Sermon #71[i]                                                    Luke Sermons


     Title:            One Thing Is Needful

     Text:            Luke 10:38-42

     Subject:       Martha, Mary, and The One Thing Needful

     Tape #         W-83a

     Reading:      John 11:1-12:11



(Luke 10:38-42)  "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. {39} And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. {40} 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. {41} And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: {42} But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."


     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, and Mary, and Lazarus, being true disciples themselves, opened their home to the Lord and his servants and received them with warmth and hospitality (Heb. 13:1-2). Apparently, our Lord 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 our text with 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.


     I take the words of our Lord to Martha in verse 48 for the title of my message – One Thing Is Needful.”


Proposition: Many things in life demand our attention, but only one thing is needful!


Divisions: I hold before you the family at Bethany, a family of believers, a family of saints. And from this family, I want us to learn five things.


1.     Believing families have troubles just like other families.

2.     Genuine believers are often of different temperaments and personalities.

3.     The cares of this world that legitimately demand our attention may become a snare to our souls if we allow them.

4.     Among all the many things in this world that clamor for our attention, only one thing is needful.

5.     If we would have, enjoy, and benefit from that, the one thing needful, a choice must be made.


I. First, I think we need to 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

·        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 is no exception from heartache. Salvation is no exemption from adversity.


A. They had trouble with sin because they were yet sinners. Martha lost her temper!


She said things she wished she had not said and did things she wished she had not done.


B. 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?”


C. They had trouble with persecution because they were devoted to Christ.


They 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.


·        Mary by Judas (John 12:3-5).

·        Lazarus by the Pharisees (John 12:10).


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.


II. Second, Martha and Mary show us that God’s saints are individuals.—Genuine believers are often people of different temperaments and personalities.


How very different these two women 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. 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 – 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.


A. All true believers are alike in principle things.


·        The confession of sin!

·        Faith in Christ!

·        The pursuit of holiness (Heb. 12:14)!


B. But in many, many ways believers are different.


In the church and kingdom of God, we have both Marthas and Marys. I thank God for you both!


III. 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 (15 to 16 or more unexpected guests for dinner!). Her excessive zeal concerning temporal things caused her, for a brief period, to forget the 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.


Warfare Within


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!


A. Martha’s fault should be a perpetual warning to us all.


1. Let us ever beware of the cares of this world (Matt. 13:22).


Martha was doing things that needed to be done and was doing them for the Lord. 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.


2. 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 (Matt. 6:33, Col. 3:1-3).


(Matthew 6:31-33)  "Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? {32} (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. {33} But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."


(Colossians 3:1-3)  "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. {2} Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. {3} For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God."


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 you purchase by giving up worship and communion with Christ, you purchase at a very high price! “Beware of covetousness!”


     “A little earth upon the fire within us will soon make that fire burn low” (J. C. Ryle).


3. We must learn to leave God’s servants and God’s people to God’s care.


(Romans 14:4)  "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand."


God’s people are God’s people. They’re not yours; and they’re not mine. They’re his!—God’s servants are God’s servants. They’re not yours; and they’re not mine. They’re 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.—Religion binds people. Christ sets them free. “Loose him, and let him go!


     Did you ever notice this?—In the New Testament, every time anyone came to our Lord and complained to him about what someone else was doing, was not doing, what someone else might do, or might not do, he rebuked them sharply.


·        The Disciples and Those Who Followed Not with Them (Luke 9:49-50)

·        Peter and John (John 21:21-22)


(John 21:21-22)  "Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? (22) Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me."


·        Martha and Mary


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 doesn’t do.—It is none of your business or mine what someone else gives, or doesn’t give.—The Lord God almighty is perfectly capable of taking care of his own.—Besides, most of us have a full time job, with plenty of overtime, taking care of ourselves!


B. Before I leave this point, let me remind you that though Martha greatly erred, she was a genuine believer.


Three things demonstrate the indisputable genuineness of her faith in and love for Christ.


·        She took his rebuke with humility as being an act of love. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”

·        Two of the greatest confessions of faith to be found in the Bible fell from Martha’s heart and lips.


(John 11:21-22)  "Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. {22} But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee."


(John 11:27)  "She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world."


·        She continued to serve the Lord in the same capacity, but with a better spirit (John 12:1-2).


NOTE: Do not judge one an unbeliever because of an evil act. Do not judge yourself to a lost soul because of an evil act (1 John 2:1-2).—(Peter!)


IV. 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! – Worshipping Christ! – Hearing His Word!


Health and prosperity, property and power, rank and honor, may all be good things in a way. 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 will, in the day of judgment, prove to be not needful things, but a great weight of burden 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!


     I call on you, eternity bound souls, to come now and join Mary at the Savior’s feet. This is the place of…


A. Mercy, grace, and salvation!


·        Mark 5:22 – Jarius.

·        Mark 7:25 – The Syrophenician.

·        Luke 8:35 – The Gadarene.


B. Reverence, adoration, and worship.


·        Esther 8:3 – Esther.

·        Revelation 1:17 – John.


C. Gratitude, thanksgiving, and praise.


·        2 Kings 4:37 – Elisha and the Shunamite.

·        Luke 17:16 – The Leper.

·        Mark 14:3 – The Anointing (Lk. 7).


D. Faith, hope, and prayer.


·        1 Samuel 25:24 – Abigal.

·        Esther 8:3 – Esther.

·        John 11:32 – Mary.


E. Instruction, learning, and discipleship.


·        Acts 22:3 – Paul at the Feet of Gamalia.


Here alone we learn…


·        His Word!

·        His will!

·        His way!


F. Humility, surrender, and submission.


·        Ruth 3:8-14.


G. Consecration, devotion, and love.


·        Luke 7:36-50 – The forgiven woman who was a sinner.


NOTE: Still waters run deep. And genuine love is seen, not in showiness and noise, but in the quite, confident devotion of hearts.


Illustration: The first kiss – A life together!


     “One thing is needful.” “One thing is needful.” I want this one thing for you, nothing else!


V. If we would have, enjoy, and benefit from this one thing needful, a choice must be made.


Read verse 42 again.


(Luke 10:42)  "But 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 – To inspire us to follow the Lord fully and walk closely with our God -- To make our souls’ business our first business, and to think comparatively little of the things of this world (2 Cor. 4:18-5:11).


(2 Corinthians 4:18)  "While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal."


(2 Corinthians 5:1-11)  "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. {2} For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: {3} If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. {4} For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. {5} Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. {6} Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: {7} (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) {8} We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. {9} Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. {10} For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. {11} Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences."


A. Christ is the believer’s portion (Lam. 3:25)!


B. Christ is a portion that shall never be taken from us!


(Psalms 89:28)  "My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him."


(John 10:28)  "And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand."


(Romans 8:38-39)  "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, {39} Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."


C. Christ is a portion that must be chosen! -- The Pearl of Great Price must be bought.


·        “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve!”



[i] See also Sermon #1168 – Danville (AM 11/20/94) – This message preached at Danville (PM 02/03/02)—Wichita Falls, TX (Thursday – 02/14/02)—Mid-South Baptist Church, Merigold, MS (Saturday PM – 04/23/02)—Bethel Baptist Church-Spring Lake, NC (Saturday – 06/08/02).