Life of Christ 108
Jesus, in the months immediately preceding His death, is making a final preaching tour of Judea. In the course of this trip He travels through Bethany, the hometown of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. They were dear friends of His, as the scripture narrative later makes clear, and so naturally He and His apostles stay in their home (Luke 10.38-42).
This is one of the more familiar stories from the life of Christ. It is familiar because it is often preached, and rightly so. As these thirteen men descend on this home they create a veritable mountain of work for the ladies of the house.
The Word of God says that a pastor is to be given to hospitality (I Timothy 3.2). Consequently my wife and I have hosted hundreds of people in our home through the years so I can appreciate just how much work this must have involved. Every room must be cleaned. A menu must be planned. The food must be purchased and brought from the store. Each child must be bathed, dressed, and kept still long enough so as not to disturb the now clean house. The food must be prepared. Then, at some point, you must also prepare yourself as well. If they are staying with you it is even more work. People in the family have to be re-arranged in order to organize proper sleeping accommodations. Bathrooms and showers must be freed up. An entire room has to be, not just cleaned, but meticulously prepared with the myriad of items the guests will need for a comfortable stay.
Most of this work can be done ahead of time, but if they suddenly show up, or if there is an exceptionally large group, the result is an huge and ever-growing pile of work. So it is that we can see how incredibly frustrating it was to the hard-working Martha to see Mary sitting, careless of all that needed doing, and talking with Jesus.
Before we examine what this story is teaching let us first see what it is not teaching. Luke is not here showing us that it isn't important to serve God. The simple truth is that it is tremendously important that we serve God. He didn't save us to sit, but to serve (Ephesians 2.8-10). If we want to be like Jesus we will actively serve (Matthew 20.27-28). If we want to glorify God we will serve (Matthew 5.16). If we want to please Him we will serve (Colossians 1.10). If we want taken care of later we will serve now (I Timothy 5.10). It was for service that He saved us (Titus 2.14). We ought to be constantly provoking each other to serve God (Hebrews 10.24). In fact, as a pastor one of my primary responsibilities is to remind God's people of the importance of serving Him (Titus 3.1, 8).
Don't tell me that your Christianity is doing just fine when you have no place or area of service for the Lord. Don't plead your schedule. Don't plead your health. Don't plead your inexperience. Don't plead your age. Don't plead your lack of money. Don't plead your ignorance. It is true that some of these may adjust how you serve, but what I refuse to believe is that they adjust if you serve.
There are those who call this kind of teaching a guilt trip. I call the people who call this kind of teaching a guilt trip lazy and backslidden. There are those who excuse their lack of service by labeling this 'performance based Christianity'. They assert that God is pleased with us simply because we are His children, regardless of what we do or don't do. In one theological sense they are completely right. 'He hath made us accepted in the beloved' (Ephesians 1.6). But in another theological sense they are completely wrong. 'Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him' (II Corinthians 5.9). We aren't accepted into salvation by our works, but we aren't fully accepted after salvation without them either.
God has called all of His children to serve Him, and He places a great emphasis on it in the Bible.
So if this story is not teaching us that serving God isn't important what is it teaching us? Simply this: while serving God is important, it is even more important that we be with Him than it is that we serve Him.
Did you ever wonder why God structured Christianity in such a way as to make prayer such a huge part of it? I mean, couldn't He have come up with some easier way to give us what we need and want? After all, He already knows all of our needs before we even speak them, and He is powerful enough to provide whatever those needs require. So why does He encourage, demand, and even beg us to spend time with Him, asking Him to provide our needs?
The simple truth is that He wants to be with us. This is why He instructed us in I Thessalonians 5 to 'pray without ceasing.' Does this mean we aren't to sleep, or eat, or relax, or work, or think, or read, or spend time with our families? No, for in fact He tells us to do all of these things in scripture. It simply means we are to do all of these things with Him right alongside.
I often see my mailman talking on his Bluetooth phone while walking his route down our street. He is doing his work while at the same time being in constant fellowship with someone else. What Andrew Murray 150 years ago called ‘abiding in Christ’ and what Brother Lawrence 300 years ago called ‘practicing the presence of Christ’ and what Thomas A’Kempis 500 years ago called ‘the imitation of Christ’ and what the Apostle Paul 2000 years ago called ‘pray without ceasing’ is what Moses 3500 years ago called ‘walking with God.' It is simply me living my life during all my waking moments in constant fellowship and communication with God. It is constantly being with Him.
If you aren't serving Him in some capacity He isn't pleased with you. But if you are serving Him, yea, even with all your heart and soul, but you aren't spending time with Him He isn't pleased with you either. His great desire is that we become 'labourers together with God' (I Corinthians 3.9).
Serve Him with Him.