Pulling a Martha (Scene 1)
To all those who clicked here hoping for Christian dating tips - I’m sorry. This isn’t that sort of article.
In the first article of this series we considered the Five Fruits of the Christian Life;
the Fruit of Christlike Character
the Fruit of Good Works
the Fruit of Praising Hearts and Lips
the Fruit Generous Giving
the Fruit of Conversion
We concluded that article with this; “our problem, however, is that we, in ourselves, can never produce any of this fruit.” We're going to explore that problem for the next few articles before considering the solution.
In Luke 10v38-42, Martha has invited Christ and His followers into her home. She is serving Christ and she is serving His disciples. Serving God and serving His people is a good place to be, right?
In this same chapter, Christ is speaking to an expert in the law who was testing Him. This man correctly summarises the law as:
• Loving God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind
• Loving your neighbour as yourself
Christ has been teaching this summary of the law throughout His ministry. He explains that the whole of the law and the prophets hang upon these commands (Matthew 22v37-40) and that there are no greater commands than these ( Mark 12v30-31). Paul also teaches that loving your neighbour as yourself fulfils the law (Romans 13v8-10, Galatians 5v13-14) and James teaches that it is the Royal Law (James 2v8). These commands are deeply rooted in the Old Testament. The command to love God comes from Deuteronomy 6v4-5. In fact, it is one of the great themes of Deuteronomy (10v12, 11v13, 30v6). The command to Love your neighbour as yourself comes from Leviticus 19v18.
As we consider Martha’s attitude and reaction here in this passage we will see that Martha was serving without love for God nor love for neighbour.
“But Martha was distracted with much serving”
Martha is under pressure. She becomes flustered and upset and when she speaks, she is not speaking out of love. It would be very easy for Martha to explain away her attitude here by blaming the circumstances around her. However, according to scripture, it is out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12v34-35, 15:18-19). In other words, what is in her heart will come out of her mouth. Blaming the circumstances for her reaction here is like blaming what comes out of a teabag on the boiling water. The boiling water didn’t create the tea in the bag, it simply brought out what was already inside. So with Martha, the stressful situation here only brought out of Martha what was already in her heart.
“and she approached Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care’…”
Ouch. There is only one other place in the gospel accounts where Christ was asked if He didn’t care. It is in Mark 4v35-41. Christ is asleep in the boat while a great storm arose over the Sea of Galilee. The disciples woke Christ and asked Him “do you not care that we are perishing?”. Christ rebuked the wind and calmed the sea and then turns to His disciples with two heart pricking questions; “why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”. Catch that. To doubt that Christ cared for them was to have no or little faith. For Martha to ask such a question is to show that she is not loving Christ with all her mind and heart. She has allowed the pressure of the situation around her to bring out of her heart this deep problem.
“…’that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me’.”
Mary is sitting at the feet of the promised Son of David listening to His teaching. Martha would have her drawn away from that beautiful experience to help her. She is not wanting the best for Mary. Mary has become a tool to help her prepare, not a person she longs to see blessed. This is not love.
We can see it in the words she is using; “I am being left to serve alone. Tell her to come help me”. Who is at the centre of Martha’s life in this moment? Martha is. Martha is struggling with self love in these verses. Her lack of love for God is expressed through her interrupting Christ to ask if He even cares. Her lack of love for neighbour is expressed through her telling Christ to have Mary removed from a place of blessing to come and help her.
Martha is not loving God or neighbour, yet she is trying to serve God and neighbour. She is serving without love. We are going to call this idea of serving without love “Pulling a Martha”. Martha is struggling with both Godward (vertical) and Manward (horizontal) love. More accurately put, her lack of love for God also leads to a lack of love for neighbour.
“And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha’…”
Jesus’ response to Martha is gracious and patient. He uses her name twice. I love to imagine Him speaking in a gentle, soothing way to calm Martha’s troubled heart. Christ knows what’s in her heart; He knows the hearts of all men. He knows she is struggling to love God and love neighbour. He knows she is being defeated by self love. Yet He loves her; “now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11v5).
“…‘you are worried and troubled about many things’…”
She had become so focused on what she was doing that she had forgotten why she was doing it. She had lost sight of what was important. She was serving, but her motives had turned sour. She was making preparations, but she no longer had the right perspective. She didn’t stop, in the stress of it all, to reexamine her heart and fix her attitude, she just got busier and busier and she got more and more distracted and more and more the stress piled on until she’d had enough.
“…But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her."
Christ explains that Mary had made the better choice to sit at His feet and hear His teachings. What I want you to catch from this short narrative in Luke 10 is that it is dangerously easy to be full of busy service but without love. Whether that is in the church, at home, at work or wherever you are. Serving without loving God and loving neighbour is all too familiar to us if we are honest.
Meet Martha in You
We have been hard on Martha here because I want Martha’s words and reactions here to be a window into your heart and mine. We are all like Martha. We are often defeated with self love. We often struggle to love God and love neighbour. This is a broken path. There is no life here. It is dry and arid, joyless and loveless. It leads to anger, hurt and bitterness. There is no fruit here.
Stop and examine your own heart with these questions in mind:
• How do I feel when something I do isn’t recognised or appreciated by others?
• How do I feel when something I do is given to someone else to do?
• How do I feel when something I do is changed or is no longer needed?
• How do I feel when I’m asked to do something again because the first time didn’t work out?
• How do I feel when I am already busy and someone asks me to do something else?
• How do I feel when someone who was supposed to help me doesn’t?
Did you see any of Martha in yourself? Did you find, latched on to your heart, the ugliness of self love? Did you discover a lack of love for God and love for neighbour? If you did, good! That’s what I was hoping for. If you didn’t, look again with more humility and honesty.
Bearing Fruit Series:
Up the Apples and Pears (Christian Fruit, article 1)
Pulling a Martha 1 (Busy but Fruitless, article 2)
Pulling a Martha 2 (Responding to Christ's Love, article 3)
Not Needed, Loved (A True Perspective of Service, article 4)
Wild Grapes and Empty Fig Trees (What our Flesh Produces, article 5)
Plastic Fruit and Bushy Branches (Legalism, Hypocrisy, Pride and Judgement, article 6)
The New and True Vine (Jesus, the only God-pleasing, fruitful human, article 7)
My Hope is Built on Nothingness (How to Abide 1, article 8)
Don't Stop Believing (How to Abide 2, article 9)
Alan Campbell is from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He came to Christ as a young adult and trained for ministry at Bethesda Free Church, Sunderland. Alan ministered in Bethesda as the Associate Pastor until 2019 and now ministers at Union Chapel, Bath. From time to time he teaches at North Cotes (NTM/Ethnos 360) College and The Theological College of North Staffordshire. Alan travels across the UK, Ireland, Europe and the States speaking at universities and equipping churches and campus ministries to share the gospel in a post-modern context. He is passionate about helping the believer to root their identity more and more into the person and work of Jesus Christ. Alan is married to Victoria.