Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Being and Doing

Written by Rev. C. Pronk
That some people are more active than others is a fact of life. There are those who are always on the go, unhappy unless they are involved in one activity or another. Others prefer a more quiet, contemplative kind of life. Both types are also found in the church and unfortunately they do not always get along with one another. The activists often accuse their more laid-back and meditative brothers and sisters of laziness and passivity, while the latter tend to label the activities of the former as carnal zeal and works righteousness. A classic example of this tension that can so easily develop between these two types of persons is the story of Martha and Mary recorded in Luke 10.

When Jesus visits their home in Bethany, Martha is "cumbered about much serving," while her sister Mary is described as sitting at Jesus' feet. Martha is the hostess and is busy getting things ready for supper, while Mary sits down to listen to Jesus' Word. She probably helped Martha for a while, but as soon as she heard Jesus speaking she lost interest in the household chores and left her sister with her pots and pans and found a place at her Master's feet.

Both sisters love Jesus, but they express their love in different ways. Martha shows her affection for Jesus by a great display of activity in the kitchen. Mary does so by quietly listening to words of eternal life. Both these expressions and attitudes are found in the church and they have their legitimate place. What both need is the correcting and guiding influence of the Holy Spirit; otherwise they will develop in the wrong direction. Martha's spontaneous and loving service can easily turn into a kind of works righteousness and carnal zeal. By the same token, Mary's sensitivity and devotion can just as easily deteriorate into false passivity and a denial of the Christian's calling in the world.

For the Martha's in the church, however, there is an additional danger, namely that of pride and a fretful spirit. Those who by the grace of God may do much in His kingdom sometimes fall into that error. When they see how much they are doing for the Lord, they get annoyed with others who in their opinion are not active enough and spend too much time on their knees. Pray and work, indeed, but let's make sure the work gets done. That's how they look at it. Martha fell into that trap too. She got annoyed when she saw Mary sitting there at Jesus' feet. After a while she could not take it any longer. Running into the living room she faces Jesus and blurts out: "Lord, dost Thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me!"

Let's be honest, our sympathies are with Martha, aren't they? After all, somebody has to do the work! Somebody has to get the food ready. Why does Martha have to do everything? That is how we tend to react when reading this account. We are wrong in thinking this way. We go too much by outward appearances. The Lord, however, looks at the heart. He knew what was going on in Martha's mind. He knew that her criticism was without foundation. Martha's mistake is that she thinks that the only way to serve the Lord is to do it her way. She wants Mary to be just as excited and busy about serving meals as she is. Sure, if Mary had sat down at Jesus' feet just to get out of unpleasant work, then she would have been blameworthy, and the Lord would no doubt have reprimanded her. But this was not the case. She had helped Martha get things ready, but now she felt that enough time had been spent on the meal.

Jesus must have given them advance notice of his coming. We should not think He arrived at His friends' house unexpectedly with His twelve disciples. From Luke 9:52; 10:1; 22:8 and other passages we learn that it was our Lord's method to send messengers ahead to prepare for His arrival. He was very considerate and would not put anyone in the awkward situation of having to prepare a meal for such a large company without due notice.

Martha and Mary were ready for Jesus and His disciples. Except for the finishing touches, therefore, the meal was ready and Martha by now should be sitting down with Mary at their Master's feet. Martha could not leave the kitchen just yet, however. She had to check this thing and that, making sure that everything was exactly right. "Cumbered about with much serving," she was, but her energy was somewhat misdirected. Martha was overdoing things.

Jesus had not come to His friends' house to be served an elaborate meal. A simple dish would do fine. That's why the Master rebukes her. Martha, Martha, you are worried about all sorts of things, but you are forgetting the one thing needful. You want to look after my physical needs, but it is much more important that I look after your spiritual needs. I have come to your house to give you the Bread from heaven. This bread is received only at My feet, where Mary is. She has chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her.

This reprimand was necessary for Martha and for all who are of a kindred spirit. It seems that nowadays you can't be a good Christian unless you get involved in all sorts of activities and projects. The emphasis is on doing rather than on being. Modern Christianity lacks balance and proportion. Many professing Christians know little or nothing about the inner life, i.e., the life of communion with the Lord. As someone has written, "the accent in the Church today is not on devotion but on commotion." Religious activism has been preached so long already in Evangelical circles that hardly anyone dares to question the soundness of it. If you are not constantly on the move your spirituality is suspect. No doubt much of this frenzied activity is well meant. People think they are serving the Lord's cause this way and they are very sincere about it all. But could they not be sincerely wrong? What Jesus says here to Martha needs to be said to many of His modern disciples today as well: you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful. You must sit down at My feet, beside Mary. She has chosen that good part which will not be taken away from her.

There, at Jesus' feet, we are instructed by our great Prophet and Teacher in the secrets of the Kingdom. There the way of salvation is explained to ignorant sinners. Unless we have first been taught by the Lord it is no use trying to do something for Him. As Jesus once said with reference to His people: "they shall all be taught of the Lord." All who are saved receive this divine instruction. They come to know God as the holy and righteous One and themselves as poor lost sinners. They also come to know Jesus Christ as the Way, the Life and the Truth. That is the one thing needful and therefore the only way to produce fruits that are pleasing to the Lord.

Martha thought that she could serve her Lord only by standing on her feet. Jesus says, no, it is only by sitting at My feet that you learn to serve Me. Mary did. We read that shortly before Christ's death she performed her great act of love when she anointed Jesus' feet with expensive perfume. What made her bring this sacrifice of love? She had been at Jesus' feet long enough to learn who He was, namely the Son of God Who had come to give His life to save His people from their sins. She alone had understood the true meaning of His Messianic work. None of the disciples had that insight at that time.

Here we see that it is not a matter of serving the Lord or sitting at His feet. Rather, it is a question of where and how we learn to serve Him acceptably. The Biblical order is: first sit down at Christ's feet and then get up and serve. Without this intimate and personal relationship with Christ, the Church will die. Mere busyness is no sign of life. A lot of noise is no evidence of spiritual vitality. It could merely be the noise of dead bones coming together as Ezekiel heard in the valley of dry bones. The communion with God in Christ--that is the life blood of the Church, for "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him and He will show them His covenant." This communion with the Lord is experienced only by humble souls who have learned to pray:

Teach me o Lord Thy way of truth,
And from it I will not depart;
That I may steadfastly obey,
Give me an understanding heart.

In Thy commandments make me walk,
For in Thy law my joy shall be;
Give me a heart that loves Thy will,
From discontent and envy free.

Martha had a problem with that last part. Her heart was full of discontent and envy when she watched her sister. Therefore her service was not acceptable to Jesus and He had to rebuke her in love.

Also among us we have our Martha's and Mary's, as well as their male counterparts, the Peter's and John's. They do not always agree with each other and sometimes will even be suspicious of each other. Yet both love the Lord, and--what is more important--the Lord loves them! Still, Martha was on the wrong track because her service on that day was not the fruit of communion with Christ. Such service the Master cannot accept. Yet Martha was a believer. We know this from what she said at her brother Lazarus' grave. There she confessed her faith in Christ the Son of God Who was to come into the world.

There are, however, also many in the church of Christ who think they are disciples of the Master, but they are not. Why not? Because they have nothing in common with either Martha or Mary. They are not cumbered about with much serving, but neither are they sitting at Jesus' feet. They have neither the desire to serve the Lord nor to be served by Him. All such "professors" should remember what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ let him be anathema [i.e., accursed]. Maranatha, the Lord is coming!

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