Most of us have either heard sermons about, or read for ourselves the story about Martha, Mary and Lazarus in the Bible. Usually Martha is seen as the "bad" sister or the one who didn't care to sit at Jesus' feet. As I did a study on her life, it seems to me, that this one area the Lord was trying to warn her about rather than labeling her unusable! After reading about Martha in my book, I also looked into scripture and studied Martha's character - what a precious lady Martha was!
From what we see in the Bible, we are not given much insight as to Martha's parents, obviously it was not needful for us to know. It seems the home that Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived in was owned by Martha. She was the oldest of the three, and so carried the responsibility of the household affairs. One of the neat things the book brought alive to me is after Jesus left His home and started His public ministry, it was not back to the home He had lived in growing up, but to Martha's house that He went. Jesus loved the three who lived in this house, and this place meant much to Jesus. The first time we see Martha the Bible says she "received Jesus into her house" A chapter earlier we see the Lord say "The Son of Man hath not where to lay His head" but the next day "He came to Bethany....and Martha made Him a supper." He knew in the town of Bethany there was a home that was always ready to welcome Him. To cater to Him in His weariness and exhaustion, He was refreshed in the home. To Martha her home responsibilities were not a drudgery. She was so diligent about her housework, it would seem she never had to rush around to straighten up for company to come.
The story tells us that Martha was up busy serving, while Mary sat at Jesus' feet. Martha was irritated that she was up busy serving, while Mary was able to sit at the feet of the Master. Once she voiced this complaint to the Lord, He reproved her in Luke 10:41-42 "Martha, Martha, Thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." A few verses earlier Luke tells us "Martha was cumbered about much serving." Cumbered means to be distracted, she was so busy she was distracted from what was most needful. The Lord warns us in 1 Cor 7:35 to "attend upon the Lord without distraction."
As being head of the household Martha was torn between her responsibilities and sitting at the feet of Jesus. She felt it was more important to serve Jesus, than to be served by Him at that time! When Jesus reproved her for her complaint, He reminded her that she was allowing her outward activities to hinder her spiritually. Her emphasis had been placed on the wrong act. The word careful in Jesus' rebuke means, inward worrying anxiety. She was mentally divided in her mind, which the Lord warns us about also in 1 Cor 7:32 "But I would have you without carefulness." Everything has it's proper place, and one isn't to distract from the other. One of the comments I saw from the book that I really liked is, 'Much serving has its right place and time, but ought to give place to hearing when Jesus speaks.' This is so true, our service should never substitute or hinder our walk with God. Sitting at the Masters feet every morning is the most important thing I will do every day. This helps me to better perform each task to His glory!
Later in the story, when Lazarus is sick and then dies; Jesus is sent for. We notice that not Mary but Martha was the first one to run out to Jesus. I don't believe this one story of Martha complaining about her sister is indicative of Martha's complete character, she had a love for her Lord that developed as she sat at His feet learning of Him; and yes, even serving Him. In John 11 when Jesus is told of Lazarus the Bible says, "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister, and Lazarus. It mentions by name Martha and Lazarus, but not Mary. As said before He loved each one of these siblings, they were each so different, but He loved them each. After her rebuke from the Lord the service of Martha was the same, her spirit was changed though. She was no longer "distracted" over her tasks, or mentally anxious, but calm, and in full agreement with her sister's act of love and devotion to the Master. At last Martha, too, chose that good part which could not be taken from her.
*** I have learned in my study of Martha:
First - She absolutely loved her Lord, but for a time had got her focus off of what was most needful for her. She is not someone to be scoffed at for her mistake, but rather to be admired for her diligence and love to her Lord. I dare say we often get our focus off of the most needful thing to something that won't matter at all in light of eternity. As Herbert Lockyer says, "Some people are all Martha, and no Mary. Others are all Mary and no Martha. The happy combination is that of Martha and Mary the practical and the spiritual making possible the glory of the commonplace." The church needs both the Mary's and the Martha's to complete the needs of the church. Secondly - It is so important to keep serving in it's proper place, both are duties learning and serving, but in both areas we should honor God. Thirdly - To trust the Lord with our cares, responsibilities and sorrows knowing He can surely undertake for us. Though Martha didn't understand why the Lord had allowed her brother to die, the Lord had and always has a plan that we are not to know, but only trust!