Lessons from the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector

Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is sometimes referred to as the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (an ancient Roman term for tax collector). This parable is found in the New Testament of the Bible, in the book of Luke 18: 9-14. In the parable, a Pharisee and tax collector both pray to God. The Pharisee approaches God with a self-righteous attitude whereas the tax collector approaches God with a repentant and humble heart. God is more pleased with the humble heart of the tax collector than the prideful heart of the Pharisee.

Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector Lessons - man praying

Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector Summary:

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector summary is that the two men prayed in very different ways. The Pharisee was a ‘holy’ man and thanked God that he was not sinful like the tax collector. He reminded God of all the ways he served Him.  By comparison, the tax collector stood back and humbly begged God to forgive him for being a sinner. It was the humble tax collector who was righteous in God’s eyes.

Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector Meaning

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector meaning is that God loves and appreciates those who follow His laws and commandments, but those who acknowledge their sinful ways and ask for His mercy are closer to His heart.

Moral lesson of the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector moral lesson is that the deepest and closest relationship we have with God resides within our hearts. He appreciates our obedient acts (and expects them), but what’s in our hearts matters even more.

Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Publican) Lessons

There are several important messages for each of us in this parable. These messages are as applicable to us today as they were when Jesus spoke them.

We have righteous people today (like the Pharisees) in the form of ministers, church leaders, and devout Christians who read the Bible, attend church regularly, and give to the poor. And we certainly have those, like the tax collector, who outwardly sin, such as prostitutes, murderers, rapists, and other criminals.

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican has a message for all of us. Four major lessons are spelled out below.

1. Beware of overconfidence

The parable begins by stating exactly who the intended audience is, that is, those who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on others.

The Pharisees were a religious people. They focused on upholding the laws. But they missed the mark in many ways, as many of us do today. It’s easy to read about them and scoff at their hypocritical ways. But we must be willing to take a serious look at ourselves, because it’s also easy to become overly confident in our own self-righteous ways, just as the Pharisees did.

We all have room for improvement in living our lives pleasing to God. May this reminder keep us from becoming overly confident in our righteousness.

2. Don’t look down on others

The Pharisees focused on upholding Jewish tradition to the letter of the law. They cared about how others perceived them, so they said and did the things that made them appear righteous and holy. They looked down upon those whose actions didn’t match up with their beliefs, in this case, the tax collectors (publicans), robbers, evildoers, and adulterers.

It’s not that the many ways in which the Pharisees upheld the laws weren’t good or acknowledged by God, because He does call us to live according to His laws. But the parable emphasizes and contrasts the humble, heartfelt, and apologetic plea of the tax collector. His simple, yet genuine contrite prayer exemplifies the sincerity and heartfelt relationship that God wants with all of us.

The Pharisees mistakenly scoffed at the tax collector when he actually had a more sincere relationship with God than they did.

3. God wants our heart

When such an important part of our relationship with God takes part in our hearts, we shouldn’t be quick to look down upon others based only on what we can see. The Pharisees made this mistake. God wants our hearts. He sees what’s inside. When we focus too much on our outward appearance, as the Pharisees did, we lose out on the beautiful relationship that happens when we seek Him with our hearts.

4. God chooses humility over pride

When we make the choice to follow Christ, it’s easy to become prideful or self-righteous for the ways we serve Him and live our lives. But pride is an evil idol that takes our hearts and minds down the wrong path and away from God. God loves humble servants who serve Him with their hearts.

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Publican), Luke 18:9-14

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is included in only one of the four Gospels in the Bible – in the book of Luke, Chapter 18 verses 9-14. This parable is also referred to as The Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (the name for tax collector at the time). The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, listed below, uses the NIV Bible translation and is taken from Biblegateway.com.

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector Commentary

The Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector Commentary is found at Bible Study Tools.com. This link will lead you to the free Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, but you can find other Biblical commentaries HERE. They include free and paid versions. I have referred to Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary for this post.

More Parables!

Do you love the parables as much as I do? You may enjoy reading life lessons on these others, these activities for adults and children, or this list of Parables and Meanings:

Photo by Ric Rodrigues.

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