Two Men Went Up to Pray

Two Men Went Up to PrayText: Luke 18:9-14

Jesus used two widely-held stereotypes to make a point in this passage. Pharisees were recognized as religious leaders (officially or unofficially) who scrupulously kept the law. Tax collectors were often viewed as traitors because of their work for the Romans. In Jesus’ parable, both men went to the temple to pray; yet the result was probably not expected by many. It is important that we understand what Jesus was teaching here.

Two Attitudes Addressed (v. 9)

  • Trusting in themselves that they were righteous – by their actions, they believed that God owed them His favor; of course, this meant they were ignoring their own shortcomings and were blind to their own sins
  • Viewing others with contempt – they ignored their own sins, but they only saw the sins of others; “contempt” means “to make of no account” (Thayer); they believed others were undeserving of God’s favor

The Pharisee’s Prayer (v. 11-12)

  • Started with an attitude of arrogance – “stood” (v. 11); it is implied that he raised his eyes to heaven (compare with v. 13)
  • He began by elevating himself above others – “viewed others with contempt” (v. 10); the standard is not what others have done (reality or perception), God’s word is (John 12:48); God is the judge (James 4:12); we cannot justify ourselves by comparing ourselves with others
  • He told God of the great things he had done – “trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (v. 10); we are to confess our sins to God (1 John 1:9), not inform Him of the good we have done; He already knows our deeds (Hebrews 4:13)

The Tax Collector’s Prayer (v. 13)

  • Started with an attitude of humility – “was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven” (v. 13)
  • He did not try to justify himself in comparison with others – he did not say, “I am not like this self-righteous Pharisee”; he recognized that he was directly accountable to God (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10); comparing ourselves with others will not justify us (Matthew 5:20)
  • He recognized his sins and asked for forgiveness – “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (v. 13); sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2); in this state we are “helpless” without God (Romans 5:6); sin makes us deserving of punishment (Romans 6:23); therefore, we need God’s mercy

Lessons for Us (v. 14)

  • Jesus said the tax collector went away justified – we must humble ourselves to be exalted (1 Peter 5:6)
  • Don’t compare yourself with others – compare yourself with God’s word (James 1:23-25; 2 Corinthians 13:5)
  • Don’t think that your works will “earn” God’s favor – do what is right because you ought to (Luke 17:10)
  • Recognize your accountability before God – prepare for that day of judgment (2 Peter 3:11)
  • Recognize your sin and seek God’s forgiveness – for the non-Christian, this will be done by obeying the gospel (Acts 2:38; 22:16); for the Christian, this will be done by repentance and prayer (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9)


  • We need to do what is right, but we must not allow that to make us arrogant
  • We need to be forgiven of our sins and we must not become blind to them
  • Let us seek to humbly and diligently serve God while always recognizing our need for His mercy

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