Study Notes

Luke 10:38-42

10:38-42 Mary and Martha

Mary and Martha, and Lazarus were friends of Jesus' who lived in Bethany. Lazarus, the brother, was the one whom Jesus raised from the dead in the gospel of John, chapter 11. Mary was the one who anointed Jesus for His burial by pouring expensive perfume on His head in Matthew 26 and Mark 14. When the disciples complained about how they could've sold it and given the money to the poor, Jesus said:

Mark 14:8 "She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, that also which this woman has done shall be spoken of in memory of her."

Martha was also a believer, professing to the Lord when her brother Lazarus had been dead four days:

John 11:21-22 "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."

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were good friends of His - Jesus loved all three of them very deeply. When Jesus was in Bethany, they stopped in at Mary and Martha's for dinner and fellowship. On this occasion, Martha was serving, and Mary was sitting.

Martha's Serving

Now remember, Jesus is traveling with quite a crowd - the 70 disciples that He had send out, as well as whoever else might've been following Him. Guess who's coming to dinner?

There was much work to be done - especially about dinner. "Where will everyone sit? How are we going to find enough plates and bowls for this many?" Lots of work - practical work. Martha rushed about, getting everything ready. What she was doing was good - she was practically preparing and providing for the Lord and His followers.

Serving and Seething

But... she was getting crabby. You know how it is - in many churches, people complain that it's 10% of the people who are doing 90% of the work. And while you're running around trying to make sure that the Sunday School teachers show up, that the rooms are clean, that there's toilet paper in the bathrooms, and tables set up for the pot-luck, it's easy to get crabby - copping an attitude, because, "Hey, why isn't everyone helping me out here?".

Serving is a Gift

But that's the wrong attitude. Paul wrote in the book of Romans...

Rom. 12:4-8 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Did you know that serving in the church is a spiritual gift? We usually think of tongues, prophecy, teaching, etc. But serving is a spiritual gifting and a special calling on someone.

Of course, we are all called to serve one another, but there are those of us who have a lifetime call of serving in the church. We will always be the ones rushing around from this ministry to that ministry, making sure that things are just right, and that everything is the way it ought to be. Very rarely will we have the opportunity to casually walk into the church service with our families a few minutes before worship starts, grab a seat, be ministered to, and then leave. But don't think that it's a complaint or a condemnation... those of us who have been called with a gift of serving, we love it, and it's not a burden at all.

The Potential of Stumbling

But, there is always a potential stumbling block... Any time we've been given a spiritual gift - whether it is serving, or prophecy, or tongues, or whatever - we are in danger of falling into looking at the rest of the members of the body of Christ and thinking, "Why aren't they doing this, too?"

Many who have the gift of tongues have fallen into this thinking - "Well, when I was filled with the Spirit, I began to speak in tongues. If you've never spoken in tongues, then you must not be filled with the Spirit."

Many who have gifts of prophecy don't understand why not all believers prophesy. They encourage, exhort, and ultimately exhaust people by trying to get them to prophecy as well.

Those who have the gift of serving in the church are susceptible to falling into the same trap. Here we are, rushing around with our preparations, and there's the Joneses - quietly coming in to worship God and learn from His Word - and we're thinking, "Why don't they show up an hour early and help? Why can't they do some vacuuming or water the lawn?"

To keep ourselves in a place of contentment in our various gifts, we should realize the truth of what Paul wrote in 1Corinthians 12:

1Cor. 12:27-31 Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts.

Not everyone will serve in the church. Not everyone will speak in tongues, prophesy, or interpret. And that's okay - we're all parts of the same Body.

The solution to seething serving

When we fall into that trap, we become crabby and irritable, serving while seething, which is sinning. We begin to speak shortly to the Lord, saying, "Lord, can't you see, I'm working by myself here! I'm busting my tail to get things done. Can't you send some more help? What about these people who are just sitting here?"

Our heart for serving, our motivation for doing, gets twisted. We no longer serve with glad hearts, but with judgmental hearts. "Look how much I'm doing!"

When we realize we have fallen to that point, we must pray as David did:

Ps. 51:10,12 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me ... Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and renew a right spirit within me.

And once we've repented in this manner, Let's just do as Peter wrote:

1Pet. 4:10-11 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.


Now, Martha was serving, but Mary was sitting. Verse 40 says that Martha had gotten distracted by all her preparations. Distractions in life are plentiful and come in all sorts of forms. In Psalm 55, David writes of a time that a close friend of his betrayed him. He cried out to the Lord...

Ps. 55:2 Give heed to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and am surely distracted

We get distracted by problems stemming from friends, families, and finances. These distractions cause us to lose our focus - and that's the danger zone. Martha's distraction causes her to make a major mistake, the same mistake we make when we are distracted from the Lord by the world around us...

Martha's Sternness

Martha had given way to irritation and crabbiness. Shetells the Lord

Luke 10:40 ..."Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me."

Notice that she doesn't even wait for the answer. She assumes Jesus' response, and insists that He do and say as she commands. The Faith Movement today tells you that you can order God around in the same way - treating God like a genie in a lamp. Don't believe it for a minute. God is God. Man is man. The proper perspective of God and man is the amazement that David had when he wrote...

Ps. 8:3-4 When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him?

God will not be commanded by man, man will be commanded by God. The next time you find yourself telling God instead of asking Him, repent very, very quickly.

Mary's Sitting

But there was Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus. Soaking in every word He had to say, fixated on His face, worshipping Him, oblivious to all that was going on around them. This is a picture of what the Lord desires from us in worshipping Him. As the hymn goes:

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."

Did Jesus join in - rebuking Mary and saying, "Martha's right - get into that kitchen you lazy good-for-nothing!" No, instead He responds to Martha,

Luke 10:41-42 ..."Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

One Thing

Mary chose the "one thing". What was this "one thing"? The same "one thing" that David chose:

Ps. 27:4 One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to meditate in His temple.

Oh, to sit at Jesus' feet... Just to worship Him, focused on Him, without the obligations and distractions of others' frustrations - that is the one thing. Listening to His word, seated at His feet. Do you want to simplify your life - narrow it down to just the bare essentials? This is the one thing, the first thing, the primary thing, the only necessary thing:

Luke 10:39 ...Listening to the Lord's word, seated at His feet.