By Ronny Milliner
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things” (Lk. 10:41). When we think of Martha, sister of Mary and Lazarus, this statement usually comes to mind. Yet there were many good qualities about Martha and some other things we can learn from her.
Martha was probably the older sister of Mary and Lazarus since the house is referred to as “her home” (Lk. 10:38). Some have even suggested she was the widow of Simon the leper or near relative of him (Mt. 26:6; Mk. 14:3). Her Aramaic name meant “mistress.” The Greek counterpart, kyria, meant “lady.” Some have thought John was writing to her in his second epistle. While we can not be certain about these things, let’s take a look at some of the traits of Martha.
Mourner of Her Dead Brother
John 11 tells of the death of Martha’s brother Lazarus. After his death, “many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother” (Jn. 11:19). Martha was expressing the natural grief of one who had lost one very dear to them. Martha loved her brother.
But I have seen situations where a brother or sister would not even attend their own mother’s funeral because they were not on speaking terms with another brother or sister in the family. Such unnatural affection is shameful! Surely there should exist a close tie between family members like that which existed between Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.
But what about our spiritual family? Acts 8:2 says “loud lamentation” was made over the death of Stephen. Do we suffer with other members who are suffering (1 Cor. 12:26)? And what about those who are “dead in. . . trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1)? Paul said he had “great sorrow and increasing grief” in his heart for his lost kinsmen (Rom. 9:1-3). Maybe we need more mourners among us.
Adviser To The Lord
“Martha was a woman of impulse, energy, practical duty; like Peter, she was ready even to give advice to her Lord, and eager to put everybody in his rightful place” (Pulpit Commentary, Vol. XVII, p. 90). This trait was certainly not one of Martha’s good points. When Jesus arrived after Lazarus’ death, Martha said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn. 11:21). When Jesus was ready to raise Lazarus from the dead and had said, “Remove the stone,” Martha piped up, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench; for he has been dead four days” (Jn. 11:39). With Mary sitting at the feed of Jesus while she herself served as hostess, Martha felt the need to counsel the Lord. She said, “Lord do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me” (Lk. 39:40). What nerve!
Of course we still have some around today who feel they must advise the Lord. There are those who feel they need to advise Him on what kind of music He should want in worship to Him. There are those who feel they need to advise Him on which organization can do a better job of doing His work. There are those who feel they need to advise Him on which kind of sinners He should save. All of these advisers need to read Romans 11:34. The passage says, “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?”
Jesus told Martha, “Your brother shall rise again.” Martha replied, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (Jn. 11:23-24). Martha believed in the resurrection from the dead. She believed in the resurrection even in a day when some denied the resurrection (Mt. 22:23; Acts 22:8). She believed in the resurrection even before life and immortality were brought “to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 2:10).
We can believe in the resurrection from the dead because of the One who is “the resurrection and the life.” Martha certainly believed in Him. She referred to Him as “Lord,” “Christ,” “the Son of God,” and “He who comes into the world” (Jn. 11:27). She had enough faith in Him to say, “Even now I know that whatever You ask God, God will give You” (Jn. 11:22). Let us remember the bold declaration by Jesus on this occasion of raising one from the dead. He declared, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” He then asked, “Do you believe this?” (Jn. 11:25-26)
Teller About Jesus’ Call
After speaking with Jesus, Martha returned to her home. The record then says she “called Mary her sister, saying secretly, ‘The Teacher is here, and is calling for you'” (Jn. 11 -28). One author comments, “No sooner was she in the house then she called her sister. Her soul was all ablaze. Her faith was full and running over. Her heart was almost bursting to communicate its joy and satisfaction, and especially with a desire that her sister share the same, and go to the fountain and drink of its living waters. Genuine faith in Christ is ever communicative. . . (Pulpit Commentary, Vol. XVII, p. 120). In this act Martha was like Andrew and Philip (Jn. 1:40-46).
Jesus calls for our relatives. He calls for our neighbors and friends. He calls for our fellow-workers and schoolmates. In His call He says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light” (Mt. 11:28-30). Do they know of that call? Jesus expects us to tell them.
John 12:1-2 says, “Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there; and Martha was serving;. . . ” It seems Martha was always ready to open up her home to Jesus and His followers.
The Bible certainly teaches that this trait should be found in all of us. We should be “practicing hospitality” (Rom. 12:13), and to do so “without complaint” (1 Pet. 4:9). Hebrews 13:2 exhorts, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained ‘angels without knowing it.”
Anguisher About Things
On another occasion of such hospitality, we have the familiar rebuke of Martha by Jesus. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Lk. 10:41-42).
We still have a lot of Martha’s in the church today. Brethren, let’s be aware of the fact that “the worry of the world” will choke out the word (Mt. 13:22). “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). “Do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. . . . But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt. 6:25,33).
“According to a fragment of a Coptic gospel belonging to the second century, Martha was present with the other two Mary’s at the empty grave of Jesus (cf. Mt. 28:1-11), and went and informed the disciples” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. III, p. 2000). We really know nothing of Martha after the resurrection of Jesus, but surely she must have been a zealous and faithful member of the Lord’s church.
John 11:5 reads, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” Let us so live that we can be close, loving friends of Jesus.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 2, pp. 44-45
January 16, 1986