 14, because it seems so ORDINARY, looking for the important place to sit, and yet, this kind of ordinary, way people, are going about their life, spiritually is a sign, of something deep. If we are all worked up about getting people to respect us and look at us and think we are important, it’s like a symptom, we are not getting the gospel and we constantly have to be on WATCH for this particular symptom, in our spiritual lives, because most of the time, it feels so NORMAL.
The whole world is living to exalt themselves. That’s how we were living, before God saved us. And it’s so easy, to slip back, into living, to get people to think of us as something, even as Christians.
Only now, we are using good things, like religious activity to do it.
And, as a result, it’s not something, that always a lot of people, can notice, because, they can’t see our heart, and so on the outside, we are doing all this stuff that we are supposed to be doing, like reading our Bibles, witnessing, praying, but we’re not HUMBLED before God.
And if we let that go, if we don’t fight that, if we don’t help each other, fight that, our religious activity is going to be empty. And you know what? If we don’t repent, if we just keep on being religious, and using religion to get people to think we are something, and we are never really humbled before God, then all that religious activity might end up being worse than empty. Like the Pharisees. It might even be damning.
Which is so FRIGHTENING, that we should be PROACTIVELY, DELIBERATELY, DAILY, pursuing humility.
I am saying, don’t be PASSIVE about pursuing humility.
There’s so much God’s doing in your life to humble you, if you are paying attention, He’s seeking to help you, that’s part of why you have trials, that’s part of why you fail, that’s part of why you have all these limitations. But unfortunately many of us are spending our lives fighting against God’s goal for us, which is humility, and, as Christians, that just dries us up spiritually, to the point where, even if we are reading the Bible, and praying, it becomes something strange, and you know you, can hit the fast forward button on your life spiritually, decide, God’s direction for my life is the best, humility is best, and you start going the direction, God’s wanting you to head, towards humility, by, choosing, in small, ways, every day, trying to apply what you believe about God, and how you are saved, to the actual way you live your life.
Like, how you talk, what you talk about, who you talk to. Like, who you think about, what you think about. Like, how you want people to treat you. You want in all of that to be CHOOSING to sit in the lowest table.
Because, and this is key.
You TRUST God’s PROMISES. This is what faith looks like. In the day to day realities of life, faith chooses to do, what most people would think is crazy, it chooses HUMILITY, because faith is convinced, GOD LOVES HUMBLE PEOPLE, and, really that’s the first practical step, we have to take, and keep taking, if we are going to be religious without becoming Pharisees.
That’s the first practical step we have to take.