Who Made You Different?

Rob Stroup
Written by Rob Stroup

1 Corinthians 4:7(a) For who maketh thee to differ from another?

In Luke 18: 9-14, when the publican and the Pharisee came to the temple to pray, the Pharisee thanked God that he was not as other men. No doubt he was thinking of how he had kept himself from sins of the flesh. As a keeper of the law, he was nowhere near immorality. He was careful always to be exactly accurate in all business transactions, not taking advantage of others. Never would he allow an untruth to cross his lips. He handled his money wisely and tithed of every possession to God. In his spiritual zeal, his hair was cut and groomed in accordance with the teachings of the law and the rabbis, his spiritual leaders. His clothing was made of fabrics that were specifically described in the writings of Moses. Sabbath days were always holy days in his family, spent in the temple, praying and avoiding anything that looked like physical labor. His self discipline was exemplary, even fasting every week! If any man was unspotted by the world and set apart for God, it was the Pharisee.

Then there came the publican, with no works of righteousness to commend him to God. It was well known that publicans were wicked men, abusing their authority to make themselves rich from the money earned by others. In contrast to the Pharisee, this man was selfish, unjust, and guilty of extortion! He lived his life for himself, taking advantage of others. According to the prayer of the Pharisee, this man was probably guilty of adultery as well! He was a sinful wretch!

The people that knew these two men no doubt realized the difference between them. It was easy to see by their actions that one was to be respected and the other avoided. Some people probably feared the publican, like we would fear and avoid a gangster, mob boss, or drug dealer today. The Pharisee would be a well reputed leader in our community, attending church, giving to charity, a fine example of conservatism and morality.

Jesus points out the problem with the Pharisee and the promise for the publican. The Pharisee was self righteous, not forgiven. He was trusting in his own outward behavior for favor with God. The publican acknowledged his sinful state and begged God for mercy. He realized and admitted his need for forgiveness. His only hope was in God’s forgiving heart.

Jesus commends to us the attitude of the publican. It is foolish for us to think that right choices in life earn us any better standing than others. Sure, God has set up laws of nature that will reward right choices with good consequences. But to earn God’s favor, we need an attitude of humility. The broken and contrite heart God will not despise! God resists the pride seen in the Pharisee, even though he carefully obeyed God’s commands! God justified, forgave and helped the humble, though sinful, publican.

Christian, if you have been enabled by God to live a pure life, thank him for His help, but don’t boast or take confidence from a life of “right living.” Our trust and confidence still must be in God and God alone. We need to realize our relationship with Him depends on His grace just as fully as the thieving, alcoholic adulterer in the gutter. Just as works of righteousness cannot save us, they also don’t make us somehow superior to others.

Luke 17:10 So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.