A Five-Question Test: Are You a “Martha” or a “Mary”?

We’ve all heard some pretty convicting sermons on the story found in Luke 10:38-42 about Jesus visiting the home of His friends Martha and Mary. Typically, we readily identify with Martha, who sprang into action to make preparations for Jesus and His group. Her eager service turned to stress, then downgraded to a demanding spirit toward others. As conviction sets in, even from a casual reading, we are challenged to aspire to the model of Mary, who sat stress-free at the feet of Jesus, listening to His word. Clearly, she made the best decision.

While there are many extrapolated explanations and challenging applications that are drawn from this account, let’s take another focused look at the real issues of the scene. I hope it will help all of us recommit to the great priority of time with Jesus.

Question One: Do You View This as an Issue of Priority or Personality?

Often we are told that a key factor in the contrasting responses of the sisters to the presence of Jesus in their home was their personality differences. I’ve spun it this way and have heard others do the same. Admittedly, this is just speculation, as the text never refers to their personality types. It might make sense to cast Martha as a “Type-A” driven leader and Mary as a “Type-B” low-key adaptable sibling. Yes, Martha was older, perhaps feeling more responsible. Maybe she owned the home so felt compelled to take charge. We are not sure.

What we do know is that they operated from different grids of priorities. Martha felt it was more important to serve Jesus in the moment. Mary wanted to seek Jesus. Martha wanted to do something for Him. Mary wanted to learn something from Him. I’ve often noted that when we find more delight in serving Jesus than seeking Him, we run the risk of making our ministry an idol.

When we find more delight in serving Jesus than seeking Him, we run the risk of making our ministry an idol.

The danger in painting this picture as a “personality difference” is that aggressive, task-oriented people somehow justify their neglect of their relationship with Jesus based on their emotional make-up. This may make us feel better but dodges the real issue. Simply put, we all need to make time with Jesus a clear priority and then live accordingly, regardless of our personality profiles.

We all need to make time with Jesus a clear priority and then live accordingly, regardless of our personality profiles.

Question Two: Do You Consider This a Matter of Choice or Convenience?

Sometimes we may think that it was easy for Mary to sit at Jesus’ feet, taking on the real posture and heart of a disciple, simply because it seemed convenient. After all, Martha was handling the arrangements, so why not? Yet, Jesus described the real issue in this way: “But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part.” Her clear sense of the right priorities led her to a choice. We all know that life is always about choices. We are responsible for our choices and must remember that much is at stake with each responsible decision. We all can choose, like Mary.

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Question Three: Have You Understood This as a Contrast between Trust and Trying?

Mary seemed to understand that Jesus valued her demonstrated discipleship. It is clear that she trusted Jesus. Perhaps she knew that He knew the meal could wait. She knew He had the power to produce a meal of any scope. After all, more than once He fed thousands with meager provisions. Perhaps she remembered His salient words from His message on the mountainside, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Her actions demonstrate that she trusted the truth of Jesus’ words.

In contrast, Martha was “trying” so hard to do everything right for Jesus (as if He needed her obsessive activity). She apparently did not even trust that He cared for her or knew how to handle the situation. She groused, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” He corrected her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.’”

In our journey our faith can falter. We begin to think that Jesus needs us to “do things” for Him, in our energy and determination. Rather, He calls us to abide in Him, and allow Him to bear the fruit of His life and power through us in transformational expression.

In our journey our faith can falter. We begin to think that Jesus needs us to “do things” for Him, in our energy and determination. Rather, He calls us to abide in Him, and allow Him to bear the fruit of His life and power through us in transformational expression.

Question Four: Can You See This as a Pursuit of Reward vs. Results?

The story portrays Martha wanting to produce the immediate and temporary result of a great meal and an impressive expression of hospitality. Mary, according to Jesus, embraced an approach that would “not be taken away from her.” When our living and service begins with the empowerment of intimacy with Jesus, it is marked by spiritual purity and power. The impact may or may not be immediate and measurable. One thing is sure – the reward will be eternal.

When our living and service begins with the empowerment of intimacy with Jesus, it is marked by spiritual purity and power. The impact may or may not be immediate and measurable. One thing is sure – the reward will be eternal.

In our business-minded approach to serving Christ, we risk the danger of “management by results” that may be easily attributed to our clever planning and superb execution. Sadly, our efforts may have nothing to with the direction and empowerment of the Spirit, experienced in humble dependence and genuine surrender. Eternity’s scoreboard is always accurate in exposing the difference.

Question Five: Have You Distinguished Between Spiritual Responsibility and Self-Righteousness?

Simply put, Mary embraced the spiritual responsibility of a true disciple. Martha slipped into a self-righteous religious performance that led her to harsh judgment toward her sister who did not perform accordingly. External standards of spirituality based on performance always leave us exhausted and exercising a prideful comparison with others.

External standards of spirituality based on performance always leave us exhausted and exercising a prideful comparison with others.

Speaking to the crowds who were following Him with skewed motives and wanted Him to do great “works”, Jesus declared, “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…This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:27-29).

Jesus’ words to His followers are simply, “Follow Me.” He did not tell us to “figure it all out” or “force things to happen.” Time spent with Him, feasting on His life-giving truth, is always the core commitment of a fruitful follower. The life of His Spirit in us is the secret to real spiritual responsibility. We can embrace this priority, make the best choices, trust Him for the results, and seek eternity’s reward – every day.

Jesus’ words to His followers are simply, “Follow Me.” He did not tell us to “figure it all out” or “force things to happen.” Time spent with Him, feasting on His life-giving truth, is always the core commitment of a fruitful follower.

Be encouraged, my friend. Whether you felt you “passed” or “failed” this little test, every day is a new day to make the best choice. The Lord Jesus gives us grace to grow. He has promised to finish what He started in us. He works in us to give us the desire and power to make the choices that please Him. And, He has promised to bear supernatural fruit in and through us as we abide in Him.

©2021 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.