Do you have a sister? I thank the Lord that He gave me my sister. We love each other, but we are very different. Not only in looks, but also in personality, interests, and abilities.
Mary and Martha are two sisters in the Bible who also were very different from one another, yet alike in that they both loved Jesus. We can learn much to help us in our walk with God from the Bible story of Mary and Martha in the Bible.
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What is the story of Mary and Martha in the Bible?
We are first introduced to Martha and her sister Mary in the gospel of Luke chapter 10 when Jesus visits their home in the small town of Bethany.
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.Luke 10:38
Evidently the home belonged to Martha as the scripture records this as “her house.” While unusual, women could own property in ancient times. As did Lydia of Thyatira.
And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.Acts 16:40
We aren’t told why her siblings are living with Martha. Some have wondered that perhaps Martha was a widow who owned her home and invited her sister and brother to live with her. Nevertheless, we do know that they were all good friends and loved each other very much.
How Did Jesus know Mary, Martha, and Lazarus?
Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus were close friends of Jesus during His time on earth. Jesus visited their home whenever He was in the town of Bethany. He spent some of His last days on earth with them in their home. In fact, just six days before His death.
Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.John 12:1
These siblings had a strong bond with Jesus as His friends. Jesus loved them greatly, even raising their brother, Lazarus, from the dead! (John 11)
Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.John 11:5
Jesus at the Home of Martha and Mary
In John chapter 11 and 12 we learn more about these two sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, who are quite different from one another. Although they may have been different in several respects, the scriptures highlight one specific difference between these sisters—their priorities.
Jesus and Martha
Martha is portrayed in the scriptures as a doer, someone who isn’t afraid of hard work.
There they made him a supper; and Martha served:John 12:2a
She has a servant’s heart and the drive to get things done. She sees what needs to be done and makes sure it is accomplished.
As a doer, it is hard for Martha to see someone else not working or helping.
On the day of Jesus’ visit, Martha has been busy cooking, but then notices that Mary is just sitting in the living room, so to speak, doing nothing. Martha complains to Jesus about her sister not helping her with the household duties and wants Him to tell Mary to help.
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.Luke 10:40
Martha is very goal oriented and frets when she feels that she is not going to meet her goal. She wants things done!
Then we read Jesus’ gentle rebuke of Martha.
And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:Luke 10:41-42
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Martha’s priority is serving Jesus. Which is a good thing. Serving Jesus is important. Jesus didn’t reprimand Martha for serving, but for fretting and worrying. For placing higher priority on serving than it needed to have in that moment. In those moments that she had in Jesus’ presence, she could have made better choices about how she would spend that limited time.
Jesus and Mary
Mary, on the other hand, seems to be a quieter, calmer soul. She also is a doer, but her focus is different. Whenever Jesus is near, Mary is with Him, close to Him. Jesus’ words have her full attention. The Son of God is most important to her.
When Jesus visits their home in Luke chapter 10, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet listening to Him, delighting in His Word.
And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.Luke 10:39
When Jesus later visits their home, after their brother’s death and Jesus’ raising him from the dead, again we see Mary of Bethany staying near to Jesus. In humility, love, and thankfulness Mary worships Jesus in a unique kind of service—
Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.John 12:3
She anoints Jesus’ feet with an ointment that fills the air with its odor of expensive perfume, all in Jesus’ honor. For cultural context, this ointment would have cost a year’s wages!
Mary’s priority is being with Jesus...as much as she possibly can!
And Jesus commends her for it in His response to Martha’s complaint in Luke 10:40 above…
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.Luke 10:42
Jesus tells us that Mary chose wisely the better part. She chose to sit at the Lord’s feet, to first make time to listen to and hear Jesus’ teaching.
What Can We Learn from the Story of Mary and Martha?
The Martha and Mary lesson?
Mary’s desire was the words of Jesus. And just like Mary, our first priority must be Jesus—time alone sitting at His feet and just listening…hearing the voice of His Word.
Only then will we be the person Jesus wants us to be. And be empowered to go in Jesus’ name to serve Him in the ways He has for us. Only then may we—
…walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;Colossians 1:10
God calls each of us and gives us different directions and ways to serve Him. And each is important in the body of Christ. But if we aren’t careful and intentional, we can let our to-do lists consume our time away from the presence of Jesus.
Another lesson from the story of Mary and Martha?
Run to Jesus!
Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.John 11:20-27
Martha knew where to run for help…the Christ, the Son of God! Martha was a woman of great faith. She knew Jesus could have healed her brother. But even greater faith now he was dead, that Jesus could raise him from the dead!
And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.Mary has similar faith but it appears she is more overcome with grief and unable to consider asking that her brother be returned to her. Martha, on the other hand, seeks action. And remembers to go to Jesus with her request.John 11:28-32
Which teaches another important lesson I see from this story of Mary and Martha.
Intercessary prayer is powerful!
It is so important when one of our brothers or sisters is hurting that we seek God on their behalf. Maybe they are too overcome at the moment to be able to pray. As was Mary before Jesus called for her.
Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way:1 Samuel 12:23
Our prayers for each other are incredibly important. And one way that we lift each other up in this Christian life that can be so very hard at times.
Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
Martha and Mary Reflection
As I read the story of Martha and Mary, this verse spoke to me.
Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.John 11:5
It struck me that Jesus does not call Mary by name in this statement. And that He listed Martha first as one that He loved. We need not think of Martha as poor Martha. Jesus’ love for Martha was no less than His love for Mary.
Jesus had gently rebuked Martha when she complained to Him about Mary’s lack of help during His first visit to their home. (Luke 10:41-42) Yet Jesus makes sure that we know…Martha was just as loved as her sister.
And I’m so glad of that, because I can easily relate to Martha. Martha’s distraction was service. If I’m not careful, I can become focused on the details of my service to God instead of on God Himself…and relying on Him to work His righteousness in and through me.
When I was younger, I didn’t understand about priorities or what it meant to put God first. I thought that being busy serving God in my church was how I was to put God first in my life.
The Lord had to teach me, as He did Martha, that sitting at His feet—spending time alone with Him in Bible study and prayer—is the way to put God first. The Lord taught me that—Time spent with God is to be my first priority…not time spent for God.
Which sister do you most closely relate to?
Whether you are a “Mary” or a “Martha,” or a mixture of both, remember this—Jesus Christ loves you! And longs to spend sweet fellowship time with you each day!
Drawing nigh to Him,
This post is part of our John Bible Study.
LET’S TALK ABOUT IT
Which sister do you most closely relate to? In what ways?