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, extortionists, 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 ESV)
Let us . . . consider the different BEHAVIOR of these two worshipers. Behold the Pharisee. “He stood and prayed thus with himself.” Observe this: he went to some conspicuous part of the temple, where he could stand alone near the altar, separate from the rest of men, that all might see what a devout man he was, and not lose sight of him in the crowd. He stood “with himself,” not among the congregation, lest he should be defiled by touching them; he was too good for them. We do not read of anything like humility here; we do not learn that he even bowed his head, as a mark of respect to his Creator—but there he stood erect, like one who felt that he had done all that God required of him, that he had no sin to repent of, that he had a right to expect a blessing as a profitable servant.
Turn now to the tax collector. “Standing afar off, he would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven—but smote upon his bosom.” He stood afar off probably in the outward court, as one who did not feel himself worthy to come beyond the threshold of Him whose name is Holy. “He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven.” He felt the remembrance of his sins so grievous and the burden of them so intolerable, that, like a child who has offended its father, he dare not look his Almighty Maker in the face. “He smote upon his bosom.” He could not control the feelings that arose in his mind: he recollected the mercies he had received and his own neglect of them, the life he had led and the God he had despised; and, like those who saw Jesus hanging on the cross, “he smote his bosom,” in sorrow, self-abasement and godly fear. Beloved, the posture of the body and the expression of the face are certainly not always sure signs of the state of a man’s heart—but you may rest assured that a truly humble and devout worshiper will generally be distinguished by his conduct in the house of God.
He who is duly sensible of his own guilt, and is ever coming to Jesus as his Advocate; he who is acquainted with the sinfulness of sin and the devices of Satan, and the value of the means of grace and the necessity of using them if he would save his soul—such a one will never show any lack of reverence, any levity or carelessness of manner, when he has entered any place where prayer is accustomed to be made and the gospel preached, and Christ Himself is standing in the midst. But if a person comes to church with an air of indifference, as if he did the minister a favor by coming and cared not if he never came again, and does not join in the prayers, and looks as if he would be ashamed if any one thought he did, and does not listen to the word of God, and does not pay attention to the sermon; if he employs himself with looking at other people’s dress—or deliberately goes to sleep—or talks to his neighbors—or makes plans for the next week—he may have his own reasons for coming here—but it is pretty clear to me that he does not come in the way that Jesus loves, as a miserable sinner who sees nothing but evil in himself, nor in the spirit that Jesus loves, that is in the spirit of the tax collector. (“Self-Righteousness”)