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Choose the Good Part
Putting our duties back into perspective.
Have you ever found yourself identifying with a Bible character? A certain individual resonates with you so well that the situation they're in becomes more real to you because you see yourself in that person. Some might say "I'm a Peter" or "I'm a lot like Timothy" or "I'm definitely a Jonathan, that dude was loyal" (I wonder if there's a Buzzfeed quiz on this). I'd like to think of myself as bold like Stephen or uncompromising like Daniel although I'm far from it, and it wouldn't hurt to be strong like Samson, but of all the people I have read about, none have riveted my attention in a surprising way quite like Martha.
Jesus' companion Martha is only mentioned a few times in the Gospel of Luke, but is a person whose character is similar to many Christians in our day. One important discussion between Martha and Jesus in Luke 10 reads:
38 Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.”41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
A few important lessons come from this passage. To start, Martha is shown preparing a meal for Jesus and presumably the twelve along with other followers. 'Hesed', meaning lovingkindness or hospitality, is huge in Jewish culture. Martha has taken a significant task upon herself and is flustered because she wants every detail to be perfect, yet Jesus rebukes her when she complains to Him. Was Martha's preparation wrong? Well, not only is her work good, but it is expected. Martha's work is a legitimate and godly form of service to her guests, but if the drive to accomplish what God desires pushes one to worry and anxiety, it can become sin. Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones says that service like this is "right and legitimate, but what the Devil does is subtly fill the mind and consciousness with these cares, these legitimate matters that they not only become a burden, but they crowd out spiritual thoughts (and) realities".
When we focus too much on ourselves in godly work, our light yoke becomes a heavy burden and our freedom to serve becomes an anxiety-filled task. What happens to us Marthas is that we begin a righteous service for the Lord, but somewhere along the way we begin to take our eyes off Jesus, the reason for our work, and focus on our intentions on whether or not we have done everything just right. The Devil slowly pushes his foot on the gas pedal of our minds until we focus only on the serving and our abilities to an excessive extent. The circumstance can become enough to paralyze us. The result is that we look like the world, distracted like Martha by the cares of this life. While our service is important, it is necessary to remember who we serve and why we serve. God is "not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else"(Acts 17:25). We don't serve because He needs us to, but because He is worthy of it. Ignoring Him in service is to ignore the source that enables us to serve in the first place.
Why We Work
The next thing Martha did was complain to Jesus, not even so much about the task but about her sister Mary who was sitting and listening to Jesus. She resented Mary for not having to take on the same task. Martha might think to herself, "I'm the one serving and Mary's doing nothing, yet I'm the one who's miserable and she's unaware of all the work to be done!" This sentiment comes from the lack of peace in one's heart about serving and the sin of unbelief that occurs when we doubt God's care for us. The lesson to be learned here is that anxiety can be amplified when we not only take our eyes off Jesus, but put them on other people. There are times when service becomes heavier than it need be, and we look at those around us and wonder why they get to be blissfully unaware of all there is to be done. The indignant feelings that arise are unwarranted. As Jesus replies, Martha realizes that her anxiety over her service is needless, since God supplies her with what she needs. Also, Jesus points to Mary as an example to Martha. She chose the 'good part', the only thing that matters in the end. She chose to sit under Jesus' teaching which is the source that fills us to serve. Martha tried to do without.
"For every look at self- take ten looks at Christ!"— Robert Murray McCheyne
How We Work
Peter has a similar conversation with Jesus when He hints at Peter's future martyrdom. In John 21 Peter asks Jesus about John's fate, and Jesus tells him not to worry about the circumstances of others. His job was to focus on Jesus and follow Him. Peter would end up being crucified upside-down and John would be exiled. If we compare the trials we endure to those of others, it will not seem fair or make sense that some go through less than we do, if that is actually the case since we never really know all the struggles that people go through. We should be encouraged in our daily tasks knowing that Christ works everything (welcome or not) for our good.
Robert Murray McCheyne reminds us, "For every look at self—take ten looks at Christ! Live near to Jesus—and all things will appear little to you in comparison with eternal realities". When our service becomes burdensome, it's not because of the task as much as it's the perspective we have. When our eyes are off Christ, we either look at the circumstance alone or others who seem to have it better than us. Don't forget to choose the good part, and don't let the affairs of this world become anything more than heartfelt service to the Lord.