“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:
‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘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.’
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted’” (Luke 18:9-14).
One of my co-workers is a Christian and while she goes to church on a regular basis, she doesn’t read the Bible much, doesn’t know much about what the Bible says on specific things, and doesn’t seem to care about changing that. She also has a perpetually bad attitude, complains a lot, and has a tendency to focus on the worst in people.
I have found myself passing judgment on her, thinking that at least I try to have a godly attitude, I make Christian fellowship a priority, and I know more about the Bible and theology because I read the Bible and was very involved in a college ministry.
I know this tendency of mine is a sin. Who am I to think that I am better than anyone else? And even if I am “better,” it is solely by the grace of God. Before I was a Christian, I had no morals, no ethics, and no standards. I did whatever I wanted, regardless of the consequences to others, as long as I came out pretty well off. Any action I do now that takes others into consideration is evidence of the Spirit working in me.
But this struggle reveals something about my condition. It is the same reason why it’s so tempting to tell non-Christians stories about what a rebel I was before I became a Christian. The reason why I want to be skinnier and prettier than other women. The reason why I need to be successful in my job.
I want to prove my worth.
I want to show others that I have something to offer, that I matter, that I am to be envied. My flesh does not think it is not enough to be loved by God, to be saved by Christ, to be validated by the One who sets the ultimate standards. I want my worth to be about me.
But I’m glad that it’s not about me, no matter how misled and lost I am about what is really important. If it were about me, I could never be sure of my real worth because everything would be relative. Who can define beauty? Who can define success? Who can define truly living? Humans try but without an objective truth, everything becomes subjective and nothing is for sure. Only God can define those things.
And only God can judge other people. My co-worker’s relationship with God is just that – her relationship with God. It’s between her and God. I cannot hold her up to a standard that I cannot attain myself. Without the Holy Spirit, neither of us are anything. But with God, all things are possible.
So instead of judging her and setting myself on a pedestal because “at least I’m seeking to know God,” I should pray for her. I should ask God to make Himself ever more real and lovely in her life, so that she desires to know Him more. I should ask Him to change her attitude, to give her the grace to give thanks always, to soften her heart in repentance, to help her focus on what really matters.
And while I’m at it, I should pray those things for myself as well.