Without workers nothing gets done. And yet God gets pleasure from our worship of Him, and our spiritual man gets grounded and refreshed during worship.
So which is more important?
This isn’t a new argument. In fact, it’s been around since the beginning of time (remember Cain and Abel?) and people haven’t changed much, regardless of all the fancy gadgetry they carry around these days.
The most prominent example that addresses this question happens at a house in Bethany of Judea. The event is recorded in Luke 10:38-42.
Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. 40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. 41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: 42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Martha was excited to host Jesus and his disciples in her home. Her family considered Jesus a close personal friend, and she wanted to honor him.
Many women can relate to this. They invite a guest to their home and the flurry of activity begins. There’s cleaning to do, menus to plan and meals to prepare. The best hostess gives advance preparation so she isn’t as stressed when company arrives.
The Bible doesn’t say if Martha was expecting Jesus. Or if he and his twelve apostles showed up unannounced: tired, sweaty, dirty and hungry.
We do know that while Martha bustled around making the meal and tending to the physical needs of her guests, her sister plopped down at her feet. Jesus talked and Mary soaked in his words.
I’ve been there before. Rushing around while others enjoy my service. “How about a little help here?” I think. Sometimes I might ask people to help me. Believe me, if it was my sister planted at Jesus’ feet while I was busy cooking and cleaning, I would have jerked her by the collar right into the kitchen.
But that’s not what Martha did. She went straight to the guy in charge. “Lord, don’t you care that Mary has left me to do all this work? Tell her to help me.”
Martha’s tone of voice, body language and emotional state are unexplained. This leaves each of us to put ourselves in her place and imagine how it would feel. Frustrating. Discouraging. Maybe she wanted to sit and listen to the Master, but who would take care of his physical needs if she did?
Did Jesus rebuke her? Call her down? Tell her to stop whining?
“Martha, Martha, you’re careful and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful. Mary has chosen that good part which won’t be taken away from her.”
This is what I hear: tender compassion and a gentle encouragement to check her attitude at the door and evaluate her priorities.
Jesus will enjoy the food and drink Martha provides. He’ll thank her for the meal. She’ll have a sense of satisfaction in doing something for him.
But he’ll need to eat again the next day. Rather than thinking long term, Martha is focused on immediate needs:
There’s work to be done. I’d better do it. Others should help.
Let that rattle around in your heart and mind for a few minutes, and slip into the garment if you need it.
From Martha’s perspective, she is serving Jesus. Every dish she washes and every loaf of bread she kneads, they’re for her Lord.
Jesus never tells her to “Sit down and listen.” He respects the choice she’s made to serve him in physical ways. And He loves her for doing these things.
Mary is so enthralled in the words of Jesus that she’s forgotten all about being a hostess. The only hunger and thirst she feels is for the bread and water Jesus provides with his teaching.
She is neither neglecting her duties nor being disrespectful of her sister. Instead, she’s choosing to soak up what Jesus has to say while she can. After all, the next day, he’ll be off to the next town, and she’ll be staying in Bethany. Chores can wait until then.
Jesus told Martha, “One thing is needful,” then he pointed to Mary. “What Mary is choosing right now benefits her and will never be taken away.”
What remains unspoken: “We’ll eat the food and all your work will need to be repeated again tomorrow. What have you done to feed your soul and spirit?”
Each of them looked at this even from a different perspective. Martha and Mary made a choice. The only reason Jesus even commented on it was because Martha asked him to force a different choice on her sister.
Each has a Place
The message I get from this story:
Work and Worship each have an appropriate time and place
Sunday morning when the songs are being sung to our Lord and the Word is being expounded, that’s the time for worship. No one should be working on other things or thinking about working on other things.
That is the time and place for worship.
Sunday during potluck is a time to work. Everyone should pitch in. Don’t let Martha serve alone, but do take time to break bread with your family and talk about Jesus.
Most of our life is the right time to work for our Lord. Man was created to work as caretaker and keeper of the Garden and woman was designed to be his ideal helper.
But when God shows up, it’s time to stop working and start listening to Him. And in His presence, man and woman will feel compelled to worship because He is awe-inspiring and glorious.
As soon as you start pointing out another person’s shortfalls, Jesus will point out yours.
Do your work. Encourage others in the work God gives them. The work of one is halved when another person steps with helping hands.
When it’s time to worship, give your heart and mind to it fully. God deserves nothing less than your best.
In work and worship, do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Which do you think is more important? Does God reward worship over work? What part does work play in serving God?