Martha: Sister in Christ

By Scarlett Stough

The positive lesson of Martha's example is often overlooked. She has been thought of as the materially minded sister and her sister Mary as the spiritual one. Jesus corrected Martha, as he does all those he loves, for complaining against Mary’s choice to listen to Jesus’ teaching. Martha was too anxious over her hostess duties, allowing them to be so complex and time consuming that she neglected to spend time visiting with and learning from her guest. Perhaps Martha (influenced by the culture of her day) thought that a woman’s priorities should be different. We prefer to identify with Mary who was warmly praised on this occasion, but we have failed to appreciate Martha's exemplary character.

Martha was an hospitable woman who extended an open invitation to Jesus while he was in Bethany. Hospitality is a tangible way of expressing love and supplying the needs of others. In this time period and culture, hospitality was the primary way by which God provided the physical needs of his prophets and emissaries. It is a characteristic all Christians are encouraged to practice. She was also willing to serve in another's home as she did at the banquet given by Simon the Leper. This was her way of showing love and honor to God and, when tested, her faith proved to be as unshakable as her desire to serve others.

Martha and Mary were greatly disappointed that Jesus failed to arrive in time to heal Lazarus. It was Martha, not Mary, who met Jesus when he arrived and proclaimed her continued trust in him. "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world." She did not allow the unexpected death of her beloved brother to diminish her belief in either Christ's authority as the Son of God or his power to answer their petition for Lazarus' life even after he had already died. "But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask," she said hopefully, but with somewhat less confidence than she affirmed her faith in the Messiah and the resurrection at the last day. This is perhaps typical of the majority of believers. We believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and we believe that those who die in Christ will live again, but we have more trouble having the confidence to trust God to supply our every day needs or the perseverance to continue to trust as we wait for God's timing. 

Our perspective toward these sisters is very similar to the way we judge, or perhaps more accurately, misjudge ourselves and one another. Too often we judge too harshly because we fail to see the whole person; on the other hand, we may give others too high a spiritual status, failing to see that apparent human perfection can mask sin and weakness. Sins can be confessed and repented; weaknesses can disappear in the strength of God; and failures can be reversed in God's grace. Maturing into the fullness of Christ is a process of growth that takes time and patience.

As Jesus was patient with Martha and encouraged her by saying "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?", so is he patient with us as he continues to intercede on our behalf. Victory over sin and death is ours as long as we become "wise for salvation" through trusting in Jesus and continuing to live his teachings which we learn by studying the Holy Scriptures.

For the scripture reference list and related Bible Study Guide, go to Bible Study Guide: Martha - Sister in Christ Maturing in Christ Takes Time