The Prayer Of The Pharisee

The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people.”
–Luke 18:11

In Luke 18, Jesus told a parable about two very different people. He began in verse 10, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.”

Now, we think of Pharisees as villainous characters, but Jesus’s audience did not take it that way. In Israel, the Pharisees represented the most holy group of the Jews. They supposedly loved God, and they obeyed God, at least outwardly. In selecting these two characters, Jesus could not have chosen two people more at opposite ends of the religious spectrum. If Jesus were telling this story today, He might say, “Two people went to church to pray, a preacher and a prostitute.” That was the difference in the Jewish mind between the Pharisee and the tax collector.

Jesus said in verse 11, “The Pharisee stood and was praying.” I have heard people say, “That was the problem with this Pharisee–instead of kneeling before God, he stood.” That was not the problem. Jews stood to pray in Jesus’s day, just as people stand to pray today. The problem with this Pharisee was not his posture in praying but his attitude in praying. I love the phrase that Jesus added: “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself.” His prayer did not make it out of the temple, and you can see why when you look at the content of his prayer. He said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get” (vv. 11-12). In this short prayer, the word “I” is used five times. I think R. Kent Hughes hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “After his initial nod to God, his was essentially a self-congratulatory monologue disguised as a prayer.” The Pharisee was not praying to God; he was praying to himself.

And notice what he said about himself: “I fast twice a week.” According to Jewish law, the Jews only had to fast once a year, but the Pharisees fasted once a week. And this Pharisee exceeded them all–he fasted twice a week. He was a holy man, at least in his own eyes. But what is clearly missing from this prayer is any sense of repentance. There is no seeking God’s forgiveness, no supplication for God to do something in his life. Remember, this is not a parable that tells us how to pray; this is a parable about salvation. The Pharisee did not see his need for salvation, for receiving God’s forgiveness in his life, and his prayer reflected that.


Today’s devotion is excerpted from “The Other Story About The Two Sons” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2008.

R. Kent Hughes, “Luke: That You May Know the Truth,” Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 627.

Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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