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Giving Your Best Is Not Enough

Read Luke 10:38-42 (NIV)

There was a time when almost every child in America had at least three sets of clothing. They had school clothes, play clothes, and church clothes. A child’s church clothing was commonly referred to as their “Sunday best.”

Wearing one’s “Sunday best” communicated more than simply a style of worship fashion—it also said something about the way people viewed God. Wearing one’s “Sunday best” conveyed the idea that God wants, God deserves, and God expects the very best we have to offer.

For those of us who have been taught that we ought to give God our best, today’s scripture lesson is somewhat disturbing. Today’s biblical story makes it clear that giving God our best is simply not enough!
The setting for the story is the home of Martha and Mary—two sisters who lived with their brother Lazarus in the village of Bethany, about two miles outside Jerusalem.

At first glance you’d think that Mary and Martha would be more similar than different—after all, they were sisters, raised in the same home, with the same parents, and afforded the same basic opportunities in life.
Nevertheless, they were very different.

It kind of reminds me of the story I once heard Thomas Long tell about two brothers. They were twins, raised in the same home, given the same opportunities. They went to the same schools. They had the same teachers. Their parents equally loved them both. But one of these grew up to be a famous television evangelist—and the other one? Well, he turned out all right!

That’s kind of the way it was with Mary and Martha. You’d think they’d be the same, but they were very different.

Consider Martha. She was a very industrious individual. You know the type—always moving, always working, always involved in some sort of service-oriented endeavor. She was the kind of person who always labored to give her best!

As JesuS and his disciples relaxed, Martha worked at being a good hostess. She was a busybody, fluttering about the house serving the disciples, trying hard to impress Jesus and make him feel at home in her house. She was doing everything—cooking, cleaning, serving snacks, and trying to freshen up everyone’s coffee. She was determined to leave a favorable impression on Jesus. She surrounded the Lord in a whirlwind of service and ministry—and became overwhelmed and ultimately distracted by the desire to do good deeds serving Jesus.

Mary is cast in a completely different light. Instead of striving to impress Jesus by her activism, Mary sits quietly at his feet—listening to his teachings. Mary hadn’t helped clean the house. She hadn’t helped wash the dishes. She hadn’t help cook the supper. She hadn’t even helped when it came time to set the table for dinner. In fact, Mary didn’t lift a finger to help.

NeedlesS to say, Martha felt a little indignant. She was extending all the effort. She was exerting all the energy. She was doing all the work—but nobody seemed to notice. She became angry, hurt, and frustrated. It was almost as if Jesus was more interested in the reflections of Mary then in her own acts of kindness and deeds of service. Here’s the bottom line: Martha was working to herself indispensable to the Lord. She felt that Jesus needed her more than she needed him.

Martha was the kind of person who valued activity more than advancement, movement more than growth, and motion more than progress. Poor Martha! She had become distracted. She had become so busy doing good things that she had neglected the most important thing. One of the most difficult truths for many of us to grasp is the knowledge that we can be pulled away from the Lord while we are trying to minister in his name.

What’s the difference between Mary and Martha? It is not that Mary was lazy while Martha was industrious. The point is that Mary was focused on Jesus while Martha was focused on what she was doing for Jesus. If Jesus had said to Mary, “Go get me a glass of water!” Mary would have jumped up and ran to the kitchen to get that glass of water. But her efforts would have proceeded from her relationship with the Lord. That’s the key!

Notice how Jesus responded to Martha’s complaint. Note the tenderness of his rebuke. “Martha, Martha. You are worried and bothered about so many things. Only one thing really matters.” Martha had lost perspective on what was really important. “Martha, Martha…. Only one thing really matters.”

What was that “one thing” that “really matters?” It was a relationship with Jesus. Sitting at Jesus’ feet, talking to him, listening to him, worshiping him—that’s the good part, that’s the best part, that’s the most important part of Christian life. Intimacy with Christ ought to be the number one gift given to all humanity – and the gift so seldom appropriated by any of us.

Oh, sure, we go through the motions of being religious. We wear out WWJD (“What would Jesus do?”) bracelets and turn God’s gift into a legalistic code of conduct. But in the process we miss the point. We cannot obey his teachings if we don’t hear his teachings. We cannot follow in his steps if we do not first sit at his feet. We can’t do what he wants us to do until we first learn to listen. The lifestyle we call “Christian” is not a work – it’s a byproduct. The lifestyle does not earn us favor with God – it’s something that happens in us as we realize we have been favored by God’s grace. Intimacy is a gift we are invited to grasp. The packaging needs to be ripped off with gusto. The secret to victorious living comes in realizing we are loved by the God who Jesus revealed as Father.

That’s where this story challenges me. Sometimes I try to do many things for God without stopping to see if that’s what he really wants me to do. Peter Lord put it like this: “Wouldn’t it be terrible to spend your whole life trying to make God an apple pie only to discover that God didn’t like apple pies?”

Martha gave Jesus her best. Mary didn’t! You see Mary realized that what she had to give Jesus wasn’t as important as what he had to give her. She realized that she needed Jesus more than he needed her. Mary was not occupied for Jesus. She was occupied with Jesus.

Disciples are not those who do things for Jesus. Disciples are those abide in Jesus. Disciples are those who feed their soul on Jesus’ word. Disciples are those who live in his presence. The goodness and generosity of a disciple is not a gift that we give to Christ. The goodness and generosity of a disciple is a quality of life that proceeds from a relationship with Christ. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says:

Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abides in the vine; no more can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches: The person who abides in me, and I in them, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.

Disciples are not those who give their lives to Jesus, they are those who receive their life from Jesus. Disciples are people grafted to Christ’ presence like a branch on a vine. Disciples realize they must hear Jesus before they can obey Him. Disciples realize they must encounter Christ in worship before they can be His witnesses in the world. Disciples realize they must spend time in Christ’s company before they can engage in His ministry. Disciples value intimacy with Christ as the thing that really matters.

Martha had good intentions. The problem is that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Good intentions are not enough. Hard work is not enough. Our best efforts are not enough. Our Sunday best is not enough. Giving him our life is not enough. The Gospel—the good news of Christianity—is not about giving our lives to Jesus. It is all about giving up our lives so that we can accept His life as our own.

Martha was giving Jesus her best. She was cooking, cleaning, serving and feeding. But she was also distracted. She was worried and upset. “Martha, Martha—only one thing is important!”

Many of us are striving to give God our very best. We are working, attending, ministering, and tithing. We are worried that our “best” doesn’t seem to be enough. We’re right—it’s not enough. Jesus doesn’t want our best. He doesn’t even want our all. On the contrary, Jesus wants to accept ALL OF HIM, not only for our salvation, but also for the living of our days.

Listen: “Only one thing is important!” Jesus says, “Abide in me and I in you. You cannot bear fruit unless you abide in me.”

Please let this truth sink deep down in every crevasse of your being. What we do for God is not of ultimate importance. What is important is what he has done for us—and what he will do through us if we allow his life to be express through us. Our lives will be productive for the Lord only when they proceed from his life within us.

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