The expression, “woe,” in Scripture is a very strong word meant to get our attention. When we read the word, we immediately get a sense of importance regarding what is about to be stated. “Woe,” sets the mood; it sets the tone and the attitude for what is about to be warned.
It expresses deep sorrow, grief, or affliction. In the Bible, the word woe is often used, particularly by the Old Testament prophets, as an exclamation expressing dismay or trouble. It is an interjection expressing great distress or sorrow; or it is a noun signifying a condition of deep suffering due to a calamity that has befallen, or will befall a person or community.
The term, “woe,” is used frequently by the prophets in oracles of judgment against cities, nations, erring spiritual leaders, and other classes of people who have forsaken God and His law. And sometimes the interjection is used to express one's own grief, or despair.
Isaiah 5:21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!
There is great danger in trusting in oneself! This is the fifth woe pronounced by Isaiah on his contemporaries and it deals with something for which we have a new word today—humanism, which is the belief of our so-called intellectuals.
The relevance of this verse in general, and in some specific aspects also, to our present condition, is something that should cause us to pause for a moment because it brings out certain truths so very clearly.
The first is that it reminds us that the Bible is an extraordinarily contemporary book. Most people think it is out of date, and that is a major reason why they do not read it. They believe that the Bible has nothing to tell us about life today.
But the simple answer is that if you stop to read the Bible, you find that it tells you all about life today. If you want the best description of life as it is being lived at the present time, go to the Bible, and you will find a perceptive and accurate picture of human nature and human society as it is today.
That shows us that this is no ordinary book. It is dynamic, current, and full of solutions to troubles. But the Bible also gives us the explanation of WHY things are as they are. It tells us that the essential human trouble is always the same. In other words, as the Bible puts it in the book of Ecclesiastes 1:9, "There is no new thing under the sun"—nothing at all. There is nothing as futile as the boast of modern society that it is "with it," and, “that it has its act together.” Of all the boasts, that is the emptiest.
Regarding the intellectual standpoint there is nothing that is as ridiculous as the way people think that modern life is something entirely new and improved. They look back at people who lived before them, and feel that those people knew nothing about life. They say, "But we have advanced, we have discovered a new way of thinking and of living!" But all that has happened so many times before, and it is all in the Bible.
Men and women today, with all their cleverness, are incapable of inventing a new sin. The worst forms of vice and evil being committed today can be found somewhere in the Bible. There is nothing new under the sun!
This astounding chapter in Isaiah's prophecy shows us these things very clearly, both the contemporary character of the word of God, and the fact that there is nothing new under the sun. As you study history, you find that the cycle continues to repeat itself.
Society thinks that it is advancing, but that is an illusion; in reality, it is always repeating the cycle. This is seen very clearly in the matter of fashions in clothing, as everybody knows.
Men have found that the styling of their suits after a number of years come back around: In my short 56 years of life I have seen double-breasted suits and two button suits come and go, and come in again and then out again; I have seen ties get thin, then wide, then thin again.
This is not only true of clothing; it is equally true in the realm of thought, and in all other realms. The book, The Fourth Turning by Strauss and Howe, describes how the cycles of history tell us what we might expect in America’s future. It gives example after example of the periods of transitions that are part of a larger cyclical pattern made up of four distinct eras, or “turnings,” each lasting approximately 20 years. The four turnings are similar to four seasons, repeating predictably in their own natural rhythm.
A full cycle of turnings takes place over a period of about 80 to 90 years—roughly the span of a long human life. A new turning begins as a new youth generation comes of age, bringing a new social ethic that compensates for the excesses of the midlife generation then in power.
Note how Neil Howe briefly summarizes stages three and four of The Fourth Turning. The third turning, labeled “Unraveling,” has these characteristics: individualism dominates, while institutions are increasingly weak and discredited. Author Neil Howe described it this way:
“This is a time when social authority feels inconsequential, the culture feels exhausted, and people feel bewildered by the number of options available to them. It is a time of celebrity circuses and a tremendous amount of freedom and creativity in our personal lives, but very little sense of public purpose.”
The most recent Third Turning began in the mid-‘80s with Morning in America, and continued through the ‘90s. Previous periods of Unraveling in American history were also decades of cynicism and bad manners. Think of the 1920s, the 1850s, the 1760s. And history teaches us that the Third Turnings inevitably end in Fourth Turnings.
The Fourth Turning is called a Crisis. The recent Third Turning appears to be winding down, and we are currently on the cusp of a Fourth Turning. This is a time of great turmoil, when society’s basic institutions are torn down and rebuilt, and seemingly insurmountable problems are addressed. During a Fourth Turning, America engages in a struggle for its very survival and redefines its identity as a nation. Large wars are often a part of this process. The American Revolution, Civil War, Great Depression, and World War II were all features of past Fourth Turnings.”
Howe’s research has shown that history is a repeating cycle of the four distinct social eras. America has experienced great cataclysms or “Crises” about every 80 years.
Travel back 80 years from Pearl Harbor Day, and you land in the middle of the Civil War. Eighty years before that takes you to the Revolutionary War. If the rhythms of history hold, America, is now entering another historical season—the ‘Fourth Turning.’ Humans are never very original; they merely go on repeating themselves and the Bible brings that out in an extraordinary manner, by showing what humanism produces.
There is a moral order in this world, and the person who breaks it sooner or later is bound to suffer. History repeats with distinctness; the world is built on moral foundations, and in the long run, it is well with the good, and, in the long run, it will be unwell with the wicked.
The whole message of the Old Testament prophets was that there is a moral order in this world. The conclusion is clear, that moral order is the wrath of God at work. God made this world in such a way that we break his laws at our peril.
Now if we were left solely at the mercy of that inexorable moral order, there could be nothing but death and destruction. The world is made in such a way that the person who sins must die, if the moral order is to act alone. But into this dilemma of mankind there comes the love of God, and that love of God, by an act of unbelievable grace, lifts us out of the penalty of sin and saves us from the wrath we should incur. Men and women cannot plead ignorance of God.
They could have seen what He is like from His Creation. It is always possible to tell something of a person from his handiwork; and it is possible to tell something of God from His Creation of the earth and the Universe. The Old Testament writers knew that. Job 38 through 41 is based on that very idea.
If we look at the world, we see that suffering follows sin. Break the laws of agriculture, your harvest fails. Break the laws of architecture, your building collapses. Break the laws of health, your body suffers.
Look at the world—His creation! See how it is constructed? From a world like that you know what God is like. The sinner is left without excuse.
What does the sinner do? Instead of seeking out God, he looks into himself—he trusts in himself. He involves himself in vain speculations and thinks he is wise, while all the time he was a fool. Why? He was a fool because he makes his ideas, his opinions, his speculations the standard and the law of his life, instead of the will of God.
The sinner’s folly consists in making man the master of things. He lives in a self-centered instead of a God-centered universe. Instead of walking, looking out to God, he walks looking into himself, and, like any man or woman who does not look where he is going, he fails and falls flat on his face.
This is idolatry! The glory of God is exchanged for images of human and animal forms. The root sin of idolatry is that it is selfish. Sadly, people in God’s church still suffer from idolatry. The essence of sin is to put self in the place of God.
What does humanism mean? I cannot give a better definition of it than these words of Isaiah, "Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!" Humanism is belief in humanity; it is belief in a person's capacity for self-realization through reason; it rejects Christianity and the supernatural.
It is interested solely in men and women without God. It banishes God because it believes that human beings are sufficient in and of themselves. That is the very essence of humanism. Man is the center of the universe, and there is nothing greater.
There are two main types of humanism. There is what is called "classical humanism," which means that for your guidance in life and your understanding of life, you do not go to the Bible, but instead you go back to Greek literature, philosophy, drama, and poetry. Classical humanists are people who study these infamous Greek authors and conduct their lives according to their teaching. It teaches that there is nothing beyond them, and that if you desire wisdom you must go back to the thinking and the meditation of these great human brains of the past.
People study them and grapple with them, and try to understand what they thought and what they laid down. Then they try to put that into practice. And then they tell us that this is the way to live a good and harmonious life in this present world.
The other form that humanism takes is what is called "scientific humanism." The classical represents the poetic, the philosophic and so on, and on the other side there is the scientific outlook, the approach that says that the answer to the problems of the world is not going to come from Greek philosophy or poetry so much as from a scientific understanding of the whole universe, human beings included.
This is the more modern of the two humanisms. It claims that it is new, because the discoveries are at least comparatively recent, going back very little more than some 400 years at most. By delving into the mysteries of the universe and its constitution you discover the scientific truth about life, and from that you proceed to work out your whole scheme of living.
We are told in Isaiah that this confidence in human wisdom leads to woe—to deep sorrow and grief. Using the human brain [mind] is not wrong, of course; the intellect was designed by God. He has given us the wonderful gift of mind, reason, and understanding. The wonderful thing about human beings is that we can contemplate our own selves; we can analyze ourselves, evaluate and criticize ourselves. The real explanation of the world's trouble is the fact that people's minds have gone wrong, that they do not know how to use them properly because they have enmity against God our Creator.
What, then, is the attitude of the Bible to humanism? It is that, even though God perfectly designed the human mind with its ability to reason and understanding, people are wrong to put their final confidence in the mind. They become so proud of it that they begin to worship it. They think that it is sufficient in and of itself and nothing is needed beyond that. The trouble arises when they begin to rely totally on human reasoning and to believe that with their mind they can answer all the questions of the whole universe.
The statement of Isaiah's puts it so perfectly, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes.” They have put themselves up on a pedestal. "And prudent in their own sight!" There is nothing wrong with being wise, but if you are wise in your own eyes, according to your own reasoning, and you are self-conceited in your own sight, then you come under the condemnation that is delivered by the prophet Isaiah.
Why does God pronounce a woe upon those who are wise in their own eyes, and worship their brains and understanding? The first answer is that this is the very essence of their trouble and their problem; this is the main cause of all the ills of the human race. Read the Bible and you will find that it says that this was their original trouble, and that it has been their trouble ever since. The temptation that first came to the first man, Adam and the first woman, Eve, was what the serpent said in the Garden as recorded in Genesis 3:1, "Has God indeed said…?”
In other words, he was saying, "Is God trying to keep you down? Is God trying to stand between you and the knowledge of good and evil? Is God trying to withhold something from you?" "He is keeping it from you," Satan said, "because he knows that if you eat of that fruit you will become as gods yourselves; you will have understanding; you will know everything; you will be equal with God." That was man's first temptation that led to sin, because of the desires of their hearts, and it has been the cause of all mankind’s subsequent troubles.
But now let me show it in the New Testament. Take, for instance, what the apostle Paul says in the second half of Romans 1. He puts this very plainly by describing WHY the human race has become what it is.
Romans 1:21-24 Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man, and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves.
There it is—a summary of the history of the human race.
We will get back to what Paul says there about people with whom God can do nothing later in the sermon.
In chapter 12 of Romans, Paul puts the problem in the form of a piece of advice.
Romans 12:16 Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.
The literal translation of the Greek gives us a sense of the meaning here. Barnes Notes elaborates it this way,
"Think of, that is, regard, or seek after the same thing for each other; that is, what you regard or seek for yourself, seek also for your brethren. Do not have divided interests; do not be pursuing different ends and aims; do not indulge counter plans and purposes; and do not seek honors, offices, for yourself that you do not seek for your brethren, so that you may still regard yourselves as brethren on a level, and aim at the same object."
The Syriac was made early in the 2nd century, and is therefore the first Christian translation of the Old Testament. It was made directly from the original and not from the Septuagent Version; and it renders the passage like this:
"And what you think concerning yourselves, the same also think concerning your brethren; neither think with an elevated or ambitious mind, but accommodate yourselves to those who are of humbler condition."
We are not to set our minds on gaining high-ranking positions in or out of the Church. We are not to be social climbers. We are not to aspire after such things. The connection shows that the apostle Paul primarily had in mind things that pertained to worldly offices, honors, and wealth, but the principle covers the realm of the Church as well.
It is the same thing as the danger of trusting in oneself; your own wisdom, your own intellect feels that you are enlightened and need no help at all. The driving force is pride and self-importance.
Even the faithful Abraham succumbed to this temptation when Sarah schemed to use Hagar to provide a son for Abraham.
Genesis 16:8-12 And He [God] said, "Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?" She said, "I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai." The Angel of the Lord said to her, "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand." Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, "I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude." And the Angel of the Lord said to her, "Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has heard your affliction. He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, and every man's hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren."
The world has been suffering for that humanly reasoned decision to trust in themselves ever since. As you know, Hagar had Ishmael who was the father of the Arabs today; and the result of that decision is manifested in the Arab-Muslim problem today.
It is found still more clearly in I Corinthians from chapter 1, about verse 17 all the way to the end of chapter three. There, Paul draws a contrast between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the worldly-wise. It is because they were trusting to their own intellects, and their own understanding, that the Greek philosophers were dismissing the gospel as "foolish."
The Pharisees were greatly condemned by Christ for their conceit. They thought that they were always right and perfectly righteous, that they were very wise. Pharisees trusted themselves; they believed they were sinless. Jesus gave a memorable parable to express their attitude of pride and self-righteousness.
Luke 18:9-14 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."
It is the same thing—the danger of trusting in oneself: The Pharisees did not need any help, and they resented the teaching of this trouble maker, as they regarded Jesus. Who was he to teach them? Pride of intellect: it was their central trouble, a manifestation of a curious kind of humanism.
The case put forward in the Bible is that pride of intellect is, in a sense, the ultimate sin. This is the primary trouble that leads to all the others—men and women glorying in themselves, glorying especially in their intellect and their mind.
In order to further explain this problem of pride, let us look at narcissism for a moment. The kind of narcissism I am referring to is self-absorption, characterized by progressive and uncontrolled growth, like a cancerous tumor.
The cause of narcissism is UN-submitted will. It destroys personal relationships; it destroys marriages; and it destroys intimate spiritual fellowship with God.
All adults who are mentally healthy submit themselves one way or another to something greater than themselves; it may be to God, or to country, or to some other ideal. Christians do what God wants them to do, rather than what they would humanly desire.
Psalm 40:8 I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart."
Psalm 143:10 Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; Your Spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness.
The God-submitted person says, “Your will, not mine, be done.” The submitted person believes in what is true rather than what they would like to be true. To a greater or lesser degree, all mentally healthy individuals submit themselves to the demands of something greater than themselves. Submission requires a certain amount of sacrifice.
However, this is not true of those who are flagrantly and habitually wicked—those who are willfully sinful. In the conflict between their guilt and their will, it is the guilt that must be erased and the will that must prevail. Evil people are extraordinarily willful in their thoughts and actions.
They are people of extremely strong will, determined to have their own way. There is pushy strength in their attempt to influence and control others. The distinction between strong will to do evil and strong will to do good is clearly seen in the comparison between Satan and Christ. Satan’s will was of his own mind, but Christ’s will was that of His Father. The crucial distinction is between willfulness and willingness. Jesus Christ said,
John 5:30 I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.
John 6:38-40 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day."
Willful failure of submission characterizes narcissism. It is depicted in both the stories of Satan and of Cain. Satan refused to submit to God’s will and the way God administers His work. Satan thought he could do a better job. This same wrong attitude prevails among many who became dissatisfied and leave the Church of the Great God. Often they do not like the way things are being administrated because they think they can do a better job themselves someplace else. But, in reality, they take their problems with them, and they will eventually become dissatisfied again, when their own problems manifest themselves.
God’s acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s implied a criticism of Cain. Since Cain refused to acknowledge his own imperfection and was driven by his own human nature, it was inevitable that Cain, like Satan, took things into his own hands and murdered his brother.
In a similar, but usually more subtle way, all sinners take things into their own hands, to destroy life or liveliness in defense of their proud self image; it only varies in the degree of what they do to protect their self image.
Proverbs 16:18-19 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Willful pride is at the root of all evil. However, the sin of pride is NOT the same as the sense of legitimate achievement one might enjoy after a job well done. While unpretentious pride may have its pitfalls, it is also part of healthy self-confidence and a realistic sense of self-worth.
Presumptuous pride is the kind of pride that unrealistically denies our inherent sinfulness and imperfection—a kind of arrogance that prompts people to reject and even attack the judgment implied by day-to-day evidence of their own inadequacy.
In I Corinthians the apostle Paul explains how pride of intellect—trusting in oneself—becomes the ultimate sin. It is because men and women misappropriate God's greatest gift.
I Corinthians 1:18-19 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent."
God complimented human beings by making them in his own image, and he gave them this astounding gift. But this is the very thing that they use against God and for themselves, and thereby bring themselves down.Believing a Lie
Isaiah 5:21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!
The second reason why woe is pronounced on those who are wise in their own eyes is that people believe a lie. They think that they are wise and prudent; but they are NOT! Worldly men and women are proud of themselves, of their intellect and wisdom; they feel they are superior to all who have ever lived before them. But how can they possibly feel like that about themselves with the world as it is now and as it has been during the last and present century, with horrible wars, mounting crime waves and increasing confusion?
The Bible explains this by saying that people glory in their wisdom and in their prudence because they are fools! It seems the more knowledge a worldly person has the more difficult he is to be convinced of God’s truth.
The Bible uses many terms in its descriptions of the sinner, but "fool" is the one it uses most frequently. Christ uses it in the parable about "the rich fool." Here is an overconfident man:
Luke 12:19-21 And I will say to my soul [self], "Soul [Self], you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
This man who thought he was so clever, so wise, was nothing but a fool. Isaiah was inspired to pronounce woe upon all this because it is a lie. But how do you prove that it is a lie? Those who are wise and prudent in their own sight are to be condemned because they condemn themselves; they are a living lie. They claim to be wise; but how do they live? How do you test wisdom? How do you test intellect and understanding?
It is not a matter of reading books and being able to give answers. That is the big mistake people make. No, the way to test people is not by how much they know, but by whether they have the power to rightly apply what they know. Do they understand it sufficiently to put it into practice?
There are many people who are excellent examinees, but who are useless afterwards. There are people who, as students, do well in examinations, they can memorize facts by heart and recite textbooks like parrots, but, when faced with reality they are useless; they are quite incapable of applying their knowledge. But that is the test of wisdom.
Wisdom is the right use of knowledge.
The wise man or woman does not merely have knowledge; they have the power of appropriating and assimilating that knowledge until it becomes judgment. It becomes part of them, controlling their point of view, and determining their actions and practice.
So, our wisdom is judged, not merely by the number of books we have read, or can quote and recite, but by the way we live, the way we use that knowledge. Christ put that as a famous question.
Mark 8:36 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world [of knowledge and of wealth], and loses his own soul?
What about human beings individually at the present time? How are the so-called wise men and women living? Look at these people—these experts—who tell us how we should live. How many times have some of them passed through the divorce courts and raised defiant children? Take many of the most famous philosophers. If you read their writings, from them or about them, you will find that many were homosexuals, or womanizers, or alcoholics, or drug addicts. To write a book is so easy, very much easier than it is to live wisely!
Living is the test of wisdom. I am not interested in a man or woman's claim to great knowledge and eloquence if they are failing in their own lives, if they are drunkards, or adulterers, or hypocrites or liars—you cannot trust them.
What, then, is the value of their knowledge and learning? They say they are wise, but their actions show they are not; God calls them fools, deceiving and deluding themselves. You know whether a person is a fool or not by the fruit he produce in his life. Does his work produce good things, or bad?
But, what about men and women collectively? The world is proud of its learning, but look at it! While they are so proud of themselves and their intellect, they must be reminded of these facts. With all their wisdom and knowledge, they have already had two world wars, and they are about to start another one. That is what men and women with their wisdom and prudence do in practice. And here they are, still troubled by tension, insecurity, discord, and moral confusion.
Yet people go on boasting about their wisdom. They are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight, and their world is a mess with all manner of carnage before their very eyes! It is a lie! That is why it is condemned in the Bible.
It is just boasting; nothing but talk. It has the bloating of an over-inflated balloon. It is loud in its claim, but there is no practice.
Failure to Understand
Let me demonstrate this in another way: it is the failure of the people to understand. They like to think that they have great understanding. But do they? They are wise in their own eyes. They do not understand the foundational truth of the meaning of life. They are so proud of their wisdom and knowledge, but what do they really tell us about life?
Where, then, is their understanding? Where do they show their wisdom? What is the whole meaning of the world? Is there any design in it at all or any purpose? Or is it all just nonsense, pointless, purposeless, blundering along in any direction without anyone knowing where or what or how?
Where is the wisdom in all this? What do men and women know about the most important things? They know a great deal about electricity, oil, war, and all the abstruse scientific matters. But, people do not seem to know anything about the cause of their problems. These people, who have been wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight for the last hundred years, have been prophesying wonderful things for us, and they that will solve all our problems while they cause more. The philosophers, the poets, the politicians—all said this.
They blame all our troubles on being too poor, on having a disease, and on racism. But once people were educated with public education, once you gave them good houses and better salaries, everything would be put right. Well, massive amounts of money have been thrown at those problems and things are worse than ever. Where is the wisdom? Where is the prudence? People obviously do not understand their problem, still less they are not able to discover a cure.
Take yet another reason why the Bible pronounces a woe upon the humanist. This is much more serious. It does so, not only because humanism is a lie, but because of what it produces—of what it leads to. This is the really serious aspect of the matter. So what is it?
First and foremost, it is pride itself. Pride is a root of all sins. It is more prolific in causing trouble than anything else in the world. And what we are examining is nothing but pride of intellect. It shows itself in the despising of all who have gone on before, and scientific humanists are very fond of doing that.
In their eyes, nobody else knew anything until they arrived on the scene. They despise their forefathers. This is seen in every area. They dismiss all previous books, all previous knowledge. Everything is out of date, the Constitution of this nation is ignored—the law is increasingly disregarded.
There are foolish people who occupy mainstream Christian leadership positions who are also saying that, in effect, nobody could truly understand the Bible until recently with modern interpretations.
God sees man standing up and inflating himself, and he pronounces his woe upon it. “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” Then, that in turn leads to self-centered confidence and self-satisfaction. Christ has painted the perfect picture of this in His Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican who went up into the Temple to pray.
Look at that Pharisee in Luke 18 walking up right to the front. Here is a man who is pleased with himself, a man who has a mind and a brain; and he thanks God that he is what he is. He does not need any help; he does not ask for anything. He has everything; he can do everything himself! That is the kind of man whom Christ denounced so angrily 7 times in Matthew 23.
Matthew 23:13-15 But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
Matthew 23:23-29 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. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous.
There is nothing more terrible in the sight of God than self-centered confidence—hypocrisy! But what makes this self-centered confidence such a terrible thing is that it always leads to rebellion against God. You remember that Satan, in effect, came to Adam and Eve and said, "God is trying to hold you down." And Adam and Eve believed him and began to feel an enmity against God. They felt that if only they could get that knowledge, then all would be well, and they would be able to lead an independent life. So they elevated themselves in their own esteem. And, human beings have been on that pedestal ever since.
This holds true for people who attend with God’s church; those religious hobbyists who think they know so much about the Bible that they do not think they need a pastor to teach them. In reality, it is rebellion against God—the essence of humanism. The humanist says, in effect, "I do not believe in God and I will tell you why. I do not need him. I can carry on perfectly well without him. There is no God."
God's comment on that is found in Psalm 14.
Psalm 14:1-3 The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one.
Here, the Psalmist links understanding with seeking God. David wrote Psalm 14 nearly 3,000 years ago! It was true at that time, a thousand years before Christ was born. People were saying, "There is no God," and David said, "They say that because they are fools."
Many people say they believe there is a God, but their actions—the way they live their life—shows that in their life there is no God. There is a warning in this for us. We must choose our words carefully. We must be careful about what we say.
Sometimes people who know God’s truth say foolish things like, “I won’t be able to go to the Feast next year because the gas will be too expensive.” Or, “I can’t go to the Feast because I might lose my job.” Or, “I can’t afford to tithe.” Or, “This is flu season; I might get sick if I go to Sabbath services.” You can insert your own excuses in here.
When we interfere with what God can do for us and wants to do for us because we lack faith by insinuating that God will not help us, God does not exist to us at that moment. It is the same thing as saying, “There is no God!” In one sense, that is worse than what the humanist says because we should know better.
The humanists do not believe in God because, they say, we have no need of him. That has increasingly been the position of the human race for the last hundred years; with knowledge growing and advancing and the various developments in scientific knowledge (we are all so advanced!) the result has been increasing rebellion against God. That is always an immediate consequence of rebellion against God. The moment people think they are wise, and rebel against God, they begin to go wrong morally. This is a very subtle matter.
Men and women in their folly do not realize that their real objection to God is that they have to submit to and obey Him, and that God is a God of justice and of righteousness and holiness. And the Bible tells us that God made man and woman in his own image, and he meant them to live in the same sort of manner as God himself. But people do not want to live like that; they do not want to live upright, pure, disciplined and holy lives.
But humanists, to suit their own lusts and deaden their own consciences, try to work out a philosophy, and in that philosophy there is nothing higher than human beings. There is no God, so they have nothing to fear; all is well and they can go on pleasing themselves.
There has never been any form of humanism without moral perversion. Humanists claim to be moral—and in their own personal lives many of them may be moral in certain specific areas, but they do not lead moral lives.
Romans 1:22-25 Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
The Greek word translated, lusts, in the NKJV, and desires, in the KJV, is epithumia, and it is the key to this. The Stoics defined it as a reaching after pleasure, which defies all reason. Clement of Alexandria called it an unreasonable reaching for that which will gratify itself.
Epithumia is the passionate desire for forbidden pleasure. It is the desire that makes people do shameless things. It is the way of life of a person who has become so completely immersed in the world that he has ceased to be aware of God at all.
It is a recognized fact of history that some of the great Greek philosophers were moral perverts. They were high idealists, writing their blueprints of a utopia, and yet guilty of the foulest vices! It always happens because it is the result of human reasoning, of humanism, of trusting in oneself.
The moral consequences always follow, and that is why God pronounces woe upon it. When people set themselves up as the final authority they always descend into the abyss of evil. Why? Because they cannot free themselves. They do not have the power.
Pride of Intellect
This leads us to the last point, which is that God pronounces woe upon pride of intellect—this confidence in human understanding, because it is that which above everything else causes men and women to refuse God's way of salvation. This is the most tragic thing of all.
There they are in their awful plight, and they try to extricate themselves. They perfect their educational systems, and they multiply their cultural media. They have exhausted almost every conceivable approach, and tried every avenue, but in spite of it all we see what is happening.
And yet, in this debased situation, when the gospel of Christ is available to the world, this gospel that alone can deliver them and set them free and save them, they refuse!
Why is this? It is because they feel that they are sufficient in and of themselves; because they think that they are wise and prudent; because they still think that they can save themselves. But history proves that men and women cannot deliver themselves.
All great civilizations have gone down, and the present civilization is going down. But people still refuse to submit to God. They still ridicule God’s joyful way of life. They spit into the face of God and say they do not need him.
This pride of intellect is the curse; it is the real trouble with humanity. Defiantly they say, "I won’t believe unless I can understand." So, worldly men and women are under the wrath and the woe of God because they refuse God's help to understand.
Those who do not believe in and trust in Christ have neither a positive nor a neutral standing before God. They stand condemned already before God for their sins, because they have not trusted God’s solution for guilt, the only Son of God.
John 3:18-21 He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."
Verse 18 refutes the assertion that a sincere person following any religion can have eternal life with God.
Here are some of the scriptures that refuse this:
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’
Acts 4:12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
I Timothy 2:5-6 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
God pronounces a woe on all pride of intellect; which means calamity is inevitably coming. More than ever before, men and women are standing up in their pride—proud of their own wisdom, wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight, saying they do not need God, and that they can handle and order their own affairs.
They maintain that they can perfect the world and they stand up and say all this, while refusing God’s Truth. They ridicule it and blaspheme against it! They are like that rich fool in Luke 12 who turned to himself and congratulated himself.Conclusion
The humanist has nothing, nothing at all, and God pronounces his woes upon his pride of intellect, and he does so in a very terrifying manner.
Thankfully, that is not the last word. In spite of this insanity of men and women, and in spite of the fact that they are such blind fools, God has a merciful plan for them—the plan of redemption. But first they must do something. There is a simple, but powerful, answer to all this human tragedy.
Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning [the prerequisite] of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
That is the answer! It is reverential fear of the LORD, and true knowledge of God’s way of life. People will eventually have their eyes and mind opened to the truth; and they will see that they have been fools, that they are failures, and that their outlook on life leads to a fatal end, and that they must submit to God.
The apostle Paul says in effect in I Corinthians 3:18, "If any man among you seems to be [humanly] wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be [spiritually] wise." Human wisdom leads to nothing, but there is the wisdom from above—the wisdom from God that leads to salvation and eternal life.
I Corinthians 1:20-25 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
It is through Christ that we receive the wisdom of God. Men and women have completely failed, but God sent forth His Son to conquer that problem. God tells us, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; do not trust in yourself; and do not act like there is no God.
So what is necessary? Those who want to be wise must become as little children and admit that they know nothing. Blessed are those who come to that position.
Matthew 18:3 Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
And to such people, God says in effect, "I sent my only begotten Son into the world to redeem people like you. You have become as a little child, so I offer you in Christ my Son, who bore your sins in his own body on the tree. I offer you salvation and eternal life. The fear of the Lord and God's wisdom in Christ is the way to solve the problem.