Choosing the Good Portion

Luke 10:38-42 ESV

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’”

Good and Best

Let me just say this before we move on. What Martha was doing was not a bad thing. When we have house guests, someone has to prepare the food and set the table and serve the food and then clean off the table and put the food away and then clean up the dishes. For the food does not make itself or serve itself or clean up itself. So, it was perfectly reasonable that since they had a house guest that Martha would be doing what she was doing.

And this is not teaching that it is better to be lazy and slothful and irresponsible and to stick others with all the work while we do nothing but just sit around listening to others talk. For we are taught in the Scriptures to be hospitable and to be good hosts or hostesses and to treat our guests with honor and respect. And we are taught the importance of serving others, so this is not unreasonable that any of us might be doing what Martha did.

So, what is the lesson to be learned here? I believe, for one, that it has to do with priorities, i.e. with choosing between what is good and what is best. Martha chose what was good, to be a good hostess, and to serve the Lord, but Mary chose what was best, to sit at Jesus’ feet and to learn from him and to be taught by him. Yet, this does not mean that we neglect our other responsibilities, but that we make Jesus our top priority.

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything. And the Scriptures do teach that if we don’t work, we don’t eat (2 Thes 3:6-11). And the Scriptures do teach that laziness (slothfulness, idleness) is a sin (1 Tim 5:8-13; Prov 10:4; Matt 25:24-29; 1 Thes 5:14; Tit 1:12; Rom 12:11). And there are works required of us (Eph 2:10; 1 Co 15:58; 2 Co 9:8; Gal 5:6; Php 2:12-13; Col 1:9-14; 2 Thess 1:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:21; Tit 2:11-14; Jn 15:1-11; Tit 3:8; Jas 2:17).

So, it isn’t even that it is best just to sit and read the Scriptures all day and just listen to what Jesus has to teach us. For if we do not do what they teach us we are not doing what is best (James 1:22-25). For we are to be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves. For if all we do is just listen but we don’t do what we are being taught to do, then it is useless to us. For the gospel is not a “do nothing” gospel.

So, this is definitely not teaching us that all that is required of us is just to sit and listen to Jesus and that serving others and doing for God is evil. But we do have to be good listeners first so that we know the doing that he requires of us and so we know how that is supposed to work, with us first of all dying with Christ to sin and then living to him and to his righteousness and in his power and strength (Rom 6:1-23; Eph 4:17-24; Rom 8:1-17).

So, serving God/Jesus and others is a good thing to do. And being doers of the word and not hearers only, and those who do the works that God requires, by his grace, are excellent in God’s sight. So, how do we distinguish between what is acceptable to God and what isn’t, or what will please him, and what won’t please him? We first of all have to study the Scriptures in context to learn what they teach us.

We Decide, or God Decides

Martha, thus, would be an example of someone who decided what she was going to do for the Lord in her own power and strength, hoping that he would be pleased. But she didn’t first sit and listen and learn from him so that she would know what would please him and what he required of her. So, she was operating in her own flesh and not in the power of God, and she was doing what she preferred but not what he preferred.

And all throughout the Old Testament God chided his people for making sacrifices to him which were not pleasing to him because they weren’t first listening to him to find out what pleased him. They were just doing what they wanted to do hoping he would be pleased without inquiring of him as to what would be pleasing to him and what he considered was best. Now they had an additional problem of making sin their practice while they did this.

So, the point of this is that works and service are not bad things. They just need to be directed by the Lord and be what he wants from us and not just what we are willing to give, especially if we are withholding our love and devotion and obedience. And especially if we are deliberately and habitually doing evil in his sight and we are hoping that if we do enough good works that it will somehow wipe out the bad that we are doing.

But it doesn’t work that way. We can’t just do for God out of our own minds and out of our own choosing while we also choose to sin against him. It is not love if we do some kind things for others, either, while we willfully, habitually, deliberately, and premeditatedly do evil against them by sinning against them and doing what we know is going to harm them.

You can’t habitually cheat on your spouse and then expect him/her to believe that you love him/her. And the same goes with God. You can’t do what you think will please God by serving in the institutional church or by going to church gatherings or by giving to the poor while you trample on the spirit of grace and deny the Lordship of Christ over your lives by deliberately and habitually sinning against the Lord and plotting evil on your beds.

What is Best

This passage in Luke 10 does not give us a full picture of what is God’s best for us and of what all he desires and requires of us if we are to be his followers. What it does is set the stage to let us know that we can’t make it up ourselves. We can’t decide in our own thinking and reasoning what God wants. And we can’t cherry pick the Scriptures we like while we reject the bulk of the rest of them and then interpret them out of their context to agree with our own ideas of what our salvation should look like, either.

And this passage lets us know that first priority is that we need to be sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to what his word teaches us. And we don’t do this just by listening to sermons or reading little feel-good devotionals, nor by reading books written by mere mortals not under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in order to tell us what the Bible teaches. We need to be students of the word (the whole counsel of God), studying the Scriptures in their context, and then we need to be doers of the word and not hearers only.

And then we will know what God requires of us in the way of thought, word, and deed. And then we need to be doing what the word teaches to us who are followers of Jesus Christ and not just doing what we want to do without regard for what God wants. And in this way we will be honoring our Lord by doing what pleases him and by choosing “the good portion.” For we need to be those who are honoring our Lord with our lives.

[Lu 9:23-26; Jn 6:35-58; Jn 15:1-11; Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-17; Eph 4:17-24; 1 Pet 2:24; 1 Co 6:9-10, 19-20; 2 Co 5:10, 15; Tit 2:11-14; Jas 1:22-25; Gal 5:16-21; Eph 5:3-6; Gal 6:7-8; Rom 2:6-8; Matt 7:21-23; Heb 10:26-27; 1 Jn 1:5-9; 1 Jn 2:3-6; 1 Jn 3:4-10; Rom 12:1-2; Eph 2:8-10]

Angels We Have Heard on High

By Anonymous

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains
And the mountains in reply
Echo back their joyous strains

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
Say what may the tidings be
Which inspire your heavenly song?

Come to Bethlehem and see
Him whose birth the angels sing,
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo
Gloria, in excelsis Deo

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