Lessons from Martha

June 27, 2022 | Megan Schemenauer

I’m a pretty organized, hardworking individual. I set goals for myself for the new year long before December 31. I have a daily to-do list in Notes on my phone. My closet is organized by season and sleeve length. I work before I play. What some people might call a Type A personality can also be summed up in one person from the New Testament: Martha.

Why does the Bible include so many different individuals by name? I think it’s because there are spiritual lessons we can learn from them. After all, isn’t it human nature to want to pry into other people’s lives? One thing I’ve noticed about Martha is that she sometimes gets a bad rap. But when I look to the Bible, I see both the positive and the negative attributes of this personality type that both men and women may embody.

Positive #1 – A Martha is hard-working, generous, and hospitable.

In Luke 10:38, the Bible describes Martha as opening her home to Jesus. While the Bible includes plenty of individual names, there seem to be relatively few people the Gospels list by name that Jesus chose to spend time with in their homes. Martha, along with her brother Lazarus and her sister Mary, is one of them. What an honor to receive this special recognition in God’s Word for her hospitality! And isn’t that the goal of every Christian? To invite Jesus into our homes and lives? 

Paul encourages us in Romans 12:13 to “share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Not only did Martha invite the Lord into her home, but she wanted everything to be perfect for Him and she put a good deal of time and effort into providing Jesus with a wonderful experience. If there’s one thing no one could accuse Martha of, it’s laziness!

Positive #2 – A Martha is faithful even in challenging times.

When tragedy befalls us, how do we respond? If you’re a Martha, one of your strengths may be to draw even more closely in faith to the Savior. After the death of her brother Lazarus, when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she was the first one to run out to meet Him. Rather than complain or question Jesus about her brother’s death, Martha expresses this faithful statement: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (John 11:21–22).

It can be difficult to trust through tragedy, especially considering that two of the five stages of grief are anger and depression. But Jesus knows all about tragedy. In the midst of His own personal tragedy, He turned to His Father in prayer and said, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

Martha mirrors this attitude of faith when she loses her brother, making her a good example to follow when we face trouble and heartache.

But let’s consider the other side of this personality type. Because while hard work, hospitality, and faith are admirable attributes for any Christian to aspire to, a Martha, both Biblical and modern-day, does risk a couple of crucial mistakes as well. 

Caution #1 – A Martha runs the risk of majoring in the minors.

Back to the story in Luke 10. Jesus had just arrived at the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. It should have been a thrilling moment, having the Son of God in her very own home. But the Bible goes on with a big “but.” Verse 40 says, “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” 

How often do I find myself distracted by the details to the point where I sometimes forget the purpose of what I’m doing? As a servant of Christ, a wife, mother, teacher, and writer, there are days the responsibilities feel endless and the to-do list will never get done. I’m sure that’s exactly how Martha felt the day she had Jesus over for dinner.

And yet, she was missing the big picture. The Son of God was in her home, sharing His wisdom. And she was missing it because all she could worry about were the frivolous little details of hosting the perfect dinner party.

To make matters worse, Marthas come with high expectations not only for themselves; they often have high expectations for others too, which can lead to their second spiritual stumbling block.

Caution #2 – A Martha runs the risk of becoming overly critical of others.

It is clear that Martha felt as though she was not receiving the help she deserved. I’m sure she felt irritated by what she saw as an unfair situation: her sister Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus rather than assisting her with the multitude of preparations. She complains to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (v. 40)

It’s an easy pattern to fall into. Our lives are busy. And when those to-do lists aren’t getting done, it’s tempting to look around and find someone else to blame. 

Jesus’ response to Martha was a simple matter of refocus. His answer reveals just how well our Savior knows and understands us Marthas: “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

I’m sure it’s not what Martha wanted to hear. But it’s what she needed to hear. We all could use a refocus every now and then, a reminder of Who is in charge and what’s really important. Rather than looking around at what others are doing or not doing, the only Person I really need to be looking to is my Savior. One of the benefits of keeping our eyes (and our focus) on Jesus is that it no longer matters what the people around us do—or don’t do. 

No, Martha wasn’t perfect. But then again, neither are we. Fortunately, God has filled His Word with plenty of human examples for us. I’ve learned a lot from Martha. Is there a Bible character who reminds you of you?