Explore the Bible Study: Worthy?

7:06 AM

How would you feel if someone stood beside you in worship and boldly and loudly proclaimed this prayer for all to hear, "Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like [the IRS] tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income" (Luke 18:11-12, MSG)? Sadly, arrogant, self-righteous attitudes can creep into anyone's life. This week's Explore the Bible Study: Worthy? will examine actions we can take to walk humble with [our] God (Micah 6:8, CSB) while avoiding the trap of arrogant, self-righteous living.

John Templeton, the Winchester, Tennessee-born, British investor and philanthropist contrasted humility and arrogance in this way, “The opposite of humility is arrogance—the belief that we are wiser or better than others. Arrogance promotes separation rather than community. It looms like a brick wall between us and those from whom we could learn.” I might add to this that it also looms like a brick wall between us and those to whom we could share and show the Good News of Jesus.

While continuing His journey to Jerusalem and the cross, Jesus addressed the Pharisees directly in Luke 18:9-14 with a parable about a Pharisee and tax collector. The purpose was to contrast arrogance and humility. Pharisees regularly looked down on people who did not, in their estimation, come close to fulfilling the strict requirements of the law. This is one reason Jesus enraged them. Jesus not only spent time with the unrighteous and broken,  but He also extended them grace. For the self-righteous, God’s grace is scandalous. This parable reminds us that God welcomes all people who humbly come to Him.

Luke 18:9-12: A Picture of Arrogance

  • Here are some of the words, phrases, and actions that describe the arrogant person. The first few words describes Jesus' listening audience: They trusted in themselves; they were righteous; looked down on everyone. Then Jesus describes the arrogance of the Pharisee in the parable using phrases such as: standing and praying about himself; thank you that I’m not like other people; I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything.
  • Notice also in this passage that arrogance requires an audience. This Pharisee publicly stood up and prayed. He bragged about his “righteousness” publicly while pretending to pray to God, but he was only praying to himself! He was parading his good deeds before others, as if that made him more worthy of God’s love or that God wanted to hear him brag about his standing before Him.
  • Righteousness is not something we brag about or use to demonstrate our superiority. It is a gift that is to be cherished and used to demonstrate God’s grace.

Luke 18:13-14: A Picture of Humility

  • In Scripture, lifting up one’s eyes to heaven is often depicted as a normal posture for prayer. But in this parable, the tax collector did not lift up his eyes because of his awareness of shame or unworthiness to stand before God. In fact, he was so overwhelmed by his own sin he beat his breast in despair. 
  • The tax collector had a more accurate view of himself. He was saying, “I am a sinner and don’t deserve to be in the presence of God.” The tax collector was not focusing on his actions but the root of those actions. He was a sinner, period.
  • Notice the results that come from this tax collector’s humble confession to God—Jesus said that the tax collector went home justified before God. Justification is a legal term and is the opposite of condemnation. To condemn others is to declare them guilty; to justify others is to declare them righteous. In Scripture, the term justification is used to describe God’s expression of unmerited favor by which He puts sinners right with Himself—not only pardoning them but accepting them and treating them as righteous. 
  • The Pharisee was trying to justify himself by his good deeds. The tax collector knew he could not justify himself so he cried out for God’s grace, and God justified him.
  • While the Pharisee couldn’t see his need for grace because of his self-righteous pride, the tax collector could see only his need. If we want God’s grace, we must first see our need for His grace. 
  • Like the tax collector in this parable, our only hope for reconciliation with God requires humbly acknowledging our sins, engaging true repentance, and placing our faith in Christ.

Luke 18:15-17: Childlike Faith and Humility

  • This incident with these little children coming to Jesus helps us understand the perfect picture of humility because all who desire to enter God’s kingdom must enter with a childlike humility and faith.
  • Are we like these little children—humble, dependent, trusting, believing? 
  • Just as children look toward their parents in humble and utter dependence, trust, and hope, God calls us to look to Him in the same manner.

Arrogance Versus Humility

While the passage for today’s session is aimed at religious self-righteous individuals, we should understand that self-righteousness can also be expressed by someone who is convinced that there is no God at all—the irreligious. The irreligious might express self-righteousness by mocking those who follow Christ or viewing believers as ignorant or “needy” of religion in order to cope with life. Arrogant, self-righteous attitudes can creep into anyone’s life because we live in a sin-broken world. This is why we must examine our hearts to make sure we walk humbly with [our] God. (Micah 6:8)

We are reminded in Philippians 2:5-8 of the ultimate picture of humility as demonstrated by Christ: Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. 7 Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, 8 He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.

Humility requires that we recognize that we are completely dependent on the grace of God. The good news is that God is a good Father. In Christ we are given all of the riches of His kingdom and none of us deserve it. A tremendous cost was paid so that we could be adopted into God’s family and have the right to cry out to Him as our “Abba father.” May we never become ungrateful, arrogant children. May we never approach our heavenly Father as though we deserve anything because of our merit. May we never view others as being less deserving of God’s grace. Let’s be honest about ourselves like the tax collector. Let us always come to God as a child would come to loving parents. Let us continually strive to humbly share and show the good news of Jesus to a watching and lost world.

Questions to Consider

Would you say our society is currently driven by arrogance and pride or humility? What would be different in our society if believers began to demonstrate humility before a watching and lost world?

The downloadable teaching helps provide more details for this study along with some tools you can use in guiding a group Bible study. Be sure to use this as a supplement to your study of the Explore the Bible Study resources provided by LifeWay.

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