What Shall I Answer?

It is precisely the way we think. It may take a lot of words, and we don’t mean to argue. From our point of view, we’re only explaining why we’re right!

But in explaining why we’re right, we’re really SHOWING why we’re not right. Even if we were right in what we said or did, there is a time to speak and a time to keep silent. It is the message we get from a little personal note the prophet Habakkuk put into his own writing.

Habakkuk 2:1 1I will stand my watch And set myself on the rampart, And watch to see what He will say to me, And what I will answer when I am corrected.

From our common KJV it reads,

Habakkuk 2:1 1I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, And will watch to see what he will say unto me, And what I shall answer when I am reproved.

We show our character much more by remaining silent at a moment like this, rather than “explaining” in a multitude of words, and with lots of confidence and assurance, our attitude of: “I know I’m right. I’m only telling you why.”

Proverbs 10:19 19In the multitude of words, sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise.

It is a lesson that probably most of us have come to, and where we may realize, at least in our saner moments that we still have work to do. To become what we should be, to hold back those self-justifying words, is not easy. And it is not instinctive. When we see where we are lacking a virtue, it is an instinct to smother it with excuses.

Following our instinct to justify ourselves is not God’s way. Better to give it a little time if necessary. It is so much easier to deceive ourselves than to reform ourselves, and of course we like the easy way best.

Also, in our natural way of thinking, if anything really did go wrong, circumstances caused it. Everybody knows that.

What is the RIGHT reply when we are corrected? It may be SILENCE, until we have thought about it or prayed about it. Being RIGHT is what we really want, not being justified. I recall a couple of examples of this unusual Christ-like quality, and realized at the time that it took some real stretching to keep silent, OR to give the RIGHT answer, as Habakkuk resolved.

Jesus rebuked the Pharisee instinct of it in Luke 16:15,

Luke 16:15  15And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

At this time Jesus was attacking the self-commendation of the Pharisees—for their benefit, and also us.

Then He capsulized it in a brief but telling parable. You’ve seen them before, Mr. Pharisee and Mr. Publican. Here they are:

First this brief introduction that Luke added to the parable:

Luke 18:9  9…He [Jesus] spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

The parable has two main characters. Plus, of course, the spectators, which are important in this situation.

The Pharisee came to be seen. Jesus says,

Luke 18:10–14  10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

Both despised by most of the people. Nobody liked to pay taxes any better then than now. And the Pharisees, wanting to be looked “up” to, and feeling themselves “better” than others, were naturally despised.

Continuing with the parable:

11The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself,…

Immediately we sense the problem: The Pharisee isn’t petitioning God, he is praying with HIMSELF. The big HIMSELF!

11The 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.

As if to say, Look at ME, everybody!

12I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’

Now the tax collector:

13And 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!’

Now the summing up:

14I 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.”

There is the nutshell conclusion:

Exalt ourselves, and we will be humbled.

Humble ourselves, see ourselves as we really are, and we will be exalted.

The Pharisee is a self worshiper, at least there’s a big selfie in his heart that wants to be commended and places himself where HE will be the most obvious. That is why Jesus says he prayed thus “with himself.” He didn’t need God, he was able to command his own ship. He didn’t have the heart of Jeremiah, who said,

Jeremiah 10:23  23O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.

No doubt the Pharisees felt the sting of Jesus’ words. It was Luke’s earlier comment:

Luke 16:14  14Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.

But it brought no thought of repentance or reformation, only defensive alibis.

It was the feel of “everybody does it.” Or “Business is business.” Or, “You have to do what you have to do.”

All of us are tempted to act on emotion or self-interest, then call what we have done by the best sounding name. In personal relationships this alibi habit commonly takes the form of face saving.

One of the deepest impulses in human life is self-defense. Without it the race would not have survived, nevertheless its perversions are notorious. We do not wish to be shown up as wrong. We passionately try to protect ourselves from blame.

What does Job say, Job 9:20?

Job 9:20  20Though I were righteous, my own mouth would condemn me; Though I were blameless, it would prove me perverse.

The translation of this verse in the Septuagint augments the point even more:

Job 9:20 (svt) 20For though I should seem righteous, my mouth will be profane: and though I should seem blameless, I shall be proved perverse.

With just a bit of explanation we may see the point more clearly:

20For though I should seem righteous (and be lying, not really BEING righteous), my mouth will be profane: and though I should seem blameless (and not actually BE blameless), I shall be proved perverse.

The important point is not what we may SEEM to be but what we really ARE. Job says it yet again:

Job 15:6  6Your own mouth condemns you, and not I; Yes, your own lips testify against you.

Face saving becomes the primary concern in personal conflicts. Almost as if by instinct, we throw the blame on others in order to protect ourselves. So did the Pharisees.

Acknowledging our faults is humiliating, and reform is painful. It is easier to deride or ridicule the one who has spoken the unpleasant truth.

But as Christians we MUST REFORM. CHANGE. OUTGROW these childish traits.

If we really want to be right with God, we have to see we have been wrong, and reform and ask God’s forgiveness. No matter how smooth or successful our self justification may be, God knows our heart. As God said to Samuel regarding David:

1 Samuel 16:7  7But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

The Pharisees seem to have been extreme, but underneath they really weren’t so different from the rest of us. We all come with plenty of confidence in ourselves, even if we are introverts or feel inferior. We want to be distinctive, be what we are. We draw the line where we’re confident, even if we want to look modest.

There is an ungodly ideal in this world that would claim victory for covering up a fault or a transgression of a friend or relative, and remember only the good. This is not the mind of God. God’s principle is,

Proverbs 28:13  13He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.

Blind loyalty, regardless of character or true worth, may be admired by men, but it is abominable to God.

Luke 16:15  15And … God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

Examples of the contrast might be multiplied to infinity, but it all adds up to the same fundamental point Jesus made,

“That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”

It is possible to fool all the people some of the time and many succeed in fooling themselves all the time. But God cannot be deceived.

Gal. 6:7 Be not deceived, God is not mocked: whatsoever a man sows, that he will also reap.

This is what Paul warned against: condemning ourselves by what we allow ourselves to do.

Romans 14:22  22Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.

Someday our deep secrets will be brought to light. Will we be surprised by a fault that we knew was there but kept our hand over so that it would not be seen?

Now is the time to search out these corners, to look to ourselves with the clearest possible eyes, which often means through the eyes of others, and face the facts squarely. Then reform. Leave the old way entirely behind.

No matter how successful our self-justifying may have been in our eyes, or even in someone else’s, God knows our heart. And someday our deepest secrets will be brought to light. There will be no time then to investigate or reform. That changing must be done now.

May God help us to have the right answer when we are corrected, hold back on our nature to justify ourselves and be grateful that we can make the change NOW, while we still have time.

Justified or condemned?

The Pharisee had “I” disease. He was justified, in his “I’s”, because he did all these so-called righteous acts. He could not see beyond his own ego; he thought he was better than others, especially the likes of a tax collector! But he was presumptuous. He hardly realized that he was like other men…guilty.

Jesus praised the tax collector because he humbled himself and he saw himself as he truly was.  James tells us that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas. 4:6). Peter also echoed these same words, and he concludes, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Pet. 5:5-6).

What is the lesson for us? “Sacrifice to God is a broken spirit: a broken and humbled heart God will not despise” (Ps. 50:17 LXX). So, “Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord” (Ps. 4:5). “For the Lord takews pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation” (Ps. 149:4). We want that final exaltation to eternal life!