I don’t really fly all that much, but when I do I always enjoy watching the people in airports. In our airport here in Nashville, you will find many kinds of people, but the two groups that often strike me are the tourists and the business travelers. The tourists tend to be walking more slowly, looking around and taking their time as they move through the airport. They are in Nashville and they are soaking it in! The business travelers, on the other hand, are all about getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible so that they can get to their point C and carry on with their work.
My question is which of these two pictures would you use to describe your life? As you think about your daily activities of working at home or at your job, caring for family, doing things at church, what describes your life: the business traveler always focused on the work or the tourist enjoying where they are and taking it more slowly? I suspect that many of us would say we are like the business traveler, busy with so many things, taking care of this and that and planning for the next event. We are simply very busy! But the question that needs to be asked is this: how does Jesus want us to live our lives? What is the pace, the lifestyle that Jesus wants us to have as followers of Him? Let’s read Luke 10:38-42.
I. Two approaches to discipleship are described here.
Jesus is traveling through the countryside and is near the town of Bethany. So when Jesus arrives there, his dear friend Martha opens her home to Him and with her sister Mary extends hospitality to Jesus. However, remember that Jesus was with His twelve disciples at this point. So there were now 13 people to take care of in addition to Mary and Martha. Moreover, for Martha to open her home to Jesus and His disciples meant that she would care for all their physical needs while there. She would provide a place for them to sleep as well as provide meals for them. This was no small undertaking as anyone who has entertained before knows very well! In this setting two very distinct approaches to following Jesus are found.
Mary’s approach to discipleship is seen in verse 39. She simply sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. This was the traditional position of learning for a rabbi and his students. The students would sit at the rabbi’s feet and listen intently to what the teacher would say. Mary’s method of discipleship is to listen and learn as much as she can from the Lord Himself.
Martha’s method of discipleship is seen in verse 40. She “was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Evidently, her love language was to do something special for Jesus. She wanted to extend the best hospitality possible for Jesus and His disciples. And so her approach to following Jesus was to be busy, doing a lot for her Lord.
These two women summarize how people approach discipleship. You can listen, be contemplative, studying and learning. Or you can be busy, working hard, serving the Lord in a variety of ways.
II. But now let’s ask the question: Which approach is better?
That issue is focused in the complaint of Martha to Jesus. You can picture the scene can’t you? Martha is terribly busy! There is all this work to be done and Mary is just sitting there! She may have silently fuming until finally her anger boils over and she complains to Jesus: “Don’t you care that I’m doing all the work?” There was all kinds of work to be done and all Mary wants to do is have a Bible Study.
And then Martha has the boldness to tell Jesus what he should do: “Tell her to help me!” She is annoyed at Mary for not helping and possibly at Jesus for not seeing her working. At least Jesus can fix the situation by doing what He should do and tell Mary to help her. Martha here is telling Jesus to declare her approach to showing love to Jesus as being better.
What kind of disciples should we be? There are many outstanding Christians who are like Martha. They are always busy doing something for the Lord. They are preparing a Sunday School lesson or attending this or that meeting. They love the Lord deeply and want to show their love to Jesus by working for the Lord and his kingdom as hard as they possibly can.
Then there are other Christians who are like Mary. They too deeply love their Lord and spend a lot of time in Bible reading and prayer. They are very quiet on the surface but one senses in looking at them that their spiritual commitment runs very deep and is very strong. Both aspects of discipleship are not only very legitimate, but both should be found to some degree in each of our lives.
III. Let’s look at Jesus’ insightful answer to Martha.
Jesus’ answer to Martha is very sympathetic in the way he addresses her: “Martha, Martha.” Jesus was likely touched by the display of her love in preparing such elaborate hospitality. He also understands her being so perplexed at the situation. He speaks in deep love and care for her. Still His answer to her is one of rebuke: “You are worried and upset about many things.” She is fretting and fussing over something that she should not be worried about. This word “worried” is often used in the Bible to describe the anxiety experienced by Christians when they lose sight of God in their lives. Now realize that Jesus is likely not referring to the meal alone. Rather, Jesus is speaking of her overall attitude of doing things in a big way for the Lord. As she serves Him, she is getting worked up over many things that she should not be concerned about.
Spending time with God is also viewed by many Christians as wasted time because there are so many other things we could be doing. What God wants from us is relationship more than anything and not what we do for him. Now we have to be careful that we don’t take Jesus’ words as meaning we have to read the Bible more and pray more and make those actions another form of things we must do for God. God simply wants us to walk every day with him as we live in his very presence.
If we do this, as Mary was doing, then Jesus states that this will not be taken away from her or us. Living with Jesus is the thing that we must put first in their lives. If we do, we will benefit all the more by learning at Jesus’ feet. And those benefits received will never be lost or taken away.
IV. What about us? We need balanced discipleship in our lives as well.
In one sense we do need to be like Martha in our Christian walk. There is much work that needs to be done in the church and in the kingdom. Our children need to hear and learn of Jesus’ love for them. There are the poor to be cared for, the sick to be visited, the hurting to be tended to. There are so many other people in the world and in our own community that need to hear the message that Jesus loves them and wants them to accept Him as Savior and Lord. Jesus himself calls us to be busy and active, working and serving him as we live on this earth. And so we need to be busy, working and serving the Lord. Please understand that Jesus is not saying that we should not work hard in the kingdom of God; we should!
However, there are some serious potential problems that Marthas face. First, we can become so busy and so involved in trying to do our best to please the Lord that the Lord’s work becomes OUR work, OUR obsession. We start out wanting to serve the Lord in what we do, but soon we end up working so hard because our work has our name on it and we work more for our pride than God’s glory.
“During my last surge of over commitment, I had a disturbing realization. I had driven myself to exhaustion primarily for my own glory. Scarcely noticing the beauty of the changing leaves, I spent the Fall frantically traveling to distant speaking engagements. I had agreed to each one months earlier, rationalizing that each new speaking opportunity would further my ministry. I see now I was mostly interested in enhancing my reputation.”
“My busy schedule crowded out nearly all time for reflection with the Lord. Reading Scripture became a luxury; prayers were said on the run. In one of my increasingly rare quiet times, I stumbled across the words of Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Those words did not reflect my lifestyle; the yoke I was struggling to carry was my own. And time spent to gratify my own ego is like money tossed after passing fancies.”
That is a struggle that I think many Christians have to deal with regardless of what they do for a living. We work hard to impress God and impress others so that we can get the credit. We tend to live more on our works than on God’s grace.
Another problem is that we can become so busy working like Martha that we don’t take the time to listen and learn from the Lord. We are so busy going to meetings, teaching, leading and working that we are too tired to listen to Jesus. We crawl into bed at night thoroughly exhausted from the day’s activities and we are too tired to talk to God or let God speak to us. In the morning, we wake up planning our day so we can make the most of our opportunity. We have become so busy preparing elaborate meals throughout the week that we don’t have the time to listen and learn at the feet of Jesus by reading God’s word and praying to our Father in heaven.
And then remember the promise Jesus gives: time spent at Jesus’ feet will not be lost. We may learn to slow down and let God lead us more closely in our daily activities. We may learn that we have been working furiously in an area where others could be working and using their gifts instead. By taking the time to listen and learn, Jesus will make our efforts at serving Him with loving devotion and work more effective. But we must stop and sit at Jesus’ feet before we can learn those lessons. Will you try in this week to spend more time listening to Jesus? It will not be time that is wasted.