Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24 ESV
There’s no getting around it. Scripture calls us to work.
Giving it all we’ve got.
So sometimes we get a little confused when we read the story of Mary and Martha. We see Martha busily serving all who had gathered in her home, and we expect Jesus to commend her. After all, He blesses diligent servants.
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.” Matthew 24:45-46
Martha was sure her service would bring her Master’s blessing. So sure, in fact, that when she saw her sister idly sitting at His feet, judgment surfaced. And she brought her frustration to Jesus.
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” Luke 10:40
Look at the emotion revealed in Martha’s words. Lord, do you not care? Her thoughts are obvious. He should care, because she cared greatly. She cared so much that she commanded Jesus to intervene.
“Tell her then to help me.”
His answer surprised her. And—if we’re going to be honest—often frustrates many of us.
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42, emphasis mine
Mary has chosen the good portion. Mary who sat while Martha worked.
As a former Martha, I feel her pain. I get it completely. After all, someone had to feed those people. Someone had to take care of things.
But Jesus saw something you and I can’t see without looking on the scene through a spiritual lens. He saw straight into Martha’s heart.
Consider this excerpt from Jon Bloom’s Things Not Seen.
To just about everyone else present, Martha’s serving probably appeared to flow from the heart of a gracious servant. But Jesus discerned differently. He saw that Martha’s serving flowed from anxiety, not grace. [see verse 41]
What was making Martha anxious? We know she was anxious about “many things.” But we need only examine our own similar anxieties to guess the likely root. I think Martha was anxious about how she impressed Jesus and her other guests. She was troubled at the thought that her home and serving might reflect poorly over her and her family. And this anxiety blinded her to the “one thing necessary”—listening to Jesus—and made many unnecessary tasks feel compulsively urgent.
This kind of anxiety is subtle. It has a selfish root but its fruit looks deceptively like unselfishness. This anxiety is the desire for approval dressed up to look like the desire to serve. This anxiety is my caring what you think of me dressed up to look like my caring for you. It can be so subtle that we don’t see it clearly. It can look so much like the right thing that we believe it’s the right thing. That’s why Martha was confident that Jesus would agree with her about Mary. (p.58-59, emphasis mine)
But Jesus didn’t agree with Martha. He’s far less interested in the work itself than the motivation behind it.
“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7b
And Jesus saw that while Martha appeared to be serving others, she actually served an inner need rooted in her flesh. That need caused her to serve from anxiety instead of grace.
I have been there, dear one. I have put in hours of anxious work, fully convinced that I was doing it for Jesus. Like Martha, I have even found myself frustrated when others didn’t share my dedication.
Then my precious Savior showed me the hidden attachments of my heart. And I discovered that He wasn’t the One burdening me with tiresome labor. I was.
Jesus comes to give us rest, beloved.
“Come to me, all 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.” Matthew 11:28-30
Although Martha did good work, her soul was not at rest. Mary chose the good portion: rest in His presence.
At His feet we learn who He is and see who we truly are.
In His presence He sets us free from the fleshly attachments that darken our souls.
Love compels us. His Spirit empowers us.
And He lavishes our work with grace.