Martha was busy and hurried,
Serving the friend divine,
Cleansing the cups and platters,
Bringing the bread and wine;
But Martha was careful and anxious
Fretted in thought and in word.

She had no time to be sitting
While she was serving the Lord,

For Martha was “cumbered” with serving,
Martha was “troubled” with “things”—
Those that would pass with the using—
She was forgetting her wings.

Mary was quiet and peaceful,
Learning to love and to live.
Mary was hearing His precepts,
Mary was letting Him give—
Give of the riches eternal,
Treasures of mind and of heart;
Learning the mind of the Master,
Choosing the better part.

Do we ever labor at serving
Till voices grow fretful and shrill,
Forgetting how to be loving,
Forgetting how to be still?
Do we strive for “things” in possession,
And toil for the perishing meat,
Neglecting the one thing needful—
Sitting at Jesus’ feet?

Service is good when he asks it,
Labor is right in it’s place,
But there is one thing better,
Looking up in his face;
There is so much he can tell us,
Truths that are precious and deep;
This is the place where he wants us,
These are the things we can keep.

– “Martha and Mary” by Annie Johnson Flint

I am convinced that most women fall into one of two categories: a Mary kind of girl, or a Martha kind of girl. Which one are you? That will be for you to discern as we dive into our topic today.

Before we begin, I want to make a few things clear. As far as we know (in our limited knowledge of Lazarus’ sisters)…

  • Martha and Mary were both part of God’s kingdom. They are our sisters in Christ.
  • Jesus loved Mary and Martha. They were both near and dear to his heart.
  • We all have weaknesses that we would be ashamed to have recorded in the pages of God’s word. Martha’s weakness, as recorded in Luke 10, does not mean that she was a bad person, or that she always behaved the way she did that day. We must extend to her the grace that we desire from God and others.

With that being said, the scriptures use this stand-alone example of Martha and Mary to show us a negative and a positive example of womanhood. I am going to do the same. For illustration’s sake, Mary will stand as our symbol of positive, godly womanhood. Martha will stand as our symbol for negative, worldly womanhood. I will use both names repeatedly today. I want you to be aware that each time I speak of “Martha”, I am not denouncing the actual person, I am denouncing the negative attitude she displayed. I am merely referencing her name as a symbol. I found a graphic from that contrasted the sisters, and I found it very helpful. I will share what it said below:

Listened and absorbed
Sat down and rested
Focused on one thing
Free and peaceful
Trusting Jesus
Concerned with Godly things
Jesus was the key to her help
Welcomed Jesus into her heart

Talked and commanded
Rushed around and busy
Unfocused due to many things
Hindered and worried
Trusting in her own abilities
Concerned with worldly things
Thought Mary was the key to her help
Welcomed Jesus into her home

Unfortunately, “Marthas” rule the world of women. If you are a “Martha”, I hope this article will convict you of your area of weakness. In truth, though, this article is more specifically aimed at the “Marys” out there. I am talking to you there…the one sitting at Master’s feet. Practically speaking, you are probably the girl who chooses worship over social events, the girl who prefers standing by her husband instead of “clucking with the hens”, the girl who would rather experience life joyfully and quietly behind the scenes than bragging about it on social media, and the girl who will always give her full attention but is never the center of attention. I see you, friend. So does “Martha”, and she doesn’t like what she sees. This makes you a prime target for her ridicule and subsequent bullying.

It can be hard to be a Mary girl in a Martha world, because just like in the Biblical account, “Marys” often get mistreated by “Marthas”. However, I am here to encourage you not to give up or give in. This world needs women like you…like Mary. Today’s lesson isn’t so much about “how not to be like Martha”, as it is “how to survive as a Mary girl in a Martha world”. If you are going to get by in this “Martha” world, there are two important truths you must know. First:

She [Martha] had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with 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.” – Luke 10:39-40

If I visualize and assess this scene in a practical setting, I see something like this:

A quiet, submissive woman sits in the living room near the man she adores. (For Mary, this was Jesus. To the married woman, this is her husband. To the young girl, her daddy.) For each such female, listening to the man talk brings joy to her soul, because she loves him. Being near him makes her feel safe and at home. She knows he enjoys her company also, because she is valuable in his sight. Other girls may be bustling about the kitchen and socializing with one another, but not this girl. She is found at the feet of her admired man. Such a girl is not lazy, nor is she avoiding the other girls, nor does she have negative ulterior motives. She just wants to listen and absorb the words of the man she loves.

A go-getter, take-charge woman bustles about in the kitchen, making sure things are just so. To her, image is everything. What would people think if her silverware was not properly aligned, her trademark meal not cooked to perfection? She sneers at the one sitting in the living room…”who does she think she is?” The longer she gazes on Little-Miss-Goody-Two-Shoes sucking up to the man in question, bitterness takes hold. She tries to catch the other girl’s gaze, but no…L.M.G.T.S. has her eyes fixated on her admired man. She tries to make enough noise to garner the other girl’s attention, but no….L.M.G.T.S. is listening too intently to her admired man to care about the “goings-on” in the kitchen. Finally, she decides to stomp over and give that Goody-Two-Shoes a piece of her mind.

She appraises, she approaches, and she apprehends.

Everything in a Martha tends to hate everything in a Mary. Why? Because a Martha only has the shadow of love for a man (i.e. Jesus/husband/father), but a Mary has the substance. Marthas can’t understand why Marys are praised and adored by the special man in their life, and it drives them crazy with envy. What they fail to realize is that they, too, could find more authentic joy in their own admired man if they would slow down and enjoy him…instead of competing with other women by trying to show off and be “somebody”.

If you are a Mary, it is a sad but true statement that Marthas will defame you. You will always be somewhat of a social outcast, never quite fitting in with the other girls. When you don’t act like them, they will misjudge you as stuck-up. When you don’t join in on gossip, competition, male-bashing, mom-bragging, and the like, it will undoubtedly cause some to be bitter against you. Such women, when they sense you are out-of-their-league, will act like schoolyard bullies: making you feel small until you cave and join them. My advice to you is, DON’T! Because…

But the Lord answered and said to her, Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her. – Luke 10:41-42

If I visualize and assess this scene in a practical setting, I see something like this:

The go-getter, take charge woman marches over to the quiet, submissive woman and demands to know why she isn’t joining in the kitchen activity. She smiles triumphantly as her “opponent” begins to stammer a reply with nervous tears coming to her eyes. This must translate to guilt! Martha turns her attention on the other girl’s Savior/husband/father, and says, “come on, tell her to get to work”. She feels justified in her demands, because she knows she’s in the right. Imagine her surprise when the man looks her in the eye and says, “my girl will not be going anywhere. I quite enjoy her presence, and this conversation is good for her. Loosen up, my friend…the meal can wait.” He gives his girl a playful wink, and Mary begins to feel at ease once more.

He appraises, He appreciates, and He approves.

I feel that Luke 10 ends in a plot twist of sorts. Many of us grew up with this account read to us as children, but try to imagine it as if you were reading it for the first time. Would it not be assumed that Jesus would gently rebuke Mary, telling her that Martha is indeed correct…that Mary ought not to slack off? However, this is not the case. Jesus says, “Mary has chosen the good part, and it shall not be taken from her.” In essence, Martha’s demand was blown off. Can you imagine Mary’s relief at having been defended by her Lord, rather than defamed? Get this, the same Jesus who defended Mary that day is the same Jesus that defends all “Marys” to this day. He sees you. He knows your heart. He knows that you are all substance, though your inner man is not so outwardly shown like it is with a “Martha”. He is in your corner, just as you have always been in His. Those who are humble in His sight, He lifts up. What great consequence is it if a Martha defames you, when you have your Master to defend you?

In conclusion…

It can feel very lonely to be a Mary girl in a Martha world.

Marthas will defame you. They will appraise you, approach you, and apprehend you.
Master will defend you. He will appraise you, appreciate you, and approve you.

In the Bible, Mary didn’t have to feel intimidated or threatened by her sister Martha’s disapproval. With the Lord in her corner, Mary could resist bullying and feel confident in her choice to sit at Master’s feet rather than act the hostess. See, there is no shame in being a server like Martha…and there is no shame in being a scholar like Mary. Shame is only to be found when we are all shadow and no substance, or when we try to bend and bully others to fit our personality instead of embracing their own. “You do you, Sis” is actually a biblical attitude when said in the context of each woman embracing her God-given gifts and abilities:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

I don’t know how Mary and Martha’s story ended after the conclusion of Luke chapter 10. I’d like to imagine that Martha blushed at her outburst, asked Jesus’ and Mary’s forgiveness, and sat down next to her sister to listen to the Master. I’d like to imagine that when Jesus had finished speaking, the two sisters grinned at one another knowingly, got up, and finished the housework in peaceful harmony. Hopefully, Mary learned how to survive in Martha’s world, Martha learned how to survive in Mary’s world…and they both learned to thrive in their Master’s world.

…we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

For God’s glory,
CA Bolks

Chelsea Bolks is a church of Christ minister’s wife, and the home educating mother of two children. She and her family currently reside in Northwest Iowa.