Martha and Mary are two of the powerhouse women in the New Testament. They are known for their friendship with Jesus, their hospitality and loyalty to Him. There is so much we can learn from their lives that goes way beyond the surface. Lessons about trusting God, about how to serve while preserving your peace, and how to live after loss.
What is the story of Martha and Mary in the Bible
There are multiple stories in the Bible where Mary and Martha appear.
The most popular is the one where Jesus is at the home of Mary and Martha. In that story, Martha fussed with Jesus about allowing her sister Mary to get away with not helping with meal preparations.
The other story is when Lazarus died and Jesus showed up and raised him back to life..
In the final story is where Mary anointed Jesus’s feet with the oil from the Alabaster jar. This post pulls lessons from only the first two.
The story of Martha and Mary Bible verses
Here are the Scripture references for the three events listed earlier.
Lessons from the story of Martha and Mary in the Bible
What does the story of Martha and Mary teach us? If you look at the lives of these women closely, you will notice that they were vastly different people but their hearts were in the same place.
They did not express their hearts desire in the same way though. Thankfully, they had a friend in Jesus who understood them both and knew exactly how to deal with them.
Lesson # 1: Our actions and behaviors are based on our priorities
When we read the story of Jesus dining at the home of Mary and Martha, we often want to judge Martha. We judge her for being too busy. We judge her for not taking the time to soak in the presence of Jesus.
But we usually miss this very important lesson in the story: Mary and Martha were both worshipping. Their method was just different.
Jesus didn’t condemn Martha for wanting to serve in her way. But he did have a problem with her anxiety.
Martha wasn’t focused on the better part in that moment. Her priority was out of order. She wasn’t making the best decision for her soul care at that time.
The tiny decisions we make each day add up in our spiritual bank account. Martha was so taken up with serving that she didn’t realize that that wasn’t the best decision for her at that specific time.
Worship should have been her decision.
Oftentimes our decisions are made based on the current priorities in our lives. Martha’s priority was to serve. Mary’s priority was to be served. So, they made decisions to behave accordingly.
You will know what you are prioritizing when you reflect on the things you have been doing. Behavior is a language.
Survey your to do list. Look at the goals you have accomplished.
What have you been spending most of your time on?
What is your list saying to you?
Be clear: God has no problem with us pursuing and achieving goals. He has no problems with us serving Him with our whole hearts.
But the question is: Is this the best decision for you right now? Is this what God needs you to prioritize right now?
There is a time to serve and a time to be served. What time is it for you?
Lesson # 2: Sometimes, simplifying your life is what God wants
Martha was the consummate hostess. She was not to be outdone in her meal preparations.
She was cooking up a storm for Jesus and his disciples. Martha was preparing a multiple course spread.
When Martha exploded at Jesus, he said to her
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, (Luke 10:41).
In the original context, what Jesus meant was that she was preparing too many dishes. Martha was cooking too much food!
…but few things are needed—or indeed only one. (Luke 10:42)
Do you see the solution that Jesus gave her?
Jesus really said “Martha, you don’t need to cook so much food. Just prepare a few. In fact, you only need to prepare one dish. Prepare it. Serve it. And come and sit and listen.”
Jesus told Martha to prepare a simple meal.
God is in the business of simplicity especially when our peace is being disturbed and our relationship with him is being jeopardized.
How can you simplify your life today so you can spend more time with Jesus?
Lesson #3: Know the difference between what’s important and what’s urgent.
Food is important. Nobody would argue with me on this. But when it comes to making urgent decisions about your soul, a hefty meal might not get as much attention.
A few years ago I learned about the Eisenhower matrix from a self-help book I read. This matrix is powerful for helping to make decisions when there’s alot on my plate.
The matrix has four quadrants which helps with deciding what’s important and what’s urgent.
Mary could have used this matrix. But Jesus was there to help her put things into perspective.
The food was important but Martha was treating it with a level of urgency that it didn’t deserve.
It was urgent for her to listen to Jesus. His time to be crucified was drawing closer and closer. He didn’t have alot of time left to teach and preach freely.
Martha needed to sit and take advantage of this opportunity that would soon no longer be available to her.
Spiritual self-care is always a matter of urgent importance. Sometimes more than food!
Jesus said to Satan when he was being tempted with food:
“It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4
Examine all the things on your list that’s making you distracted like Martha.
Are you being distracted by things that are only important but not urgent?
Lesson #4: Do the one thing that will have the greatest impact for your spiritual life
In contrast to Martha, Mary knew the difference between what was both urgent and important.
One of the principles of the Eisenhower matrix is that good decisions allow you to choose the option that will have the greatest impact.
Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42
If you want to accomplish much in life, if you want to go further with your goals, if you want to exceed your own expectations, choose the better part.
Think of a slingshot. To get the most out of it, you have to pull the projectile waaaaay back. But when you let that thing go, it could go further than you expect.
Spending time at Jesus’s feet is like that. It pulls you so far back that people will not understand the acceleration in your life.
You see, people can be jealous of your relationship with God and they may hate you for the benefits of spending time in his presence. But they can never rob you of the joy and the bountiful blessings and favor of God. (Think about the life of Daniel for example).
They cannot take the better part from you. And they will know it.
Spending time with God is the one thing you can do that has the greatest impact on your mental health, spiritual growth, business success, marital happiness, career explosion etc.
God will show up and reveal things to you that will surprise you. It will make a world of difference to your decisions, to your peace of mind.
Lesson # 5: Worship must be the ‘why’ of work
Work is worship. That’s what God had in mind when he created man and told him to work in the garden.
Work should be worship. A source of joy. But the enemy has made it a source of burden. Even worse, he has made it such a source of distraction that we can no longer worship God through our work.
This applies even to serving in church.
Martha got so sucked into working that her worship evaporated. Mary ditched work so she could concentrate on worship.
Check in regularly with yourself. Is your work being influenced by your worship?
How do you know when it’s not?
You will know when worship is absent from your working and serving if the joy is gone out of it. When it begins to feel more like a chore than a pleasure.
When you feel like it depletes you instead of energizes you. When your complaints are more than your compliments. When you snap at people more than you smile at them.
I am sure you could add some things to this list of indicators.
Your work isn’t supposed to make you ill-tempered like Martha but it’s also not supposed to want to make you escape like Mary.
What’s the state of your heart as you work? What mood are you in when you work? Is your work improving your worship?
Lesson #6: Balance work and worship well
Society praises women who juggle everything. Multitasking is a skill that can get you places.
The productivity industry is worth millions of dollars as various experts offer countless solutions to getting more done in less time.
The truth is that those who, like Mary, take time to be still in the midst of the hustle and bustle do not get medals.
Others will be annoyed with them because they are not helping to increase productivity.
The modern day Martha are who get all the admiration and praise. The ones who can skillfully juggle multiple ‘dishes’.
I don’t imagine that Martha was trying to listen to Jesus while she cooked a banquet level spread.
God isn’t always pleased with the juggling and the hamster wheel life. He prefers that we take time out to spend with him so he can reveal himself to us.
And by the way, scientists have found that there is no such thing as multitasking.
Why? Because our brains were not built to give our attention to more than one thing at a time.
Although our work should allow us to worship, God wants our full attention at some point in the day. A time when we are completely tuned in to Him. A time when He can bathe us with His Spirit and pour His heart into us.
True balance is about stepping away from work completely in order to worship. And then worshiping through your work sweetens the experience with God.
Lesson #7: Jesus wants to pour into women
At the time this story unfolds, Jewish rabbis didn’t think it was a good use of their time to teach women.
In the story of Lydia, the women chose to worship together although they were not recognized as a body of worshippers by the few Jewish men around.
The fact that Jesus was choosing to teach Mary and Martha in their home was not an acceptable practice. But if you know Jesus you will know he didn’t care about the rules of society. He set his own rules.
And in this case, he wanted to fill his daughters with truth. Jesus wanted to pour into Mary and Martha.
As modern day Mary and Martha, he is still desiring to pour into us. When we take time to study our Bibles and pray, it gives God the opportunity to do just that.
God wants to pour so much truth and wisdom into you that your life will be transformed in every way. Your marriage, your career. Your parenting. Your business. Your friendships. Your worship.
As a woman, (or man) are you turning up your cup on a daily basis for God to pour into?
Jesus came to rewrite the rules so that you can have a full and free understanding of His desire to be your personal teacher through the Holy Spirit of truth.
You might be missing out!
Lesson #8: God is doing something new; don’t miss it
Jesus was doing a new thing but Martha couldn’t perceive it.
Martha had every right to complain. As a woman, her role in society had been set: she was about domestic affairs.
Her job description did not include sitting at the feet of a rabbi to be taught. So her sister should not be sitting there soaking up every word falling from the mouth of Jesus.
And according to the laws, Jesus should not be teaching women either.
Martha was satisfied with the role that had been carved out for her by society. In fact, she was somewhat defending her decision to fulfill this role perfectly.
As I said earlier, Jesus was going against the culture. Jesus was doing something unconventional. Something new. And Martha missed it.
Jesus was resetting the rules for women who wanted to get to know God personally, for themselves. He was defending the rights of women to learn of God and disciple others.
Mary was missing her opportunity to be set free from the shackles society had placed on her womanhood.
Thankfully, Jesus’s gentle rebuke invited her to realize what He really desired for her.
Is God doing something new in your life but you’re so stuck in your mind that you are missing it?
Cooperate with God as He seeks to create brand new pathways in your life.
Lesson #9: God’s decisions doesn’t always make sense
Most sermons, Bible studies, blog posts, YouTube videos and such will generally focus on one aspect of the story where Jesus raised Lazarus back to life.
Generally it’s a message that encourages people to trust God until He shows up to change the situation.
We hardly ever focus on the four days of agony that Martha and Mary endured. The days of hopelessness. The hours of grief, so great it was unbearable.
When Lazarus died, it didn’t make sense. Jesus could have done something about it but He was late.
For some people, they are stuck at that place in the story before Lazarus is raised.
Because despite their prayers, their loved one still died. The funeral carried on without a miracle. What do you do when God does not intervene the way you had prayed?
There is no perfect answer to this question. But here are a few to consider.
You can trust God and His infinite wisdom and believe that His thoughts are far above yours.
You can search for the glory in the midst of the gloom.
Like Martha, we can declare your belief in the resurrection at the end of time and reaffirm your belief in this promise.
And you claim God’s promise that He will always be there to comfort the broken-hearted.
FAQs about the story of Martha and Mary in the Bible
Here are some answers to popular questions about the sisters.
What happened to Martha and Mary?
The last account of Martha and Mary is the story in which Mary anointed Jesus’ feet.
How did Jesus know Mary, Martha and Lazarus
Throughout his ministry, Jesus depended on the kindness of others to meet some of his earthly needs. Jesus traveled extensively and did not own much. As He went from place to place, He was received into the homes of many people. This might have been the way he met the sibling trio Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. Luke 10:38-38
Final words on the story of Martha and Mary in the Bible
There are so many more lessons that we could draw from the life of these powerful women of faith. But for now, we can chew these.
We need the spirit of both Martha and Mary but in balance. We must be sure to worship while we work and make time for worship only. God is always wanting to do new things in our lives but we must pray for a spiritual, discerning eye to perceive it.
The bottom line is this: Jesus wants us to trust him with our lives, completely.