Have you ever noticed how remarkably silent Jesus was on various topics which divide Christians today? He said notably little about tongues. He said nothing about homosexuality. Jesus taught nothing at all about prayers to Mary. He did not ban alcohol or dancing. Nor did Jesus enforce any rules about resting on a Saturday or Sunday. So, why do Christians tend to focus on ideas that Jesus did not? Why do we not allow the founder of Christianity to teach us what is important and what does not deserve attention? Why are we divided over things that Jesus did not consider important enough to instill in his earliest disciples? When we spend so much energy on issues that he was silent about, do we then diminish the importance of issues that he did teach? Is the Christianity of Christ important?
What did Jesus teach about church growth? He said that he will build his church (Matthew 16:18), yet Christian retail stores are full of books on how we can build Christ’s Church. Many people are anxious and distracted by a desire for church growth. Gimmicks and marketing techniques exist that would make even the most ardent workaholic weary. But have we forgotten the foundational principle of church growth: Jesus will build his Church? Where is our focus? Do we trust in our complicated works instead of Christ? The example of Martha in Luke 10:38-42 is that of someone who believed that her elaborate works took precedence over listening to the teachings of Jesus. When we believe that we can grow a church through our efforts to the neglect of allowing Jesus’ teachings to take center stage, then are we sadly mistaken?
As with any area of society, the church has its share of bullies. Luke 10:38-42 reveals Martha as one of those people who tended to create more work than necessary given the circumstances. Instead of preparing a simple snack so that she could take time to listen to Jesus, she seems to have made elaborate preparations and so missed out on what was more important. Then, instead of realizing her mistake she tried to bully both her sister into helping and Jesus into taking her side. However, Jesus would not have a bar of it. Bullies are everywhere. They range from the proverbial leaning, smiling elephant, who applies pressure until people give in, to those who use blunter objects like intimidation and guilt. Martha tried the latter and a reply to her bullying was a simple statement of priorities.
Some church services seem to be scripted to perfection. A detailed liturgy may include announcements, prayers of confession and thanks, singing of psalms, hymns and other spiritual songs, offerings, a sermon, saying of one of the creeds, and various Bible readings. Perfectionists can get very distracted by making sure that a church service goes as planned and get rather annoyed at anything that is not quite up to par. However, what really is a perfect worship service? If the words of Jesus to Martha in Luke 10:38-42 are any guide, we could conclude that the most important thing is to ask what did Jesus say? If the sermon does not teach what Jesus taught, or a reading from the Gospels is not included, then it cannot be perfect? Is not a perfect worship service one where Jesus is taught?
In Luke 10:38-42 we read about a wonderful woman devoted to service. She had said yes to a number of very important tasks. Martha was like many people in the Church today, always serving, always available, at every fundraiser, board meeting, choir practice, preparation for the liturgy and a whole host of other such activity. Church work is very important, but it is also never ending. It can be like a black hole that sucks a person in and never lets them out. It can take a person away from what church is supposed to be all about. A yes to serving others can be a no to Jesus. One of the most important words to say in life is no. It is important to know when saying no is saying yes to a priority with more important consequences.
A Choice between good and evil is easy for most of us. A choice between two evils is somewhat more difficult. An example of that is when Rahab chose between lying and allowing two men to be murdered. She chose to lie and is counted among the faithful. Another difficult choice is between two goods. In Luke 10:38-42 Jesus taught Martha a valuable lesson. She was very distracted with doing the work of a deacon, serving. Christian service is a very high honor and priority. However, there is one thing that is much more important. Church missionary efforts often face the same choice: building hospitals, schools and physical projects versus teaching people about Christ — service versus the Gospel. Local churches face the same choices: physical service versus evangelism. Both are good things. One is more important than the other.