As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38 - 42 (NLT)
For Christians spiritual growth is so vitally important it cannot be underestimated. As with all living things we are either growing or dying!
The plain truth is that more of the church’s woes are the product of spiritual immaturity than any attacks from “the outside”. By the outside I mean government interference, satanic influence and lack of resources. It is what and who are on the “inside” that gives the church most of its problems. Someone once remarked that when Satan has done his best to wreck the church and can’t get the job done, he will join the church and get on a committee. I think I’ve had coffee with him at some meetings.
When we really want to know answers the Bible does not lack for examples that teach us the truth. Mary and Martha are the poster children for spiritual maturity and childish immaturity. Let’s study them closely (there’s a test at the end of today’s sermon)!
1. Martha was distracted
Luke tells us that when Jesus showed up it must have been dinnertime and the preparations were underway. Martha was manning the kitchen, worrying - perhaps she was concerned they weren’t going to have enough for everyone, or that the table wasn’t set properly. But Martha’s sister, Mary just sat at Jesus feet and listened to him teach about God’s kingdom.
Martha certainly could have been distracted by the fact that she was doing all the “work” while her lazy sister just chewed the fat with the men. Martha failed to see Mary wasn’t being lazy; she was hard at work learning from the Master. Poor distracted Martha!
2. Martha was Disapproving and Demanding
Luke says Martha “came” to Jesus. The force of this word indicates she didn’t just stroll into Jesus’ presence; it means she rushed-up with an attitude. Martha was about to pitch a hissy fit!
“It’s just not fair” is what Martha said to Jesus. And where has any parent heard this before? Faultfinding (Martha pointed a finger at her flesh and blood) is the mark of a critical spirit unchecked.
Martha continues: “Lord, tell her…” We miss the force of this in English. Martha wasn’t asking, she was instructing, demanding that Jesus set Mary straight. Have you ever prayed like that? You’ve never made a demand that God set someone straight, have you?
Martha was distracted, disapproving and demanding, and the result was that…
3. Martha made herself Depressed
Jesus said, “My dear Martha, you are so upset….” The Lord told the distraught sister that her worrying on the inside had worked its way to the outside…her inner turmoil became an outer melt-down.
Martha’s problem was obviously that she had focused so much on the physical preparations without any consideration for the spiritual opportunities that had walked in the front door.
Food and a nice table-set are not bad; I rather recommend both. But in this case Martha had allowed something good (the physical food) to become the enemy of the best (learning from Jesus).
Now, I ask you to help me out here – what in the world can a spiritually-immature, over-worked, disapproving, demanding and depressed church member possibly do to hurt a church’s ministry?
OK – no brainer there – but let’s not throw Martha out with the bath water. Let’s bring Mary in to be an influence on her sister.
1. Mary was Discerning
Jesus told Martha there was but one thing that was impossible for a disciple of His to be without. Of course he was referring to sitting at Jesus’ feet to learn how to be a disciple. It’s that way with all disciplines. If you want to be a plumber you’ve got to learn how to “plumb”. If you’re going to do heart surgery on me I do hope you have been to med school (and paid close attention!).
That’s what Mary was doing…paying close attention to the Master.
2. Mary was Devoted
Mary had discovered that “one necessary thing” Jesus talked about, and she was doing something about it.
Mary’s choice was better than Martha’s because she developed her ability to follow Jesus. She developed her sensitivity to Jesus’ ways and, because she stayed close to Jesus, her love for him increased. With that formula in place Mary’s ability to surrender to God’s will increased far above what Martha could even imagine.
In John 12 we find Mary anointing Jesus with costly perfume. This was for his burial, and helps us see that loving Jesus will open our understanding. Mary understood Jesus’ mission long before Peter and John. That’s spiritual maturity!
· When life gets busy, time with God tends to get pushed aside
· When you try to focus on something, you find yourself easily distracted
· Overall, you (or others) say you tend to be a worrier
· You at times feel sorry for yourself
· At times you are easily angered by others
· It’s easy for you to see others faults
· You find yourself questioning if God really cares about you
Take the Martha test and then, for each time you had to be honest with a “yes” answer, take a deep breath and say – Lord, that’s too much like Martha.
Then spend some time in prayer asking God to help you be more like Mary.
That’s the prescription for a Martha who wants to be Mary – sit at His feet; learn and love.