Glad I’m Not Like Them

In a fascinating way, believers of all sorts have certain beliefs they value highly. The passionately theological value something. The Charismatic value something. The traditional value something. And all believe that the others around them should value what they value.

In truth, I believe that there is a definite right and wrong as to what ought to be important to believers. I believe that my understanding is from the word of God and not from my own preferences or personality. I believe that, in general, we would be better off if people valued what I value.

But there is a danger. Even if I am right, and I think I am right, there is a danger.

Luke 18:9-14 – 9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In this parable, Jesus describes two men. One is very proud of his righteousness. The other is very ashamed of his sin and cries out to God for grace. And we all know that the tax collector who is begging for mercy is the one who ends up justified.

How does that apply to what I said earlier? I actually would suggest that there are two dangers we face, and we can avoid them with a little prayerful thought.

First is the obvious one. Be careful not to think that you are somehow better than others in the faith because of the thing you think is most important. If you value enthusiastic worship, do not look down at the one who is more stoic. If you value evangelism, do not look down on the one who is more timid. If you value doctrine, don’t look down on the one who is poorly taught. We must begin from the understanding that we brought nothing good to the table to bring about our justification. We are sinners worthy of judgment. God brought the love and the grace to us. And we all, like the tax collector, need to cry to God to have mercy on us, sinners.

The other edge that people can fall off of here is to assume that, because we are all under mercy, nothing matters. That would be a bad move. We begin with humility and grace. But we also look into the word of
God to see what God says matters. When we see in the word of God that the Scripture is how we hear God’s voice instead of a subjective personal vision, we learn that matters. When we see that God has revealed a standard for worship that is theologically rich, word-centered, joyful, and reverent, that matters. When we see that Christians are called to share our faith, that matters. When we see that only God changes human hearts, that matters. When we see that God has made men and women with total equality in value and beautifully different roles, that matters.

In order to avoid falling off the road on either side, let’s try this. Let’s begin with absolute humility. We are sinners. Not one of us is better than any other. We dare not grow the attitude that says that I’m glad God did not make me like that guy over there. And then let’s bottle up that humility, keep it on us at all times, and study the word of God diligently so that we can learn what God values along with our humility so that we can love him, love others, and obey him rightly in all things for his glory.

A Humility in Worship

Reading the account of Solomon preparing for the building of the temple, I was struck by the humble thoughts that come from the king as he sought out skilled craftsmen to help him build. Solomon, at this point, recognized a few important things about the project he was undertaking. He knew what the temple could and could not be. And Solomon knew what he was not himself.

2 Chronicles 2:4-7 – 4 Behold, I am about to build a house for the name of the Lord my God and dedicate it to him for the burning of incense of sweet spices before him, and for the regular arrangement of the showbread, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths and the new moons and the appointed feasts of the Lord our God, as ordained forever for Israel. 5 The house that I am to build will be great, for our God is greater than all gods. 6 But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him? Who am I to build a house for him, except as a place to make offerings before him? 7 So now send me a man skilled to work in gold, silver, bronze, and iron, and in purple, crimson, and blue fabrics, trained also in engraving, to be with the skilled workers who are with me in Judah and Jerusalem, whom David my father provided.

Two things should speak to us in this section, I think. One is the fact that Solomon knew, from the very beginning, that, no matter how great was the temple, it could never come close to being a house for God. The temple could not be the place where God resided. All the temple could be is the place where God was worshipped. But the entirety of the heavens could not contain the glory of the Lord.

Solomon also asked a significant question, “Who am I?” Who indeed is Solomon to lead in this undertaking? Who is Solomon to build something for God? Solomon knew that he did not have the skill to make anything worthy of the Lord. This is why he was sending out for the greatest goldsmith and craftsmen he could possibly get.

I think that we could learn something from Solomon that would impact how we worship today. When the church of the living God is gathered together, Peter tells us that we are living stones being built together into a temple of our God. We, the people of God, are now where God is worshipped. This is a glorious honor, something we cannot deserve. Worshipping our Lord is a privilege. We should see the concept that God would ever receive praise from us as the highest honor available to humanity.

But

At the same time, some of the humility Solomon displayed would be good for us. We should ask, “Who am I?” Who are we that the God of the universe would hear our prayers? Who are we that the God of the universe would accept a song from our lips as worship? Who are we that the God of the universe would be pleased when we speak truth about him? Who are we that the God of the universe would give us his word so that we might know his ways?

Remember, when asking those questions, that the answer to the “who am I” question is never correct if the answer starts with what we bring to the table. We were sinners, rebels against the Lord. We were lost and hopeless. God, in his great mercy, chose to love us, save us, and adopt us. Now we know that we are in Christ, children of God, and allowed access to him in our Savior. We should not hide from worship, because God welcomes us. But we also should know that he welcomes us, not because of the good that we bring him, but because of the good he has given us.

Christians, worship the Lord with joy. Remember what an honor it is to be allowed to speak his praise. And be humble, knowing that God has given you a grace that you could never have earned on your own.