Sunday, August 11, 2013

Confidence and Humility

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
August 11, 2013
Confidence is not to the exclusion of humility and humility is not to the exclusion of confidence. If you are not humble in your confidence, the fault is not with confidence. Likewise, if you are humble, but lacking in confidence, you are not truly humble.

The difference is found in what your confidence is in. It is found in why you are humble. Confidence and humility are not at odds with each other but rather form a beautiful marriage. Trying to divorce the two from each other does disservice to both and to the perfect marriage found in both of them.

Jesus told a parable to people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. They were completely confident but lacked humility. The problem wasn’t that they were confident, it’s that they weren’t humble. This led them to be confident in the wrong thing: themselves. Since they were confident in themselves, they saw what was lacking in others and treated others with disdain.

Luke says that Jesus told this parable to those people; people who had that problem. Who were they? Were there some who weren’t that way? Are there some still today who do that? Are there some who don’t? Luke doesn’t specify who they were, just that Jesus told the parable to those who operated this way.

The best bet in this situation is to not speculate. No specific people are mentioned, just that there are those who are this way and Jesus was speaking to them. Confidence in yourself would assume He was speaking to someone else. You know, someone who really needed to hear it. Humility would assume He was speaking to you. That is, someone who really needed to hear it. So let’s go with that application. He’s speaking to you and me. Confidence abounds, but in the wrong thing. In ourselves.

This confidence Jesus is talking about is not self-esteem. It’s not, I feel really good about myself, or, I feel confident that I’m really good at certain things. It’s a confidence based on being convinced of something that gives the confidence. When comparing yourself with others, you find much good about yourself and much lacking in others. This kind of confidence is blinding, because you see only what you want to see, in yourself and in others. It leads to an inflated sense of yourself and disdain for others.

In Jesus’ parable, He reverses the roles of the two characters. The Pharisee is the one we’re supposed to look up to and follow the example of. The tax collector is the one we are supposed to take notice of and not follow that path. But Jesus reverses the roles. The Pharisee has a lot of confidence, but it is all in himself. The tax collector only has humility, there is nothing in himself he can see worthwhile in making an appeal to God.

The Pharisee actually speaks the truth. His confidence in himself is warranted, because he is indeed a good person. He prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” He does not act in selfishness like those he mentioned, who act in ways that are selfish and that harm others. Rather, as he states, his actions are selfless. He does things that are not geared toward himself but toward others. His confidence abounds because he believes that what those others do warrants condemnation, and what he does warrants favor.

Jesus turns the tables on those who think this way. This actually is utterly self-centered. The focus is not on God, but on self. The prayer is not for God’s will but rather for God to acknowledge the goodness of the Pharisee. The confidence is not in God but in self. The Pharisee went home from the temple not justified, but righteous in his own eyes. He went in that way and he received his reward. He was convinced he was right in this. How fortunate God was that there are people like him!

The tax collector was everything the Pharisee said about him. He was not worthy to be in the presence of God, and so he stood far off. He was not a good person and so did not even lift his eyes in the presence of God. He was overwhelmed with his sin and guilt, sorrowful over his state. He beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” What the Pharisee accused the tax collector of, the tax collector confessed of himself. The Pharisee compared himself to the tax collector. The tax collector compared himself to God. The Pharisee pointed out that the tax collector was not worthy, and the tax collector agreed. He could not stand before God stating anything good within himself as the Pharisee did about himself. All he could do was confess his sin, and so he did.

But whereas the Pharisee appealed to God on the basis of confidence in himself, the tax collector appealed to God on the basis of humility and a plea for mercy. That’s the difference between the two, but notice the similarity. One was humble, the other was not. The tax collector had no confidence in himself, but in humility appealed to God on the basis of His mercy: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” But in this was the very thing he had in common with the Pharisee, full and complete confidence. It wasn’t as the Pharisee’s was, in himself. It was rather confidence in God.

The Pharisee was confident but not humble. The tax collector was humble and also confident. The Pharisee’s confidence led him to no humility. The tax collector’s humility led him to full confidence. The Pharisee had confidence in himself, and therefore no humility. The tax collector was in complete humility and therefore complete confidence, but not in himself, in God. This led to the conclusion of Jesus that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” His conclusion bears out that what is needed is not humility to the exclusion of confidence, but rather humility that leads to confidence. It is humility regarding oneself and confidence in God.

The one who has confidence in himself does not have confidence in God and certainly not humility. The one who is humble has no confidence in himself and therefore must have confidence solely in God. This is why Jesus says, “I tell you, this man—the tax collector—went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” The appeal to God for mercy is met with the giving of mercy. God justified that tax collector. “God, I have nothing to give you, because all that I am and do is sinful. Therefore, be merciful to me.” And this is what the man received, mercy. He was justified, forgiven. He was declared innocent of all that he had done. The Pharisee, on the other hand, walked away guilty of his sin even though he remained confident in his self-righteousness.

So for you and me the choice is clear. We can walk away from here in confidence and leave the humility to others. Or we can walk away from here in humility and complete confidence. The difference makes all the difference in the world. The righteousness of the Pharisee got him by in this lifetime. The humility of the tax collector and the confidence he had in the God of mercy got him through this lifetime and to eternity. You and I have come here today as did the Pharisee and tax collector. Blessed are we if we do not seek to know who is who and which one applies to what people we know, but rather see in ourselves what the tax collector saw in himself—sin, wretchedness, unworthiness. Nothing in himself worth having confidence in.

And blessed are we if we see also what he saw in God—mercy, love, abounding grace, forgiveness. Blessed are we if we see that confidence is a good, holy, wonderful thing, for the God who has given us His Son is the God worth having confidence in. That is because it is confidence based on the humility of God’s own Son, humbling Himself on the cross to bear the sin of the world and yet fully confident in His Father that His suffering was not in vain. It is was rather what accomplished salvation and the basis for the Father’s mercy on sinners.

It is indeed humbling to admit our sin. To confess our wretchedness and unworthiness. It is indeed a blessed thing to be exalted by the gracious and merciful God, for He is the God who justifies you. He is the God who forgives you on the basis of His own Son, the Exalted One, humbling Himself on the cross, thereby showing and delivering His mercy to sinners such as we are. Sinners who have no confidence in ourselves but are given the green light for full confidence in the one who paid the penalty for our sin and guilt and condemnation. The one who blesses us with the blessing that though sinners, we go home justified.

And going home justified means not simply going home today justified. It means living daily in this mercy, this justification. It means going home to the place our Father has prepared for us. It means receiving in humility and full confidence that the body and blood of our Lord we receive at His invitation is that very body and blood which justifies us sinners now and forever. Amen.


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