“The Maladies of Martha” (Luke 10:38-42 sermon)

A few weeks ago I read Joseph J. Ellis’ book on President Thomas Jefferson, entitled American Sphinx. In it, he discussed, among other things, the men who influenced Jefferson and made him the kind of president that he was. He wrote: “Most students of the Jefferson presidency explain his leadership style in terms of the POSITIVE lessons he had learned from (George) Washington and the NEGATIVE ones learned from (John) Adams.” (Joseph J. Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, p. 189).   

I had to chuckle when I read that, because John Adams was always a bit jealous of George Washington; Washington was so widely revered, even in his own day, and John Adams never felt like he quite measured up to him. And then, to go down in history, not for the positive, but for the NEGATIVE example he was for Jefferson, would be particularly galling for John Adams, who was actually used by God in a great way in bringing about the birth of our country.

But the truth is, we do receive both positive and negative examples from the people around us. Those of you who have been participating in our ZOOM Sunday School lessons on Proverbs have seen that. Proverbs is packed full of both the positive and negative examples that we can see in people around us, and we can and should learn from both. 

And we see that in our passage for today too: there is the positive example of Mary that we saw last week, of she how sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to His word — and then there is the more “negative” example of Martha — but we can still certainly learn from even some of the negative aspects of her example for us in this passage: 

38 “Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with [a]all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’”

What are some of the “maladies of Martha” that we see here — understanding that her shortcomings are also very common in many of US too. As we review some of her “maladies” this morning, see if some of “Martha’s Maladies” may not be present in your own life as well! 


I.  Busy-ness as a substitute for godliness.

We saw last week how the #1 priority for every Christian is to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to His word; that our relationship with the Lord is what He MADE us for; and we need to take time every day just to “sit at His feet” in humble worship; and also to really “listen to His word.”  Mary DID that, as we see here. But we also see here, that Martha substituted something else for it: Verse 40 says: “BUT MARTHA was distracted with all her preparations …”. “Distracted” from what? From the most important thing, which was supposed to be her time with Jesus. She neglected the most important thing, and substituted her busy-ness instead. 

It says here that Martha was “distracted with much service.” Literally “dragged around” with much service.  Now THAT is quite a picture!  SO many people are “dragging” around or being dragged around, by their over-scheduling. They are doing SO much, that they don’t have time to really walk with the Lord, and to listen to Him. 

Many of y’all know, last Christmas was an eventful time for our family: we had all four of our kids, and all 8 eight grandkids, here for the holiday. And as many of you saw on the pictures, we had a great time, although it was a crazy time too. But not long ago, Cheryl said something that I thought was very insightful:  she said that she had SO much planned for the grand babies during that time: making them special pajamas, making gingerbread houses, planning activity after activity while they were — that she really didn’t have time to just SIT with them, and play with them, and love on them, the way she might have wanted to. 

And I think that’s a pretty good picture of a lot of people’s Christian lives, too. We think we have to be so BUSY for the Lord, doing activities and ministries, and all these things — and they are good, and we SHOULD do many of these things — but if we are too busy to have time to just sit at Jesus’ feet every day in an unhurried way, and just listen to Him speak to us in His word — then we are too busy. 

This COVID crisis time has been a time when a lot of activities have shut down. Many things that would have been on our calendars this year have been cancelled. Could it be that part of God’s purpose for this was to get some of us to slow down, and spend time with Him the we should. I think one of the things we need to ask ourselves is: HAS THAT HAPPENED? Have we slowed down? Have we purposefully spent more time with God? Or have we just filled our schedules with Netflix and other things that continued to take us away from God?  

We talked last week about how the devil will do everything he can to try to keep you from your priority time with God.  One of the best weapons he has in his arsenal to do that, is BUSY-NESS. If he can keep you busy, he can keep you away from your relationship with God, and the direction God wants to give you.  And busy-ness is such an insidious temptation, because it seems “good” in a way: many people wear busy-ness as a “badge of honor”: “Oh, look how busy I am; I must be really important; I must be doing a lot for the Lord.”  But actually, our busy-ness often has the opposite effect — it keeps us away from the Lord, because we’re so busy — just like it did Martha here. 

So I think one of the lessons we need to learn in this COVID-19 time, and from this scripture, is that many of us need to slow down; don’t be like Martha; don’t be “dragged around by much service.” Slow down. Most importantly, be sure that you have time to spend at the feet of Jesus every day, in unhurried worship of Him, and really listening to what He has to say to you in His word. That word “unhurried” is the key. You don’t want to run in, read one verse, whisper a prayer, and run out the door. That’s better than nothing, to be sure — but that’s not His best for you. And that’s not YOUR best for HIM!  Remember, “busy-ness” is not a substitute for godliness. 


II.  Accusing God

Martha said “Lord, do You not care …”. This is one of the most hurtful things that could be said about anyone, isn’t it; that they don’t care. But to say it about JESUS?!! “Lord, do You not care?”  But it is interesting just how many times people do accuse God of not caring: 

— We see it from Martha here in :40, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone?”

— Jesus’ disciples in the storm in Mark 4:38 call out to Him: “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

— And how many times might WE do the same thing, in our situations? We may even use the very same words: “Lord, do You not care …” about whatever situation we are in. Or even if we don’t actually utter the words, we may think it in our heart:

— Lord, do You not care that my health is deteriorating?

— Lord, do You not care that my spouse is suffering?

— Lord, do You not care that my child is rebelling?

— Lord, do You not care about what is happening in our society?

— “Lord, do You not care … ?!”

The fact is, we know better, don’t we? Or we should know. Does God care? If there is one thing we learn from the Bible, it is that God is a God who cares. He is NOT just some “watchmaker” God, like the Deists proclaim, who created the universe and who just sits back and watches it run on its own, not caring about what happens in it. 

Genesis shows us when Sarah cast her servant Hagar out of their home, and she and her son were dying in the wilderness, that God sent His angel to help her, and she said “You are a God who sees.” God saw; God cared; about HER — slave woman, cast out of the home, dying in the wilderness — to the world, she was a “nobody” — and yet God cared.  

When Israel, years later, was oppressed by the Egyptians in slavery, Exodus 2 says “their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to the Lord.” And :24-25 says “So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.” And in the next chapter He sent their salvation. God cared. 

More than anything, God showed He cared when looked down on earth at how we “were dead in our trespasses and sins” as Ephesians 2 says, “but God, being rich in mercy”, Himself came to this earth in Jesus Christ, to live among us, endure hardship, and DIE on the cross to save us. If we ever wonder if God really cares, all we have to do is look at the cross.  At the cross God said to mankind once and for all: “I love you, I care about YOU, and I want you back. I want you back enough to suffer and to DIE for you!”  He suffered personally for us, because He cares! He really wants us to turn from that sin that has hurt us, and separated us from Him, and come back to Him, and receive the forgiveness He bought for us at the cross. More than anything, God wants you back with Him today! 

The great picture Jesus gave us of God the Father was in the story of the Prodigal Son, where the Father sees that dirty, rag-clothed son coming back, and it says: “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” This is the picture of a God who CARES! 

Let us never be found saying: “Lord, don’t You care?”  Maybe there is a place for us to say, “Lord I don’t understand;” maybe there is a time for us to ask: “Lord, is there any other way?” but never let us say, “Lord, don’t You care?”  He has demonstrated to us that He cares — in a million good ways He has blessed us all through our lives — and once and for all at the cross, He showed us ultimately that He does care. May we never fall prey to the “malady of Martha,” and accuse God, and think that God doesn’t care.  


III.  Focusing on OTHERS’ shortcomings. 

Martha was very concerned with her SISTER’s shortcomings. She told Jesus: “my sister has left me to do all the serving alone …”. Now, perhaps the truth is that Mary could have helped Martha a bit more. But Jesus said THAT was not the big problem here. The root problem of this story was not Mary needing to help, but that Martha had missed the most important thing — her time with the Lord.  But she skipped over her OWN shortcomings, and focusing on her SISTER’s instead. It is notable that Jesus did NOT say: “Mary, now you go help Martha.” He addressed Martha. The problem wasn’t with that other person. It was with HER. 

It is significant that pretty much every time people come to Jesus in the New Testament, complaining about someone ELSE, He RARELY/if ever agrees with them, and tells the “someone else” to do anything; instead He always address the person who COMES to Him, and what THEY need to do:

— Here with Martha. She complained about Mary and wanted Him to do something but He said, No, Martha, YOUR priorities are wrong; YOU THE GRIPER are the one who needs to change! 

— It was the same in Luke 12:13-15 with the one who told Jesus to tell his brother to divide his inheritance with him. NO, Jesus told him, I am not going to tell him that. The problem is YOU! YOU be on guard against greed!  

And this is so often the case with us as God’s people. We tend to focus on OTHER people’s failures and shortcomings, instead of our own.  And we think we want to hear what Jesus has to say about our situation. But the truth is, we probably DON’T! Because most likely, the thing the Lord wants YOU to focus on, is not what anyone ELSE in this world needs to do, but what YOU need to do. He doesn’t want to work on someone else’s attitude; He wants to work on YOURS. He doesn’t want to work on that other person’s habits; He wants to work on YOURS. Even if there IS a problem with that other person, the thing God wants YOU to pray about and work on, is YOUR part in the situation, not THEIRS. You can’t control what THEY do; but you can control what YOU do, and YOUR attitude, and YOUR relationship with God.  

Really applying this principle would revolutionize marriages. One of the worst thing you can do in a marriage is to get caught up in focusing on all the things your spouse is supposed to be doing for you, but isn’t. Unfortunately, that is exactly what a lot of people do: they just continually complain about what their spouse is NOT doing, and it leads to a never-ending spiral of disappointment, nagging, and bitterness. 

A husband might complain about his wife, and say something like: “My wife doesn’t clean house; my wife doesn’t do the laundry; my wife doesn’t cook meals …” and so on. And if he keeps looking, he will find an endless list of things to criticize, because none of us are perfect, and there WILL always be shortcomings in every one of us. 

But instead, that husband needs to focus not on what his wife is supposed to be doing for HIM, but on what HIS responsibilities are supposed to be for his wife. Ephesians 5 does list some things the wife is supposed to do for her husband — but THEN it commands the husband to love his wife like Christ loved the church, and to lay down his LIFE for her!  I’d say that husband has got his hand full enough with OWN responsibilities, to be complaining about anyone else’s! He’s got a full time job right there: loving and serving his wife, and laying down his life for her! 

And that’s just an example. It’s the same for a wife; it’s the same for any person in any relationship. DO NOT FOCUS on what the other person (or other people) are supposed to be doing for you; YOU focus on YOURSELF. You’ve got your hands full enough, dealing with what God needs to do in YOUR life, without focusing on what anybody else is supposed to be doing. 

When Jesus had risen from the dead, He was talking to Peter about what would happen to him as he served Him in the days ahead: that he would be bound, and taken away to die for Him. And the Bible says that Peter turned around and saw John and said: “Lord, and what about this man?” What about HIM; what are you going to have HIM do? But Jesus said, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? YOU follow Me!” That episode speaks to many of us, in our own circumstances today, too. We want to talk to the Lord about everyone else, and what THEY should all be doing — but Jesus says to us, like He did to Peter — “what is that to you? YOU follow Me.” You stop worrying about what everyone else is supposed to be doing (and maybe right now God is putting some specific name or face or situation on this for you!) — and you focus on what I want YOU to do. Like Jesus said in Matthew 7, “Get the log out of your own eye.” Your biggest problem is not “them,” but YOU!  


IV. Telling God What To Do

After Martha pointed out what Mary wasn’t doing, then she told Jesus: “Then tell her to help me.”  When you think about it, this is the height of arrogance, isn’t it: presuming to tell the LORD what He needs to do!  “Jesus, tell her to …”. Unbelievable!  And yet, how often do we do that very thing! 

I think of Peter in Matthew 16, after Jesus had just told His disciples that He was going to suffer and die, and Peter “took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying ‘God forbid, Lord, this shall never happen to you.’”

Seriously, PETER is pulling Jesus aside to rebuke Him? Doesn’t it just shock you some times, how presumptuous people can be in telling other people to do — much less the LORD HIMSELF!!

Now, we might like to think that we wouldn’t do this, but the truth is we probably all do, more than we realize — and especially in our prayers.

I was thinking about this the other day.  I was praying about a certain situation, and I found myself telling the Lord just what to do: “Now, Lord, You need to help them to get this certain procedure and do this one thing, and this is what needs to happen next …” and I thought “Wait a minute! I don’t need to be telling HIM what to do in this. I must sound like some presumptuous child, thinking that I can “TELL GOD” what and how to do something? I thought, I need to change my prayer, to something like: “Lord minister to them as YOU SEE FIT;” or “Let Your hand be on them” or “Let YOUR will be done in their lives.” (We’ll learn more about this as we study the Model Prayer next month: one of the most crucial things we need to learn to pray in our prayers is: “Thy will be done.” NOT “MY WILL;” YOUR WILL be done.  We need to stop thinking that prayer is telling God what to do, and see it as more of asking Him to help us learn to do HIS will.   I really believe that the more we mature in prayer, the less we will tell God what WE want HIM to do, and the more we will ask Him what HE wants US to do!  

You know, God may just know better than we do, right?  We offer our little “suggestions” but He has better ways:

— like the disciples we might say, “Lord, tell the people to go and buy some food.” He says, no, instead I am going to take 5 loaves and 2 fish and multiply it and feed 5,000 people with it!  Gee, we didn’t think of that!  Which is exactly why we don’t need to be telling God what to do!  His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. His ways are higher than our ways. 

It is really just so short-sighted, so presumptuous, to think we can tell God what to do. If we aren’t careful, God will put us in our place, like He did with Job. Near the end of the book, Job begins to get a little full of himself, and God stops him in Chapter 38, and speaks to him out of the whirlwind and says: “Where were YOU when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, since you know understanding! … Have you ever in your life commanded the morning (to come)? … Have you understood the expanse of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this?” And God went on like that for two whole chapters, in some of the most powerful scriptures in all the word of God — and at the end of it in Chapter 40, Job just says, “I lay my hand on my mouth.” In other words, “I’m just gonna shut up now.” I’m not going to try to tell You what to do.

Now, Jesus was very gracious with Martha here. He didn’t lambast her, like He did Job. Reading between the lines, it was like He just very tenderly said, “Martha, Martha …” and straightened her out. 

And some of US need to learn that lesson too. Like Martha, we’ve been audacious in trying to tell GOD what He needs to do, how He needs to answer this prayer, or do some specific thing in just the way that we prescribe. And instead we need to just “cover our mouth” like Job and say, “Lord, not my will; YOUR WILL be done.”  Let’s stop telling God what He needs to do, and starting asking Him what He wants US to do!  


V.  Self-Centeredness

Look at what Martha said to Jesus here:  and NOTICE all the “self” pronouns : “MY sister … me … alone … tell her to help ME”!  Judging from Martha’s words here, she sees this episode as all about her. It wasn’t about Jesus. It wasn’t about His teaching. It wasn’t about Mary, and all the other people who were benefitting from worshiping and hearing Jesus’ word. All she could see was how everything was affecting HER. It was the epitome of self-centeredness.

But to be fair, Martha is not the only one who tends to be self-centered, is she? No, self-centeredness is one of the biggest and most common problems in every of us as fallen human beings. That’s our sin nature. We tend to look at everything from our own perspective, and to think that everything is all about US; OUR needs; how it’s affecting US — when God’s got some bigger things than our own personal convenience going in the world. 

I think of the people who owned the pigs in Mark 5. Jesus had just cast the “legion” of demons out of the demon-oppressed man in the Gerasenes, and sent them into a herd of pigs, who ran into the sea and were drowned. What was their response? “Hey, what about our pigs?” Really? Jesus was doing something bigger than their pigs! He was saving a man’s life; He was demonstrating His power to the world — how He had authority even over Satan & a whole legion of demons; how He could defeat them all with a word!  But all they could see was they THEY had lost some pigs.  It was all about them.

And quite honestly, that is the “default” position most of us take on any issue: how does this affect ME?  What’s this going to do for ME? What’s the new COVID relief plan gonna give ME? What’s the new building going to do for ME? What affect is the new ministry or change going to have on ME? What is it going to cost ME? “ME … ME … ME …”. It’s all about US — not the glory of God; not the overall health of the church; not reaching lost people, not ministering to others; not the overall good of our nation or the world. Just: What does it do for ME?  We need to open our eyes to the BIGGER PICTURE, beyond ourselves, to what God is doing in other people, in the church, and in the world, for His glory. And we need to stop making everything all about US.

This episode in Luke 10 was not about Martha’s meal! It was about JESUS being there and sharing His word, and people’s lives being changed. But too often we are just like Martha, and we make the “side show” the “main show.” We have a Bible study at our house and make it all about our decorations, or the snacks, instead of the Bible study. We have a worship service and we make it all about our solo, or the making a celebrity out of the preacher or worship leader.  We were talking about this in staff meeting the other day, and I really believe that the heart of our whole staff: IT IS NOT ABOUT US!  This church and these services are about the Lord! We want to glorify HIM and do all we can to focus on His glory, and not us. It is not about us. And we need to apply this in SO many different areas of our lives. Don’t make it about YOU. Think about your family members. Think about other people in the church. Think about the lost. Think about the glory of God. 

People have a lot of opinions, and there’s been a lot written, both good and bad, about Rick Warren’s classic book, The Purpose Driven Life that came out a few years back. But whatever you think of it, it’s hard to beat the opening line of that book. Its very first words are “It’s not about you.” That concept right there is worth the whole book. If we would just get that, it would totally revolutionize our lives, our families, our churches, and our whole country. It’s not all about YOU. 

Let’s learn from “The Maladies of Martha.” Let’s stop making everything about us; and think about how things affect other people, our family, others in the church, our nation as a whole —  and most especially, the glory of God!  



Let’s take a few moments before Kyle leads us in our invitation song, and think about these “Maladies of Martha.” Are there some of these that God is speaking to YOU about this morning:

— Have been too BUSY to spend time with God?

— Have you been accusing God in some way, as if He didn’t care for you?

— Is there someone whose shortcomings you’ve been focused on, instead of your own?

— Is there some prayer you’ve been praying, telling God what to do, in which God is saying to you now: “You need to pray, THY WILL be done”?

— Is He convicting you of some way you have been self-centered — thinking only of YOUR needs/wants/plans — instead of how it might affect others?

Talk to God about these things as we spend these moment in the invitation.

And if you have never received God’s gift of salvation in Jesus, to forgive you of all your “maladies,” ask Him to save you right now …

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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