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[a] 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
When we think of self-exaltation, we often think of someone like this Pharisee: blatant, obnoxious, maybe a little braggy. But exalting ourselves, more often than not, takes a more subtle form. It can look like name-dropping, social media posting, or even just taking over a conversation. I had a friend who, whenever anyone shared information about their life, would launch into a story about their experiences. They didn’t really listen to the initial story but used it as a platform to show everyone else how interesting or knowledgeable they were. We all probably know someone like this but we also have to reckon with our own tendencies to self-exaltation. After all, it’s not a temptation that only affects other people.
Exalting ourselves typically springs from a deep need and insecurity. I think my friend’s pattern of self-exaltation came out of a deep desire to be known and appreciated by other people. Trying to convince others of how talented, qualified or interesting we are reveals a need for connection, love, and acceptance. A need for belonging. A need deeply rooted in our wiring as relational beings made in God’s image. Exalting ourselves to God, like the Pharisee, demonstrates a need to be okay before God and loved by him. Also, a need deeply connected to how we were created.
These needs are indicators of good desires, but we all face the temptation to meet these needs in a mis-ordered way. Instead of recognizing our need before God in humility, we try to satisfy the need by pushing our own accomplishments and righteousness onto God and others saying, “Don’t you see how great I am? You have to love me now!” But friends, that’s a trap. In no way will the need for connection, belonging, and love be filled by forcing someone to accept you. That’s not what love truly is. The need will only increase. So what do we do? We can start by identifying our needs and how we are trying to fill them, and, like the tax collector, ask God to fill that need.
Think about where and when you are tempted to exalt yourself, whether to God or other people. What need are you trying to fill? In what specific ways are you trying to fill it? Now imagine yourself bringing your need to Jesus. How does he respond? What does he say to you? How can Jesus begin to fill that need?
By Jessica Rust