Lessons I Learned From Mary And Martha
March 24, 2019 | Randy Smith
Lessons I Learned From Mary And Martha
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Pastor Randy Smith
“March Madness” is underway. So how are your brackets shaping up? If you are even remotely into sports, last week began an exciting time as 64 talented college basketball teams (both men’s and women’s) entered the “big dance” in a three-week competition for a National Championship.
Tom Izzo is the current head coach for the Michigan State Spartans. His teams have earned invitations to 19 consecutive NCAA tournaments which, combined with his tournament success has earned Izzo the nickname “Mr. March.”
Mat Ishbia , one of Izzo’s former players is presently leading a billion-dollar mortgage company. He credits much of his success to what he learned under Coach Izzo . The hard work, the creativity, the integrity and the humility he gleaned from his former coach have helped him succeed in life.
As for those he hires, Ishbia said, “You don’t have to have played basketball at Michigan State, but you do need to be competitive, coachable and committed. That’s why [I hire] a ton of former athletes, military members and moms who are going back to work – because no one knows how to commit and multitask better than a mom” (www.entrepreneur.com/article/292689).
To be successful in life whether it is in the professional world, military world, athletic world and even the family world, we need to be dedicated to learning and putting what we learn into practice. You can’t have one without the other. Both are necessary.
Imagine a bunch of moms who sat around studying the principles of motherhood, but never using what they learned in raising their children? Or the opposite, a bunch of soldiers who don’t learn how to use their weapons and don’t listen to their sergeant, but just run into conflict doing as they see best? To be successful, learning and doing are inseparable.
But for some bizarre reason, many professing Christians seem to disagree with this principle when it comes to the realm of faith. On the one hand, you have a crew that just loves to sit around only learning and debating theology. All learning and no doing. And on the other hand you have the folks that want to speak and do things for Jesus, but it’s not in-line with the Lord’s will and for His glory. They just act, but their actions are without knowledge. All doing and no learning.
Could our Lord be any clearer one chapter later in Luke? “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Lk. 11:28).
This story before us regarding Mary and Martha is familiar to most of us. It is rather straight-forward and requires little explanation. Therefore, I’d like to present this from a different perspective. Let’s make this message all about the application. So based upon learning God’s Word, what application can we bring to our lives? Here are four points that I learned this week.
But before we begin, permit me to set the stage with a little background.
Here we are introduced to a key family that will play a major role in our Lord’s life. We hear of two sisters named Mary and Martha. Compare this story with John chapter 11 and we also learn they had a brother named, Lazarus. Lazarus was famous for being the guy our Lord raised from the dead.
John tells us these three siblings lived in Bethany (Jn. 11:1). Bethany was about two miles from Jerusalem (Jn. 11:18). Luke is very ambiguous in verse 38 and says they simply lived in “a village.”
And lastly, we have the picture of a nice evening between Christians. Others were there, but the only characters in this story are Mary, Martha and Jesus. What’s unique about this account is the blending of the men and women. Back then the women often kept to themselves. They would serve the men, but unless they were prostitutes (or sometimes the elderly), they would not hang out with the men. Martha in the kitchen was customary. Mary with Jesus was unique. And that’s what pretty much causes this nice evening to go south rather quickly in a sibling debate with Jesus finding Himself caught in the middle.
Faith Fulfills (works/service)
So, here we go, four interesting and practical points of application I learned this week. The first lesson I am calling, “Faith Fulfills.”
It’s been three weeks, but we really need to study the Mary and Martha story in the context of the previous account – the story of the Good Samaritan. Reason being is because they appear to teach opposite, even contradictory lessons.
So with the Good Samaritan story, who is the hero? Yes, the Good Samaritan. And who are the villains? The religious leaders, specifically the Priest and the Levite. Moral to be learned? Those religious folks that just study God’s Word are bad and the heathen who are out serving people that are good.
Application? We need to simply serve people and there is no place for church attendance, Bible reading or learning theology. Many have concluded this.
Then today’s account it seems we read just the opposite. Who’s the hero? Mary. Who’s the villain? Martha. Moral to be learned? Those folks that are running around serving people are bad and it’s the individuals that sit at the feet of Jesus learning His teaching that are good.
Application? We need to quit this service stuff and spend our time learning from Jesus. Our Lord favors those who separate from others and live a life solely devoted to Him, like someone in a Monastery. Many have concluded this as well.
Actually both beliefs are incorrect. We need to takes both these stories together and realize they teach one truth. It is simply this: Those who love Jesus will be devoted to Him (like Mary) and their love for Him will be faith in action seen in a love that desires to serve others (like the Good Samaritan). Or I can put it this way; we are saved by our faith in Jesus alone (Mary), but authentic faith will result in fruit that loves others (Good Samaritan). Or I can put it this way; this is the fulfillment of the two greatest commandments loving God with all our heart (Mary) and loving our neighbor as ourselves (the Good Samaritan). Or I can put it this way; the Mary and Martha story emphasizes the first half of the 10 Commandments to honor God and the Good Samaritan story emphasizes the second half of the 10 Commandments to honor others. Or I can put it this way; we must do for Jesus (the Good Samaritan), but our doing comes first from learning and loving (Mary).
Think you get the point! Ask yourself, are you devoted to Jesus like Mary (that’s salvation!) and are you serving Jesus by serving others like the Good Samaritan (showing salvation!)? That is authentic, fruit-bearing, God-honoring Christian living.
Faith Fellowships (fellowship with believers)
We need to move on to the second lesson. “Faith Fulfills” and now “Faith Fellowships.” Briefly on this one.
Though it is not the primary point, we see a beautiful illustration of the love that the church should have for one another. Of course, as I just mentioned, it is serving one another, but it is also seen in our desire to be with one another like a good family. And this is a trait that I have personally seen this church do very well. Everything from social gatherings, to churchwide fellowships to small groups to hanging out in the fellowship hall after the services – there is no doubt that many of you do make this commitment and you make it not out of obligation, but a sincere desire to enjoy each other’s company. It’s biblically good to be with one another and even biblically better when much of our fellowship is centered on ways to spiritually encourage and edify one another.
We see that here in this account. While only three characters are mentioned, the house was no doubt filled with many people. Verse 38 says “they were traveling along.” Remember, Jesus is now on His journey to Jerusalem to suffer at Calvary. He’s with all His disciples and possibly some others as well. It’s been intense and it will only get more intense. Attacks from everyone. How refreshing must it have been for some rest and relaxation in Marth’s home!
And while Martha get often heavily shamed in this story, let’s not forget that she pulled out all the stops to make the visit for these men as special as possible. She took her role as a hostess very seriously in a desire to honor her guests. After all, verse 38 says it was Martha who “welcomed Him into her home.”
Yeah, let’s go a little easy on her. You’ll remember that it was only three chapters earlier that Jesus rebuked a Pharisee named Simon for not offering Him the proper hospitality when He entered his home (providing no water for the feet, kiss or oil for the face – Lk. 7:44-48). You have to wonder if Mary wanted to avoid making the same mistake.
Faith Follows (life based on truth)
Now we get into the heart of the text. The third lesson I am calling, “Faith Follows.” What I mean by this is that our thinking and lives should be based on the Word of God.
We know Martha takes a hard hit in this story, but it’s not like she was doing anything overtly sinful. The lady is breaking her back in an effort to provide a nice lunch for our Lord and His disciples. From her perspective, she’s doing all the work while her sister Mary is just sitting around in a lazy and selfish way. As a matter of fact, she doesn’t even call out Mary directly herself. She complains to Jesus (actually rebukes Him) and expects Him to do her whip Mary back into line. Verse 40, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” We’ll see in the next point that our Lord does not act as either she or we would have expected.
So why was listening to Jesus in this account (like Mary) valued over serving Jesus (like Martha)? Because the Word of God in living form is present next door in the living room!
Ironically in verse 40, Martha calls Him Lord. However, if He was truly viewed as her Lord, she would have found a greater priority listening to her Lord instead of ignoring Him and then ordering Him around as if she is His Lord. Remember the account of the Transfiguration from one chapter earlier? The Holy Father speaking, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” (Lk. 9:35). What was Mary doing in verse 39? She was, “Listening to His Word.”
Actions are good, but they must never be based solely on feeling and divorced from the Word of God. Like Mary, we have got to love the Word of God.
For instance, when I was in San Francisco last summer I noticed a large billboard that read, “The data is in, love wins.” Of course love wins. The Bible teaches that. But how does the Bible define love? “[Love] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). God is love (1 Jn. 4:16) and love is based on His definition of the word.
Does love win when a man loves to start fires or loves to be with young children? Does love win when a married woman falls in love with another man and the other man with her? Love wins, actions count, but only when they are based upon the truth of God’s Word. We must prioritize learning God’s Word so God’s Word may govern all our thoughts and actions.
Faith Fidelity (devotion to Jesus)
And finally, my fourth lesson, “Faith Fidelity.”
What makes this story so concerning is that Martha is more devoted to the chores than being with Jesus. The work was made more important than the presence of Christ. To treat our guest that way is still rude. Plan ahead. Have the work done before they arrive. However, that day back then it was idolatry. It was a loveless affront and insult to the living God.
In verses 41-42, Jesus responds to Martha’s concern. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Lk. 10:41-42).
“Only one thing necessary.” Some have argued that the “one thing” Jesus is referring to is one course for the meal. In other words, “The fish that you put out is enough for us to eat. Don’t worry about the bread and dessert and place settings.” I don’t think so! You have three clauses here and all three of them relate to Jesus. He is the “one thing” that is necessary. He is the “good part.” And He “shall not be taken away from [us].” Mary knew that. Jesus was her priority. And she showed it by, verse 39, “[Sitting] at the Lord’s feet.”
In John 11:2, “It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair” (cf. Jn. 12:3).
Martha though you show Jesus love by serving Him while ignoring Him in the process. Mary knew it is better to be occupied with Jesus than to be occupied for Jesus.
On a positive note, Martha does come around. In the Gospel of John we read of another account that takes place between Jesus and these siblings. It was when their dear bother, Lazarus died. In that story we learn Mary stayed home (Jn. 11:20), but Martha went out to meet Jesus.
Here is what she said. “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You” (Jn. 11:21-22). “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this? (Jn. 11:25-26). And Martha replied, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world” (Jn. 11:27). What a confession!
Some simple lessons from this passage. Simple, yet profound and indispensable for the Christian life. They remind me of the commitments of the early church from Acts 2. “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Ac. 2:42). Likewise, may we be devoted to serving other another and fellowshipping with one another as we hold fast to the Word of God in a sincere devotion to Jesus Christ. May we learn in love and then serve in love keeping Jesus Christ front and center in all things.