Martha in the Bible is known for her characteristically strong personality and her no-nonsense personality. There are so many lessons to learn from the various stories about her.
Who was Martha in the Bible?
Martha of Bethany was so called because of where she lived. Because her name was a popular one (like Mary) she was identified by where she lived.
Martha is known in the Bible for being the sister of Mary and Lazarus. She is also well-known for receiving Jesus and his disciples in her home when he needed some place to rest and refresh.
Another popular story with Martha is when her brother died and Jesus raised him back to life. This post will draw lessons from both these stories.
Martha in the Bible verses
Martha has been mentioned in the Bible a few times.
The story of Martha in the Bible
There are three stories which mention Martha.
#1 – The first story was when Jesus was at her home for supper. This is the event where she was harried and hurried in getting everything ready.
In exasperation and frustration at her sister Mary for not helping, she accosted Jesus for not telling Mary to help.
Jesus told Martha that she was worried about too many things. He encouraged her to do what Mary did, sit at His feet and listen to Him teach.
#2 – The second story is when her brother Lazarus died. Jesus had heard that Lazarus was sick but he waited until four days later to show up. Lazarus had already died and was buried. Martha was beside herself with grief.
She confronted Jesus and told him that if he had come when He was called her brother wouldn’t have died. Jesus talked with and assured her that Lazarus would not stay dead. Then Jesus raised him back to life.
#3 – In the third story, Martha is only mentioned. Jesus was at dinner again. Martha is reported as serving quietly.
Characteristics of Martha in the Bible
Martha is one of the most popular and outstanding women of faith in the Bible.
So what type of person was Martha in the Bible? Across these three stories we can learn so much about what the Bible says about Martha.
Let’s dig in.
Characteristic #1 – Martha was a leader
Some Bible scholars believe that Martha was the head of her house.
Because Martha is always mentioned ahead of her siblings Lazarus and Mary, it seems likely that she was the oldest of her siblings.
It also seemed that the house belonged to Martha. Why? Because she took the lead in doing the work to welcome guests.
Characteristic #2 – Martha was friendly and authentic
Martha and her siblings were personal friends of Jesus. He was a regular guest in their home.
When Jesus needed somewhere to be away from the crowd, somewhere to refresh himself and get some rest, Martha’s home was his place of choice.
My guess is that he felt comfortable their because Martha, Mary and Lazarus were authentic and friendly people.
Not like the Scribes, Pharisees and religious leaders who were out for his blood. In this home, Jesus could relax. He didn’t have to prepare to fight.
Scripture tells us that these three people were near and dear to Jesus.
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. John 11:5
Characteristic #3 – Martha was hospitable
She welcomed Jesus into her home. Not everyone did that for Jesus. But Martha did.
Also, Martha rolled up her sleeves and actively engaged in the work of welcoming Jesus.
In Jewish culture, this meant providing them all with water to wash their face, hands and feet. Traveling on dusty roads by foot meant that when you got to your destination you were hot, sweaty, and dirty.
Here is something else to consider.
Jesus did not travel alone. He always had his disciples with him. Imagine the cost of hosting 13 tired and hungry men.
Plus, wherever Jesus went, there was always a crowd gathered to listen to him. So, chances are that it wasn’t only 13 men to be fed.
Martha jumped into action and made sure they were well taken care of.
Characteristic #4 – Martha was a woman of means
Martha was able to host Jesus and his disciples in her home multiple times. She catered to their needs from her own pocket.
This is very likely an indication that she had a sizable home to host a good number of people for frequent dinners. As I said earlier, there were always at least 13 people. Men at that.
If you have ever catered food for a group of men then you know the food melts away pretty quickly like a cube of ice on a hot summer’s day.
Characteristic #5 – Martha was full of courage and bravery
To host Jesus in her home was dangerous business. There was a target on Jesus’s back from the start of his life. But, this warfare intensified when he began his ministry.
The religious leaders, the scribes, the Pharisees. They all wanted to kill him. Every opportunity they got to listen to him was an attempt to find enough evidence to have a good reason to kill him. Jesus’ teachings were neither normal nor popular.
But Martha dared to believe.
Characteristic #6 – Martha was distracted
Martha seemed to have the classic type A personality. She was a take-charge kind of woman who wanted things to be done with urgency and precision.
This quality isn’t such a bad thing. It’s for getting things done. It’s great for maximizing productivity. Except that it doesn’t apply to every situation.
When it came to her spiritual life, this quality was seen by Jesus as a distraction.
But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made… Luke 10:40
In Greek, the word used for distracted means to be pulled in many different directions. Martha was in a state of where her mind and heart were all over the place.
Characteristic #7 – Martha was forthright and honest with God
This characteristic of Martha can be seen in two separate stories. Martha seemed to be the kind of woman who would speak her mind. A no nonsense kind of gal.
In the incident where Jesus was at her home for dinner and her sister Mary refused to help with the preparations, she confronted Jesus:
“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Luke 10:40
Martha was basically telling Jesus he could not possibly care about her if he was allowing Mary to not help with preparing the food.
The second incident was when her brother Lazarus died. Jesus took 4 whole days to arrive on the scene. As soon as Martha knew he was there, she rushed out and almost accosted Jesus:
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. John 11:21
Martha was no easy nut to crack.
Characteristic #8 – Martha was a perfectionist with a great sense of responsibility
As a woman, Martha’s role was largely domestic. Hospitality in Jewish culture was a big deal. A woman’s reputation and respect depended on her hospitality skills.
Being the woman in charge of her home, she needed to fulfill the requirements of Jewish hospitality.
Martha was distracted because she was trying to ensure her hospitality was perfect and beyond negative criticism.
Nobody should have reason to say she dropped the ball. She wanted to ensure that the meal she was preparing was top-notch.
The anxiety, worry, and frustration she felt when Mary wasn’t helping was actually very much warranted when you think of the cultural expectations. This was her responsibility and it needed to be her best show.
Characteristic #9 – Martha was a woman of true faith
Martha was an imperfect woman just like you and I but that didn’t mean she didn’t trust Jesus. She loved Jesus with all of her heart. Martha was a believer.
One evidence of this was when she expressed faith in Jesus to raise her brother from the dead. She truly trusted Jesus. Her faith was more than head knowledge.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” John 11:21-22; 25-27
Lessons from Martha in the Bible
Martha’s character in the Bible has loads of lessons to learn. In this post, I will mention a few.
Lessons #1 – Protect your peace by saying no to yourself
As I said before, Martha was a type A personality with a great sense of responsibility and maybe a little perfectionistic.
Sounds like anyone you know?
Martha felt like she had to do all the things. Nobody but her own drive was pushing her. She just kept going and going and going.
Martha needed to say no to herself.
Jesus didn’t ask for a banquet. He wanted a simple meal and he said as much. But Martha took on the burden of a banquet then was vexed when her sister didn’t share the burden.
Martha had a great sense of responsibility that led her to impose on herself much serving.
Sometimes you have to say no to yourself and your inclinations.
People like Martha today are usually seen as the responsible ones. The person who picks up the slack when nobody else will. The one who is most resourceful.
If you are that one in your home or at work, this might be one reason your peace is being destroyed.
Start saying no to that voice that tells you you have to do this or that. Because you don’t.
Even if you don’t do it, that does not mean it cannot get done. There is always a solution that does not include your direct involvement.
Lessons #2 – Find out God’s priority for you in each season of life
In 6 months, Jesus was going to die. He was going to suffer the most cruel and embarrassing death. Jesus knew he didn’t have alot of time left.
So as he entered Martha’s home, his desire was beyond wanting to eat. He just wanted to pour into people. Martha was not able to discern this because she was so busy.
She could not know that preparing the perfect meal wasn’t Jesus’s priority at that time. They were not on the same page. Jesus was prioritizing feeding people with spiritual things while Martha prioritized feeding people with physical food.
Do you know what God’s priority is for you in this season? Or are you so busy serving that you can’t discern what God wants you to be doing right now?
God doesn’t always want us to be on the move. Sometimes he wants us to be still in His presence. Sometimes He is calling us to a season of silence.
What’s God’s priority for you in this season?
Lessons #3 – Care less about what others think and more about what God thinks
As a Jewish woman Martha knew her reputation was based on her hospitality. She was running herself ragged in order to protect her reputation.
In her perfectionism, she was more concerned with what others thought than with what Jesus thought. Meanwhile, Jesus was not so concerned with her reputation as He was her soul.
When we get distracted by what other people think, we lose sight of what God thinks and desires for us.
We get pulled in by what the boss or coworkers think. By what the women at church think. By what social media thinks. By what our spouses think.
We lose our godly identity in what all these people think, not realizing that it takes work to keep up with all these expectations. And that kind of work burns you out! There is no peace there.
Well, what does God think? The moment you can answer this question you can get on the same page with God about what you should be doing right now in your life.
Lessons #4 – Reflect often on the motive of your service
Martha was serving Jesus. But it was more from a place of fulfilling societal expectations.
This led to two things.
She ended up missing the true needs of Jesus. She wasn’t serving in the way he wanted to be served.
Then, she lost her joy. Although she was in the presence of Jesus was too distracted to benefit from it.
Soon enough she became overwhelmed and started snapping at people. She became angry. Then, she turned on Jesus.
Martha explodes on Jesus and accuses him of not caring then demands that he command her sister to help.
Martha was so stressed out by trying to live up to expectations that were not set by Jesus.
Like the rich young ruler Martha was caught up in the doing for misguided reasons.
Lessons #5 – God is immeasurably patient with us and our shortcomings
On two occasions, Martha lost it with Jesus. At the famous dinner where she exploded because she was angry that he allowed Mary to sit without helping. The second was after Lazarus died and Jesus arrived long after he was buried.
On both occasions, Jesus responded to Mary with such compassion and kindness and gentleness.
We often think of God as a stern grandfather whom we dare not share our truest feelings with. I assure you, God is not offended by your authentic emotions. He gave you a range of emotions so you could respond to life in a variety of ways.
But remember one thing. As you use your emotions, remember that God has the bigger picture. Jesus could respond to Mary with compassion because He saw things Mary did not and could not.
God is more patient with you (and all of us) than you can begin to imagine. He knows we are imperfect but trying to do better each day. He knows we are on a journey of growing. His desire to help us. And each day, he winks at our ignorance and pulls us closer to him.
Lessons #6 – As we experience God, we should be showing growth
In the first dinner story recorded in Luke, Martha was overwhelmed, frustrated and losing her cool.
Here is something you probably didn’t notice. There is a second dinner party where Martha is serving. It is recorded in John 12: 1-2. In this story, Martha served quietly.
No overwhelm. No frustration. No snapping at people. No exploding at Jesus. And definitely no complaints about Mary at Jesus’ feet.
Exact same kind of situation. Different Martha.
Martha was growing and maturing in her walk with Jesus. Did you see that!
As you experience God, there must be some evidence of growing in grace. If you find yourself having the very same reaction to the very same situation, you might want to take a long hard look at that.
Jesus wants to help us become better and better at living mature, holy lives. If we aren’t growing, then something radical needs to be done.
It makes no sense to be walking with Jesus yet there is no evidence of this as we get older and spend more years practicing our faith.
Lessons #7 – Sometimes God wants to do more for us but we don’t understand.
As I said before, Martha was a dedicated woman of faith. She trusted Jesus. She knew his power. No doubt she had witnessed his miracles of healing the sick, making the bling see, making the lame walk and feeding the poor out of a morsel.
But when it came to her the death of her brother, this was an entirely different story. Let’s go back again to the conversation between Jesus and Martha.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:21-27)
Martha received Jesus’ words as a comfort and hopeful promise that her brother would live again at the end of time. But her faith was still a little stuck. She had been believing Jesus to prevent Lazarus’ death.
The ever-present and skeptical Jews present at Martha’s home when Jesus turned up commented:
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” John 11:37
It would appear that all Mary saw of Jesus was him healing the sick and pulling them back from the brink of death. But she had not seen Jesus raise anyone from the dead.
Martha had the kind of faith that made her believe promises for the future. What she didn’t realize is that the God of the future is the God of the present.
Jesus wanted to give her a miracle right now. In this moment. Not the future. But Martha’s faith was limited. Her faith had been held back by her focusing on what she had already seen Jesus do.
In those moments of grief, her faith couldn’t stretch for her to imagine that Jesus could do something she had never seen before.
Don’t get hung up on what God has done for you before. He wants to do more. Much much much more! But if you keep limiting Him to only what He has already done in your life, you are standing in the way of “him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” Ephesian 3:20.
There is no problem that God doesn’t have a solution to. Take the lid off of God. Expect more. Look for more. Be open to more.
FAQs about Martha in the Bible
Here are some quick answers to popular questions about Martha.
Meaning of Martha in the Bible
The name Martha means lady or mistress.
Who was Martha’s sister and brother?
Martha’s sister was Mary of Bethany and her brother was Lazarus.
What happened to Martha in the Bible
There is no mention of Martha after the story of the dinner where her sister anointed Jesus’ feet.
Final words on Martha in the Bible
There is so much we have learned about and from Martha. If I’m honest, I identify with a few of her characteristics. I hope you were able to see some things too.
Remember to say no to yourself and yes to Jesus more often. I hope you take the time to prioritize spending time with God. I pray you serve from a place of being filled with power instead of a place of perfectionistic anxiety.
I wish for you immeasurable growth as you spend time with Jesus. And I hope you get everything God has for you despite your imperfect faith.