“One Thing is Needful.
“Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
In these five short verses we have one of the most instructive bits of history recorded in Holy Scripture. It describes an event in Bethany, at the home of Martha and Mary, and their brother, Lazarus.
Bethany was a little town on the east side of the Mount of Olives, about two miles east of Jerusalem. Today it is called El-‘Azariyeh, perhaps because it was there where Lazarus lived, died, and was raised from the grave by the Word of the Lord Jesus.
When the Lord Jesus and his disciples came to Bethany, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, being true disciples themselves, opened their home to the Lord Jesus and his servants, and received them with warmth and hospitality (Hebrews 13:1-2). Apparently, our Savior frequently visited in the home of this beloved family. But this particular visit is recorded by Luke, because there are lessons to be learned from this story involving Martha, Mary, and the Lord Jesus, which the Holy Spirit intends never to be forgotten. When we connect this event with the things recorded in John 11 and 12, it gives us a very instructive picture of the inner life of a family who loved Christ and was loved of Christ.
No Exemption from Trouble
First, let us be reminded that faith in Christ is no exemption from trouble. Believing families have troubles just like other families. We realize, of course, that grace does not run in bloodlines. The fact is we seldom see whole families walking with God and worshipping him. No one is saved because he is related to someone who is saved (John 1:11-13). Salvation comes to sinners who are chosen of God (Romans 9:16), redeemed by Christ (Galatians 3:13-14), and born of the Spirit (Psalm 65:4).
Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were the exception. Here are three siblings living under one roof. And all three of them worshipped God. What a blessing! Yet, this godly household at Bethany was not exempt from trouble. Grace is no exemption from trouble. Faith in Christ is no exception from heartache. Salvation is no exemption from adversity.
They had trouble with sin because they were yet sinners. Martha appears to have lost her temper. She said things she wished she had not said, and did things she wished she had not done. They had trouble with sickness, bereavement, and death because they lived in a sin-cursed world, just like we do, where such things are common. We sometimes ask, “Why me? Why mine?” We might better ask, “Why not me? Why not mine?” And they had trouble with persecution because they were devoted to Christ. When Mary anointed the Savior with her precious ointment, Judas mocked her (John 12:3-5). When Lazarus was at the table with the Lord Jesus, the Pharisees sought to kill him (John 12:10). Martha, Mary, and Lazarus had experienced the power of his grace. They believed him. They walked in sweet communion with him, served him, and sought to make him known to others. Because they loved Christ and followed him, they were despised and persecuted of men.
Grace does not exempt us from trouble; and true godliness is not perfection. God has fixed it so that his people in this world can never have any grounds for boasting, self-confidence, and self-righteousness. We must ever look to Christ.
Second, we see in this beloved family a clear example of the fact that God’s saints are individuals. Genuine believers are often people of different temperaments and personalities. How very different Martha and Mary were! Both were faithful disciples of Christ. Both were believers. Both were born of God, converted by grace, and justified. Both honored Christ, when few gave him honor. Both loved the Savior. And both were loved by the Savior. Yet, they were obviously of different temperaments and personalities.
Martha was an active, impulsive, strong-willed, hard-working woman. She felt things strongly and spoke her mind openly. She was a woman truly devoted to Christ. She was cumbered with much serving, but she was serving! — Mary was a quiet, contemplative woman, more easy-going than Martha, but not less firm in her convictions. She felt things deeply, but said far less than she felt. She was a woman genuinely devoted to Christ!
Martha, when the Lord Jesus came to her house, was delighted to see him and immediately began to make preparations for his entertainment in the most lavish manner she could. — Mary also rejoiced to see the Lord coming into their home, but her first thought was to sit at his feet and hear his word.
Grace reigned through righteousness in them both. But each of those ladies showed the effect of grace in different ways and at different times. We need to remember these things. We must never imagine that this person or that is not converted simply because he or she does not have our temperament and personality. (What foolish pride!) God’s sheep all have their own peculiarities. The trees of the Lord’s garden are not all exactly the same. All are trees of righteousness. All are cedars. But they all come in different shapes.
All true believers are alike in principle things. All confess their sins. All trust the Lord Jesus alone as their Savior, finding in him alone all wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). Yet, in many, many ways believers are different. In the church and kingdom of God we have both Marthas and Marys. I thank God for both!
Influence of Carnal Care
Third, I am certain the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to record this event at Bethany to remind us of the fact that carnal cares have a way of choking out the influence of God’s Word in our lives. The cares of this world that legitimately demand our attention may become a snare to our souls, if we allow them to come between us and the worship and service of our Redeemer. — Nothing is so dangerous to our souls as the care of this world.
Verse 40 says, “Martha was cumbered about much serving.” Her anxiety to provide the best entertainment possible for her honored guests put her under tremendous pressure. (She had 15 to 16 or more unexpected guests drop in for dinner!) Her excessive zeal concerning temporal things caused her, for a brief period, to forget far more important spiritual things. She got carried away in herself. After a while her conscience began to torment her. She knew her thoughts were terribly selfish and sinful. But when she found herself serving tables, waiting on everyone, cleaning up the spills all by herself, while Mary sat leisurely hearing the Savior’s word, she got a little ruffled. — There was a warfare going on in her soul.
Martha’s biting conscience and the pressure of her labor combined, and the old man Adam broke out into an open complaint, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone?”
How sad! Martha, for a moment, forgot who she was and to whom she was speaking. She brought upon herself a solemn rebuke and an embarrassing word of reproof that must have made a lasting impression. — “How great a matter a little fire kindleth!” All of this happened because Martha allowed the innocent, household affairs of preparing dinner to come between her and her Lord. Her anger with her sister degenerated into something far worse. – Anger with her God!
Martha’s fault should be a perpetual warning to us all. Let us ever beware of the cares of this world (Matthew 13:22). She was doing things that needed to be done and was doing them for the Lord Jesus; but she was overdoing them. She was consumed by them. They were important, but she made them far too important. When the cares of this world interfere with the worship of Christ, they bring leanness to our souls.
It is not open sin and the flagrant breach of God’s law alone that leads souls to eternal ruin. Far more often than not, it is an excessive attention given to things that are perfectly legitimate in themselves. We must ever hold the things of this world with a very loose hand and never allow anything to have first place in our hearts but Christ (Matthew 6:33, Colossians 3:1-3). All temporal things need to be labeled in our minds with a skull and cross bones as poison. Used in moderation, they are blessings. Excessively cherished, they are a positive curse. That which we purchase by giving up worship and communion with Christ, we purchase at a very high price! — “Beware of covetousness!” J. C. Ryle rightly observed, “A little earth upon the fire within us will soon make that fire burn low.”
Yet, you and I must learn to leave God’s servants and God’s people to God’s care (Romans 14:4). God’s people are God’s people. They are not yours; and they are not mine. They are his. God’s servants are God’s servants. They are not yours; and they are not mine. They are his. I sure wish we could learn that. They are not to be judged by us. They are not to be controlled by us. Their lives are not to be run by us. In the New Testament every time anyone came to our Lord and complained to him about what someone else was doing, was not doing, might do, or might not do, he rebuked them sharply (Luke 9:49-50; John 21:21-22).
It is absolutely none of your business, or mine, how someone else serves Christ. It is none of your business, or mine, what someone else does for his Master, or does not do. It is none of your business, or mine, what someone else gives, or does not give. The Lord God almighty is perfectly capable of taking care of his own. Most of us have a full time job, with plenty of overtime, taking care of ourselves.
Though Martha greatly erred, she was a genuine believer. Three things demonstrate the indisputable genuineness of her faith in and love for Christ. (1.) She took his rebuke with humility as being an act of love. (2.) Two of the greatest confessions of faith to be found in the Bible fell from Martha’s heart and lips (John 11:21-22 and 27). And (3.) she continued to serve the Lord in the same capacity, but with a better spirit (John 12:1-2). — Do not judge someone an unbeliever because of an evil act; and do not judge yourself to be a lost soul because of an evil act (1 John 2:1-2).
One Thing Needful
Fourth, our Savior here teaches us that among all the many things in this world that clamor for our attention only “One thing is needful.” Oh, may God teach me that! The only thing that is needful is Christ, having Christ, knowing Christ, worshipping Christ, serving Christ, and hearing his Word! Health and prosperity, property and power, rank and honor may all be good things in their place; but they are not needful. Multitudes of God’s elect never attain those things in this world. Yet, they live happily, die peacefully, and enter into glory at last. The many things for which men and women struggle and fight in this world, will in the Day of Judgment, prove to be things not needful, but rather a great weight dragging them down into hell.
Only Christ is needful! If you have Christ you have all and abound. Only grace is needful. If you have all the riches of God’s grace in Christ, you have riches that shall enrich your soul forever. Only salvation is needful. If I am saved, nothing else much matters. If you are lost, nothing else should matter. Nothing else can do you any good.
At His Feet
Let us be wise and join Mary at the Savior’s feet. This is the place of mercy, grace, and salvation (Mark 5:22; 7:25; Luke 8:35). At his feet is the place of reverence, adoration, and worship (Esther 8:3; Revelation 1:17). This is the place of gratitude, thanksgiving, and praise (2 Kings 4:37; Luke 17:16; Mark 14:3). At the Savior’s feet is the place we should choose, for this is the place of faith, hope, and prayer (1 Samuel 25:24; Esther 8:3; John 11:32). At his feet is the place to be chosen, because this is the place of instruction, learning, and discipleship (Acts 22:3). Here alone we learn his Word, his will, and his way. This is the place of humility, surrender, and submission (Ruth 3:8-14), consecration, devotion, and love (Luke 7:36-50).
A Choice to be Made
If we would have, enjoy, and benefit from this one thing needful, a choice must be made. Read verse 42 again. — "One thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." Our Lord’s words are intended to make us wholehearted and single eyed. They are designed to inspire us to follow the Lord fully and walk closely with our God, making our souls’ business our first business, and to think comparatively little of the things of this world (2 Corinthians 4:18-5:11).
Christ is the one thing needful. He is the believer’s portion (Lamentations 3:25). Christ is a portion that shall never be taken from us (Psalms 89:28; John 10:28; Romans 8:38-39). Christ is the portion that must be chosen. He is the one Pearl of Great Price. Sell all, and buy this Pearl without money and without price!
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