Near the end of last week, I was listening to a sermon that referenced Luke 16:15. Jesus is talking to the people about the dishonest manager, who, through his shrewdness, canceled debts owed to his master and made friends with many people before he lost his job so that he would have someone to take him when he had nothing. He admonishes us to use our resources to live generously and make friends instead of constantly pouring all of our money into the latest gadget for ourselves.
The Pharisees did not appreciate His words, because they loved money; they mocked Jesus for suggesting that giving away was shrewder than hoarding away treasures in expectation of an economic crisis. It is at this point that Jesus turned to them and said (verse 15):
And 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.
The word that arrested my attention in this verse was “abomination.” Surely that was a little strong, wasn’t it?
I went into the original Greek and discovered that this word was bdelygma, and is the same word to describe what Daniel called the “abomination of desolation” (Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14). Furthermore, the word translates as “a foul and detestable thing,” and more interestingly (to me, anyway), “of idols and things pertaining to idolatry.”
Furthermore, the word that we translated “highly esteemed” is hypsēlos in the Greek; it means “exalted in honor” and refers to “to set the mind on, to seek, high things (as honours and riches), to be aspiring.” So, Jesus said that that God sees the things we in our unregenerate state prize most highly on the same level as idolatry.
The Lord made this assertion in the context of man endeavoring to justify himself in the eyes of others. Although He specifically was referring to seeking financial honor, we often seek to justify ourselves in other ways. I’ve mentioned before that the hardest lesson for me is often keeping my mouth shut when someone has said something untrue or unkind about me. We also try to prove our “good person” status by seeking out opportunities to do works of charity for show, or even talking about a divine encounter with the Lord in a way that brings attention to ourselves. For example:
“Oh just let me tell you–God healed my foot this morning.”
“Why, that’s wonderful! Did I ever tell you He caused my leg to grow back three inches?”
“No, you didn’t. But did you hear about the time He re-set the bones in my arm?”
…and so on. We seek to share in His glory, as if seeing the most miracles has anything to do with our own righteousness.
The devil tried to get Jesus to justify Himself in Matthew 4, saying again and again, “If you are the Son of God…” It’s interesting that the last temptation he offered Jesus was on an exceedingly high mountain overlooking all the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:8). That word “high” is again hypsēlos to which we just referred as “highly esteemed.” Satan took Jesus to a physical high place and offered to give Him a spiritual high place in exchange for His worship; Jesus, however, knew that to worship the devil in that place was bdelygma–abominable idolatry in the face of God.
The secret of being content in all circumstances (of which Paul speaks in Philippians 4:11) is two-fold; it involves being enthralled in the greatness of God on one hand, and losing all care for man’s esteem on the other. The more I try to justify myself before other people (whether in arguing my position, gaining possessions, surrounding myself with “yes”-men rather than those who speak what I need to hear) the more offensive I smell to God; it shows that I care more about my reputation than I do about His glory.
Let’s continue to make it all about Him.