Clovis Chappell, an old circuit riding Methodist preacher from way back, used to tell the story of two steamboats. They left Memphis about the same time, traveling down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. As they traveled side by side, sailors from one vessel made a few remarks about the snail’s pace of the other. Words were exchanged. Challenges were made. And the race began. Competition became quite vicious as the two boats rolled down river. Soon, one boat began falling behind, not having enough fuel. There had been plenty of coal for the trip, but not enough coal for a race. As the boat dropped back behind the other, an ambitious young sailor took some of the ship’s cargo and tossed it into the ovens. When the sailors saw that the supplies burned as well as the coal, they fueled their boat with the material they had been assigned to transport. They ended up winning the race, but burned their cargo.
That’s how people can live their life if they are not careful. They can barrel down the highway of life at a breakneck speed, and they may appear to be way ahead of the competition. But they can lose out on what matters most in the process. They can “win the race, but burn the cargo.” They can sacrifice everything that God has entrusted them with. Jesus said:
Mark 8:36—“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”
Life is about much more than what simply meets the eye. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that understand what is MOST IMPORTANT. Enter the word “priority” into our conversation. In any bookstore, you will find a plethora of self-help books that offer a wide range of ideas on how to manage your time and structure your life. As a person’s life becomes more frantic and frenzied, the battle grows more intense when it comes to staying focused on what should be his or her priorities. The words of Jesus to the busy and frantic Martha here in Luke 10 are the words that He speaks to us in the midst of our busy lives in 2013—“ONE THING is necessary.”
All of life can be boiled down to just one all-important thing. Above everything else, ONE THING matters in life, and this ONE THING is to be the sole focus and direction of our life—to love God. There is only one way to be satisfied in life. Only ONE THING matters and that ONE THING is this—glorifying God by loving Him supremely.
Three truths emerge from the text in Luke 10:38-42:
1. The DISTRACTION of a busy life (10:40)
“But Martha was distracted with much serving, 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.’”
The Bible tells us that Jesus was a close friend to sisters Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. He was no stranger to their home in the little village of Bethany, which was only a couple of miles outside of Jerusalem. It should be noted that verse 38 says Martha “welcomed” Him into her house. Jesus always makes Himself at home in the house of those who welcome Him. But rather than simply enjoying His company, we are told that Martha was distracted with much serving. She was so caught up in what she thought had to be done that she failed to enjoy the presence of Jesus under her own roof. The word “distracted” literally means to be dragged away. It means that all of her busy preparations were dragging her away from the presence of Jesus. She had her mind on the pots and pans, the dishes and the dinner rather than the divine Guest with whom she should have been enjoying fellowship. Instead of FELLOWSHIP, she found FRUSTRATION. Your life can filled with all sorts of busyness, but at the same time it can also be barren and empty. Jesus here warns of the barrenness of a busy life, a life in which He is not the sole focus.
What were the results of Martha’s distractions? What does distraction do in the life of a person of faith? Consider:
First, it FOCUSES on good things, but not the main thing.
Make no mistake, Martha was upset and concerned about “good things” and not necessarily bad things. She was caught up with the idea of serving Jesus and making sure that everything was just right for Jesus, so much so that she neglected to be WITH Jesus. Very often, it is the good things that keep us from the main thing.
Second, it FOSTERS a subtle sense of pride and entitlement.
From her distracted and frantic heart, listen to how Martha approaches Jesus and consider what she says in v. 40—“Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” Due to her misplaced priorities, Martha had lost the joy of serving and instead became frustrated, agitated, and upset. Martha felt like she was the only one who was truly doing what was important. Even her question was framed in an accusatory fashion. Her life was so out of alignment that she even had the audacity to say, “Lord, do You not care?” Can you imagine being so busy for the Lord that you can’t enjoy the Lord and even recognize the character of the Lord? And notice that Martha even went so far as to command Jesus to be at her beck and call—“Tell her to help me.” Her speech revealed what was most important in her heart. Though she thought she was serving Jesus, she was really serving herself.
Third, it FILLS the heart with anxiety.
The Bible says in v. 41, “And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.” The word “worried” means to be anxious. This is the same word that Jesus used in other places to refer to the cares and concerns of life. The word “troubled” means disturbed or crowded, and it carries the idea of noise and uproar. When distraction rules the heart, the result will always be uneasiness and anxiety within the heart.
Corrie ten Boom—“Worry is an old man with bended head, carrying a load of feathers which he thinks are lead.”
Worry concerns itself with many things, but Jesus says that only ONE THING is necessary.
2. The DEVOTION of a worshiping life (10:39)
“And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus feet and heard His word.”
While Martha was busy running around the house like a chicken with its head caught off, her sister Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus the whole time. While Martha was SERVING, Mary was SITTING. While Martha was FRUSTRATED, Mary was FOCUSED. While Martha was WORKING, Mary was WORSHIPING. Two things stand out about Mary:
First, notice WHERE she sat.
Verse 39 reveals that Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus. In fact, each time she is mentioned in Scripture, this is where we always find her:
John 11:32—“Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’”
John 12:3—“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.”
She wasn’t sitting at a distance, but was at His feet. She wanted to be as close to Jesus as she possibly could. It only serves to reveal her humility and the depth of love that she had for Jesus. By sitting at His feet, it serves as evidence that she wanted to be in His presence and at the place of total submission and obedience before Him. Those who love Christ don’t want any distance to be between them and Christ. They long to be in His presence. They desire to love Him more and be as close to Him as they possibly can. That is what it means to love Jesus and to sit at His feet. It is being caught up with consciously living in His presence. Those who sit at Jesus’ feet aren’t there because of what He gives; they are there because of who He is.
Second, notice WHAT she heard.
The Bible says that she sat at His feet and heard His word. While Martha was busy in the kitchen preparing a feast, Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus already participating in a feast. Rather than being a feast prepared for the stomach, it was a feast prepared for the soul. The word “heard” means she was intently listening; the imperfect tense of the verb suggests a continual hearing meaning that her attention was riveted to His word. There can be no genuine love for Christ where there is no love for His word. Consider what Jesus Himself said:
Luke 6:46—“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?”
John 14:15—“If you love Me, keep My commandments.”
1 John 5:2-3—“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.”
While Martha was busy and frenzied with things that really were not that important, Mary took the time to sit at Jesus’ feet and to listen intently to His word. Sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to Jesus’ word is foundational for discipleship, and it is the ONE THING that ranks above everything else.
3. The DIVIDENDS of a prioritized life (10:42)
“But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Notice how Martha’s decision to give herself over to the busyness of life only BURDENED her, while Mary’s decision to sit at Jesus’ feet BENEFITED her. How so? Consider that:
First, it was an ESSENTIAL benefit.
From the midst of all the hurried hustle and bustle in Martha’s home, Jesus puts His finger on the ONE THING that was necessary—the simple act of sitting at His feet. The word “needed” in verse 42 speaks of an essential requirement. Martha was worried about the bread that feds the body, but Mary was focused on the Bread that feeds the soul. Jesus said:
Matthew 4:4—“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
The bottom line is that we have way too many spiritually malnourished people in the church. This explains why the lifestyles and decision making of many professing believers seem to be no different from that of the rest of the culture. Perhaps for many, they are professing outwardly something that they are not possessing inwardly. Where there has been no change in appetite, there has been no change of heart and conversion to Christ.
1 Peter 2:1-3—“Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.”
John MacArthur—“The two words identify an infant that has just emerged from its mother’s womb and is crying for milk from her breast. That sole and desperate hunger for milk is the newborn’s first expressed longing designed by God to correspond to their greatest need, and it illustrates how strongly believers ought to desire the Word. It is singular and relentless because life depends on it.”
A newborn baby doesn’t have to be taught to crave its mother’s milk. And a person who has been born again has a new desire for the Word that serves as inward evidence of his new nature. I recently read where a pastor interviewed 100 people in his congregation and asked them to come up with the top four reasons why people never pick up their Bible. The most common answers were these:
1) Too busy
2) I don’t understand it
3) I forget
4) Not interesting
Could you imagine people giving these answers when asked why they never eat? If this were true, they would literally starve to death! Colossians 3:16 says to the believer, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Yet someone has said that the worst dust storm in history would happen if all the church members who were neglecting their Bibles simultaneously opened them! What is sad is that even though we have so much access to the Word of God, great numbers of people within the church know little more about the Bible than many third-world Christians who don’t even have their own copy. It is therefore ESSENTIAL that we as believers have a four-fold response to the Word of God:
- Read the word!
- Hear the word!
- Obey the word!
- Share the word!
Second, it was an ETERNAL benefit.
In verse 42, Jesus says, “Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” The implication is that Martha’s insignificant busyness would yield no eternal benefit to her soul, while Mary’s time with Jesus would yield much eternal benefit. Martha was troubled and concerned about temporal things so much so that she had forgotten that only ONE THING mattered. ONE THING is necessary—sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to His Word. Will you be found at His feet today?