Service to the Lord begins with?

Colossians 1:24-28

24 I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church. 25 God has given me the responsibility of serving his church by proclaiming his entire message to you. 26 This message was kept secret for centuries and generations past, but now it has been revealed to God’s people. 27 For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. 28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. 29That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.


Luke 10:38-42

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” 41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”


Most of us experience this, we’re scuttling around trying to get everything done and we wonder why those around are chilling on the couch watching TV eating potato chips while drinking a diet coke.

I get tickled listening to our daughters and daughter-in-law talk about their husbands and how oblivious they are to all that needs to get done under their noses and don’t have a clue that they just may want to pitch in.

Of course, it becomes more complicated when they think that if their partner really really loved them they wouldn’t have to be asked, they would just see the need and get with the program.

We have it on the job, don’t we?  Some employees, even management, seem to have an uncanny ability to waste all sorts of time doing nothing, while everyone else does their own job plus theirs!

And let’s not get started on the entitlement culture, sequestration cuts and furloughs, or the health care portability act….talk about stirring a bee’s nest over who deserves what.

I’ve seen extended families who try to strike the ideal balance of caring for their elderly parents and usually there is the one sibling who carries the majority of the load from taking them to their appointments, to shopping, paying their bills and caring for their physical needs. But, we also see it in our local churches.  Over 3 decades ago, I recall my first Administrative Board Chair explain what he learned long ago, 5% of the people pitch in 100% of the effort.   There always seem to be that core of dedicated people working overtime to serve the church and everybody else just shows up to “enjoy the show.”

Over time, distress, resentment and even anger accumulate because there is no reciprocation, no genuine acknowledgement, and no, to little attempt, to share the load. It was no different for Mary and Martha in our Gospel Lesson from Luke 10 today.  Reflecting on the narrative, who appears to be the obvious servant?  Of course, the one doing all the work—Martha!

But here’s the conundrum. Martha, as all Martha types are, has a problem.  To the casual observer, Martha is just being a good host, as any of us would want to be. I’ve broken Martha’s problem into 5 observations that in of themselves don’t to appear to be a problem at all, but taken together they kept her from enjoying Jesus’ presence.

One, she’s the “take charge” type.  She’s a self-starter and doesn’t need to be asked or told, she just does it.

Two, being a “take charge” “self-starter” type she often takes on too much and misses out on the things other people tend to enjoy.

Three, she has a need to be needed.  It affirms her self-identity when others need her whether they show their appreciation or not.

Four, she probably shared the mentality many of us have; “It’s easier doing it myself than asking someone else to do it.”

Five, Mary lived by the code, “It’s my duty.”  She was driven by obligation, fixing the meal for Jesus is want she “should do” and “ought to do;” so for her there really wasn’t any other option in her home than fix a meal for her guest.

There are a lot of us who identify with Martha, and what I just described fits you.  Colleges, Employers, Military Leadership, and Government all reward the “Martha Types” because they are the ones who get things done. Society in general cultivates and engenders the Martha mentality; we want them in our communities, in public service, and frankly, in our churches.

Personally, I heavily depend on the “Martha Brand” servants of the church to get things done without me checking up on them. But, as we see with Jesus’ response to her when she started complaining about her sister Mary, that even though she was the one doing all the work, she had no clue what it was to be a true servant in God’s Kingdom.

Martha worked so painstakingly because that was her need.  She lived by the code of “what I should do” and failed to understand the “why” of doing them. You see, being a servant of the Lord does not begin with “doing things.”  Whether it is going to church, serving on a committee or board, helping with VBS, singing in the choir, attending Sunday School or even going on a Service Mission Trip…none of these make you a servant of the Lord, even though you may believe you are doing it for the Lord. You want to know my theory of why Martha got so aggravated with Mary?  It wasn’t that she wasn’t helping in the kitchen.  That wasn’t anything new.

Martha became aggravated because Jesus didn’t seem to need her.  She saw Mary soaking up His every word, and she became jealous that Jesus’ focus was on her sister and not on her.  Her perturbness was not so much against her sister, but levied towards Jesus—after all, here I am fixing this great meal and You aren’t even acknowledging me.

So if we look at this story closely that the real servant in the room was not Martha, but Mary.  Servant-hood does not begin with doing stuff; servant-hood begins with “relationship!”

Mary somehow understood that the first step in service to Jesus was to get to know Him.  The more I know Him the more I want to serve Him. And so it is with any relationship.  I do things for my wife, Kim, because I know her and love her—not because I want her off my back.  The more I know her, the more I love her and the more I love her the more I’ll desire to do for her.

Yes, there are times when the “Martha” within me gets in the way, but still my end is to do for her because I enjoy her not because I need to please her. So too it is with how we see our labor and service to the Lord and His church.  If we do so because we feel we are obligated or should do it, we need to reexamine our motives.

In Colossians 1:28 Paul explains why he works so hard in preaching the Gospel and shaping the life of believers, “We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ.” To Paul, it wasn’t about forming a church labor force for God; it was about ensuring that everyone was perfecting their relationship with Jesus Christ.  It wasn’t about religion, it wasn’t about power or influence, it wasn’t about getting pats on the back or acknowledgement…it was solely about my relationship, your relationship with our Savior. Are we drawing closer to Jesus, are we trusting Jesus with more of our lives, are we allowing Christ to be our priority in and throughout the day or do we regulate Him to “just on Sundays.”

Martha found out that being a selfless servant is not about “Me” it’s about Jesus and “My” relationship with Him. Martha either did not know or had forgotten what was most important, and unfortunately many a Christian forgets this too.

What about you?

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