Last Friday, I mentioned I’d be preaching on Luke 18:9-14, the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. One of the threads of application I spun out from the passage was concerning pride, particularly of the religious sort as displayed by the Pharisee.
In contrast to the tax collector, the Pharisee appears to have no awareness of his sin or need for grace. Rather, he simply extols to God his great virtue, albeit thanking God for it (18:11) – though even this has the stench of bravado more than the aroma of genuine gratitude. Matthew Henry insightfully commented on this, saying, “It was good that the Pharisee was no extortioner, nor unjust; but the devil made him proud of this, to his ruin.” You see, even our virtue can become vice when we extol it above the grace that empowers it.
Thus, I also find much truth in this excerpt from Andrew Murray, “Let all teachers of holiness, whether in the pulpit or on the platform, and all seekers after holiness…take warning: There is no pride so dangerous, so subtle and insidious, as the pride of holiness. It is not that a man ever says, or even thinks, ‘Stay away. I am too sacred for you!’ The thought would be considered ludicrous. But unconsciously there can develop a private habit of soul that feels complacency in its attainments and cannot help but see how far it is ahead of others. It isn’t always seen in self-assertion or self-praise, but in the absence of self-denial and modesty that reveals a lack of the mark of the soul that has seen the glory of God.”
This “pride of holiness” has quite an ironic effect. That is, though pride focuses us on ‘self’ – always checking myself out, seeing how I stack up against others – it actually gives us a pretty inaccurate view of ourselves. For pride blinds us to our own sins, deceives us into thinking we’re better than we are, and makes us too quick to see the flaws in others. In other words, pride turns us into blind, deceived hypocrites – a pretty fair description of a Pharisee (c.f. Matthew 23:25-28).
Beware of this virtue-extolling, sin-blinding, character-deceiving hypocrisy, the pride of “holiness” (that’s “holiness” because such is certainly not genuine holiness).