Stephen Caswell © 2005
Brother, The Grass Is Growing
The earliest African converts to Christianity were earnest and regular in their private devotions. Each one reportedly had separate spots in the thicket where he poured out his heart to God. The several paths to these little Bethels became distinctly marked; and when any one began to decline in devotions, it was soon apparent to others. They would then kindly remind him, saying, Brother, the grass grows on your path yonder.
Often we are faced with the question; Should we work for God or worship God? The answer is, yes! Both are important. We learn a great deal about this from Martha and Mary in Luke 10. It is not an either or situation. It is simply a matter of priorities. The Christian life does not center round what we do for God. It centers round our relationship with Jesus Christ and what He does in us and through us. Christianity is not religion, it’s a relationship with our Lord. To have a meaningful relationship with Christ requires intimacy, communication and submission to His will. 3 things; The Priority of A Relationship, A Personal Relationship, The Power of Relationship.
1. The Priority Of A Relationship
Luke 10:38-40a: Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving.
Distracted. Martha was distracted with a lot of work. The old saying that a mothers work is never done was only too true. The word distracted, περισπάω, means to be pulled away from a reference point, in this case from the Lord Jesus Christ. It also means to be anxious, overburdened or busy. After Martha welcomed Christ into her home, she began preparing a lavish meal. She is to be commended for her desire to minister to Christ. Yet Jesus gently rebuked her for her for having the wrong priorities. She’d been distracted from doing what was most important at the time. She neglected her guest. Jesus Christ wants the central place in our lives. We must beware lest good things distract us from knowing Jesus Christ. He wants us to share our lives with Him. He loves our fellowship.
Jesus had come to see them. He wasn’t concerned about food. He loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Jesus had come to talk to them and enjoy their company. Martha had neglected the most important guest she would ever entertain. Jesus Christ, the Son of Man had come to serve not to be served and she was missing out on the blessing He had for her. Such an opportunity didn’t happen everyday. Martha put physical needs before the spiritual needs. She needed to change her priorities. Christ is more concerned with the worker than the work. If the worker is living in close fellowship with Christ, then the work will go ahead just fine.
Devoted. Mary wasn’t distracted with work. She was devoted to worship. She lived by the right priorities. Mary sat at Jesus feet and worshiped her Lord. She listened to His words and enjoyed His fellowship. Martha was doing something good for her Lord by preparing a meal; but Mary did something much better. The word good, ἀγαθός, in verse 42 means, excellent, best, profitable. Mary chose the best thing to do. Jesus said that one thing was needed and Mary had chosen it. It wouldn’t be taken away from her. The Lord wants to share close fellowship with us. If we’re too busy for this our priorities are wrong. Revelation 3:20: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
This verse was written primarily to Christians. The Church at Laodicea had become absorbed with the cares of this life, with material things. As a result Jesus Christ was left standing outside their Church. He asked for an invitation to come in and share intimate fellowship with them again. If anyone would invite Him in He would share a meal with them. Sitting at Jesus feet and listening to Him is never a waste of time. It’s the best thing that we can do. We are on the right track when we listen to the words of Christ. Spiritual needs are more important than physical needs. I have been in churches where folk had to leave in a hurry to get home and cook the roast lamb for Sunday lunch. They miss out on sharing Christian fellowship with Lord’s people. Mary made the most of the opportunity to listen to the Master. They could prepare a meal later; first things first.
Are we distracted? Are physical or material needs taking priority over spiritual needs? What value do we put on spending time at Christ’s feet? Are we distracted by work or service? It’s not a choice of work or worship! It’s a matter of setting the right priorities.
2. A Personal Relationship
Luke 10:40a-42: and she approached Him and said, Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me. And Jesus answered and said to her, Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.
Distressed. Martha was distressed. She was upset with her sister Mary for not pulling her weight. She was even upset that the Lord didn’t care about her plight. The word worry, μεριμνάω, means to be anxious, troubled, unduly concerned. The word troubled, τυρβάζω, means to disturb, to be agitated. We might say that Martha had got herself into a bother. Jesus said that Martha was troubled about many things. She was running around in a dither and becoming more upset as time went on. Martha should have sought the Lord’s guidance from the start.
Philippians 4:6-7: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Martha asked Jesus to tell her sister to get to work. Surely He understood what needed to be done! Jesus didn’t agree with Martha’s values. The word answered, ἀποκρίνομαι, also means to judge. Christ’s evaluation was that only one thing was needed, and Mary had chosen it. Martha had become so absorbed in her work that she had forgotten about the Lord and why He had come. Very gently Jesus pointed out Martha’s mistake. Martha was working at a time when she should have been worshipping.
Neglecting God’s Word
Often in pastoral ministry, I have asked people with serious problems, tell me about your devotional life. The usual response has been an embarrassed look, a bowed head, and the quiet confession, I stopped reading my Bible and praying a long time ago. And they wondered why they had problems! The Christian life is a close relationship with Christ.
Discipled. While Martha was distracted and distressed preparing a meal, Mary was delighted in her Lord. Like a good disciple she was drinking the living water and feeding on the bread of life. Mary sat at Jesus feet. This was the place of a disciple. Mary knew the importance of spiritual food. Matthew 4:4: Jesus answered and said, It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Mary fed her soul with the Word of God before eating her physical food. Jesus Himself spent time alone with God in prayer and fellowship early in the morning. One time He taught a multitude of about 5,000 men all day. Before He sent them home the Lord fed them with loaves and fishes. The spiritual came first then the physical. It’s more important. The next day the crowd sought the Lord and found Him on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. This is what Jesus said to them in John 6:26-27; 33-35:
Jesus answered them and said, most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. Then they said to Him, Lord, give us this bread always. And Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.
Would you cook a meal for yourself even if you didn’t feel like cooking? You probably say, yes, food is necessary. Did you skip your devotions today? If your answer is, Yes, I was too tired to study God’s Word, then consider the words in Job 23:12: where Job affirms that God’s Word is more precious to him than his necessary food. It doesn’t matter if we feel like learning God’s Word or not. It’s necessary to our life as a Christian.
We need to feed on Christ every day. He gives us the living water and the living bread. In fact the R.B.C Ministries produce a devotional booklet called Daily Bread. This title is very appropriate. We need to follow Mary’s example and sit at the Master’s feet every day. George Barna did a survey of Bible reading in 1991. They discovered that only 22% of born again Christians read their Bible on a daily basis. It could be even worse today.
Worship is at the heart of all that we are and all that we do in the Christian life. It is important that we be busy ambassadors, taking the message of the Gospel to lost souls. It is also essential to be merciful Samaritans, seeking to help exploited and hurting people who need God’s mercy. But before we can represent Christ as we should, or imitate Him in our caring ministry, we must spend time with Him and learn from Him. We must take time to be holy. You can’t meet someone else’s need till you meet our own need.
Paul taught this in Colossians 3:16-17: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Mary of Bethany is seen 3 times in the Gospel record, and on each occasion, she is in the same place: at Jesus feet. She sat at His feet and listened to His Word in Luke 10:39, fell at His feet and shared her woe in John 11:32, and came to His feet and poured out her worship in John 12:3. Jesus’ feet is a place of humble submission. We should start each day listening to Jesus at His feet. It’s there our love for Christ is nurtured from the Word. The Bible is God’s love letter to us. It as at Christ’s feet that we learn how we should live. It is at Christ’s feet that we can leave our burdens. At Christ’s feet we can lean on Him and find strength for the day.
How important is your relationship with Christ? The Christian life is about a personal relationship not about religion. Christ is the only One Who can meet our needs! Do you spend time at His feet each day? Do you lay down your burdens at the Master’s feet? Is God’s Word more important to you than your daily food? Do you spend time with the Lord learning His ways, His will? Have you submitted to the Master as a good disciple?
3. The Power Of A Relationship
Luke 10:41-42: And Jesus answered and said to her, Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.
Drained. Martha served the Lord in her own strength. This left her drained and defeated. Sadly, she didn’t seek the Lord’s will for service. Instead of feeding her own soul first, Martha rushed into service. She ended up burned out and bitter.
She tried to feed others whilst neglecting her own needs. Martha wasn’t prepared to minister to others because she had neglected her own soul. You can’t share what you don’t have. This can be seen by her response to Christ. She grumbled and complained about her service. When we grumble our relationship with Christ needs mending. Martha wasn’t prepared for ministry. Human effort will never be enough to engage in Christian ministry. Martha was busy not blessed!
Filled & Satisfied. Mary was refreshed by the Lord. Where does the power for service come from? It’s found at Christ’s feet. Martha worshipped the Lord and her soul was satisfied. She was ready to get to work. Spiritual food empowers us for service. Paul asks who is sufficient for ministry in 2 Corinthians 2:16? In 2 Corinthians 3:5 he answers it: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.
Paul said this in Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Jesus’ never thought it a waste of time to rise early in the morning and pray. Christ invites us to come and learn from Him; to sit at His feet as a disciple. Matt 11:28-30: Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
Loving the Author of the Bible
A young lady asked to explain devotional reading of the Bible, answered: Yesterday morning I received a letter from one to whom I have given my heart and devoted my life. I freely confess to you that I have read that letter five times, not because I did not understand it at the first reading, nor because I expected to commend myself to the author by frequent reading of his epistle. It was not with me a question of duty, but simply one of pleasure. I read it because I am devoted to him who wrote it. To read the Bible with that motive is to read it devotionally, and to one who reads it in that spirit it is indeed a love letter. This young Christian’s explanation is beautifully clear. The heart has not a little to do in interpreting God’s word.
Hudson Taylor started the day with devotions. He rose early to meet with Christ in prayer and in the Word. The most important part of the Christian life is the part that only God sees. Daniel prayed to the Lord 3 times a day. He was a busy man being prime minister of Babylon; yet he took the time to pray. Christian service flows forth from our relationship with God. Unless we first receive from Christ we’ve nothing to give.
John 15:4-5: Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. We too must start by worshiping at Jesus’ feet before we get to working for the Lord. Let us never attempt to serve God in our own strength.
Some trees reach way up into the sky. How do they stand up in the storms of life? They stand because their roots go down deep into the soil. We too must put down deep roots into Christ. To love Christ and serve Him without being burned out we must draw strength and nourishment at His feet each day. Christianity is all about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Praise God Martha learnt from this failure. We read of this in John 12:1-3: Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
The Christian life is impossible to live without the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ alone can nourish your soul. He is the living bread and living water. Yet so often we try to serve the Lord in our own strength, only to fail. If we would work for Christ we must first worship at His feet. Are you sitting at the Master’s feet each day? Does He give you the power for service? Is your sufficiency for life found in Jesus Christ? Are you abiding in Him? Is your love for Christ growing as you get to know Him better?
2 Corinthians 13:14: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.