2153) Type ‘A’ and Type ‘B’ in the Bible (part two of two)


     (…continued)  Those same attributes that made Martha a capable, effective manager also got her in trouble.  She was aggressive, assertive, and strong in conviction.  She was also quick to criticize, intolerant of others’ differences, and prone to self-pity.

     Maybe Martha was jealous of Mary’s close relationship with Jesus.  Yet she could have been just as close had she chosen to spend the time with Him.

     She should have calmly taken her concern to Mary.  Instead, she disrupted the good fellowship of weary travelers and thoroughly embarrassed her well-meaning sister, not to mention herself.

     But in Jesus’ response, we learn as much about Him as we do about Martha.  He knew her heart.  She did love Him and was sincerely doing her best to serve Him.  She just didn’t realize she was serving her own pride.  She attempted to minister to him when she desperately needed to be ministered by Him.

     John 11:5 states, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”  With amazing wisdom and tenderness, Jesus here demonstrates that love by not rebuking Martha’s insolence.  Instead, the Lord gently puts the whole scene in perspective for her.

     “Martha, Martha,” He begins, as one often did in addressing one he deeply loved and longed to lead in a better way.  We can imagine Jesus gently placing His hands on her shoulder, as He continues: “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41, 42).

     The word translated “worry” comes from the Greek words for “pieces” and “mind.”  Literally, it means to come to pieces in the mind or to have a divided mind.

     Jesus admits there is no end to the number of things we might worry about (Matthew 6:34).  We can worry about our jobs, our possessions, our children, our health, or, like Martha, our responsibilities.  Worry does not stem from these things, however, but from within.

     It’s the product of a mind that lacks perspective.  Such a mind needs to fill itself from the reservoir of God’s Word, not the innumerable concerns that constantly vie for our attention.  Martha quite likely knew the verse, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).  Yet she seldom put it into practice.

     Mary chose “what is better” or, literally, “the better portion.”  The reference is to food, and it sets up an interesting contrast.  While Martha devoted herself to preparing physical food, Mary devoted herself to receiving spiritual food.  She was a hungry soul, single-mindedly devoted to the spiritual meal served by Jesus and oblivious to all else.

     Jesus stresses the issue of Mary’s choice.  Yet Martha also had a choice, even though she probably thought her hands were tied.  I have to do this work, she rationalized.  It’s not a matter of preference, but necessity.  How many times do we use this as an excuse to neglect time with God?

Charles Hummel’s The Tyranny of the Urgent reminds us we must learn to discern between the urgent and the truly important.  Serving the guests was much more urgent than listening to Jesus.  But it was also far less important.  Mary made her choice; so did Martha.  She was not the victim of circumstances.

     Couldn’t Martha have prepared a simpler meal or delayed dinner long enough to enjoy Jesus’ presence?  If she had, she could have gone about her duties with renewed perspective and probably with the help of her sister.

     Jesus said of Mary, “It will not be taken from her.”  Time spent at the feet of Jesus is an investment in eternity, a treasure stored in Heaven.

     The Westminster Confession states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  Martha might have thought “enjoy” was a bit too frivolous.  She suffered from job saturation.  Today, we, too, are often managed by our responsibilities.  Sometimes, when we are unsure of our direction, we attempt to compensate by doubling our speed.  The result is a hurried and harried Christian life, full of activity, but devoid of an eternal perspective.

     In his marvelous book When I Relax I Feel Guilty, Tim Hansel describes Martha-like believers as “Weary Servants of the Impossible.”  For us, there are never enough hours in the day or days in the week.  Often, those most committed to serving others give of themselves until they have nothing left.  But they keep on giving, drawing from a dry reservoir.  They have forgotten how to receive.

     Martha, too, forgot there was one thing even more fundamental than giving to Jesus.  That sounds almost heretical, doesn’t it?  What could possibly be more important than giving to Jesus?  Receiving from Him.  The truth is, we need our Lord a great deal more than He needs us.

     Jesus wants our fellowship and devotion, not just our skills and efforts.  He values our service less than our devotion and worship.  Yet it is worship that fosters the most effective service.  Martha is not rebuked for serving any more than Mary is commended for not serving.  The message is not “worship precludes service,” but “worship precedes service.”

     I found when I was a pastor that grasping and maintaining this perspective on worship and service was the most important challenge in my ministry; it was also the most difficult.  Too often I cut short worship to devote more time to service.  Ironically, whenever I put service before worship, I shortchange those I’m attempting to serve, and I shortchange myself.  But worst of all, I shortchange my Lord.

     Satan’s favorite lie is, “There’s work to do. God understands.  He’s always available, and there’ll be plenty of time to spend with Him later.”  Hence, the urgent displaces the important.  We allow the labor of our hands to overshadow the love of our hearts.

     Often, the urgent is what people want us to do.  But the important is what God wants us to do.  Jesus did not always live up to others’ expectations.  But he was in touch with His Father and knew how to separate the grain of God’s will from the chaff of man’s will.

     At the end of His life, Jesus said to His Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4).  What strikes me is not that Jesus worked, or even that He finished His work, but that the work He finished was what God gave Him to do.


Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

–I Samuel 3:10b