"Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise 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, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

The term Pharisee is often used of anyone who seems to argue for an interpretation of Scripture that would be considered strict. However, being strict was not really the problem of the Pharisees . “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone.” (Matthew 23:23). Yes, they were very careful about observing some parts of the law, but they completely ignored others things like justice, mercy, and faith. If anything, the problem of the Pharisees was one of not being strict enough. 

The Pharisee in this story trusted in himself that he was righteous. He did not come to God speaking like one who needed anything from God. He could point to outward actions that set him apart from the tax collector standing next to him, but there was no indication that the Pharisee did what he did to glorify God. This is not the goal of self-righteousness. 

Contrast the attitude of the Pharisee with the tax collector in the story. The only thing that he said about himself was that he was a sinner, and the only thing that he asked for was mercy. Jesus said that the tax collector went down to his house justified. The one who tries to exalt himself will receive nothing from God, and this fact does not change when we become Christians. We still need God’s mercy. We still need God’s help. 

We are not justified by comparing ourselves with others. We are justified when we humble ourselves before God. In view of this fact, maybe it would be a good idea to just stop calling people Pharisees. The Pharisee in Jesus’ story wasn’t condemned because he was a Pharisee nor was the tax collector justified because he was a tax collector. A humble Pharisee could be saved just as easily as an arrogant tax collector could be lost. Paul stood before the Sanhedrin council and said, “I am a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6). If we’re not careful, using the term Pharisee as an insult could be kind of like thanking God that we’re not a tax collector: “God, I know that I may have some problems, but at least I’m not a Pharisee.”

Everything that we do in the practice of our faith must be focused on bringing glory to God; there is no room for our glory or our reputation, and we are not justified by the flaws that we may identify in others. The Pharisees did allow their desire for the praise of men to blind them to their own glaring failures. In view of who God had revealed Himself to be in the Old Testament, it was inexcusable to leave justice and mercy and faith undone. But, remember, we’re not just trying to be better than the Pharisees. We want practice the faith that is based on the whole counsel of God: “These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone.”