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When we hear about Martha in the Bible, it is often in a negative way. She was the sister (of Mary) who was so busy with meal prep and homemaking duties that she wasn’t focused on her revered guest, Jesus.
I can certainly relate to that. As busy wives and mothers, we get tangled up in our to-do lists and forget that the relationships, not the tasks, are what God wants us to focus on.
But Martha also displayed great faith in God, as well.
Before we get into the lessons we can learn from Martha from Bethany (and they may not be what you think!), let’s get to know Martha a bit more and review the stories where we find her in scripture.
Meaning of the Name Martha
The name Martha is translated, in Hebrew, as mistress or myrrh. It comes from the verb מרר (marar), to be bitter or strong. The name Martha means “Lady Boss”, “Mistress”, or “Land Lady”
A bit about Martha
Martha is said to have lived in Bethany, Iudaea Province (modern-day Israel or West Bank).
While we don’t know the exact dates that Martha lived, scripture referencing Martha is found in both Luke and John. Luke was written between the years 80-90 and John between 90-100.
She is the sister of Mary and Lazarus.
Some early writers and biblical scholars, have connected Martha as the daughter, wife, or widow of Simon the Leper. Upon his death, she inherited the house. This would make sense based on the reference to the house, in Matthew 26:6 and Mark 14:3, when the resurrection of Lazarus was celebrated.
Others think that Martha may have been a near relative of Simon for whom she acted as hostess. But the narrative seems to suggest the home belonged to Martha and being older than Mary and Lazarus, she carried the responsibility of all connected with household affairs in the home.
We do know that she was a personal friend of Jesus.
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Key Bible Stories About Martha
We find Martha mentioned in three places in the Bible.
Serving Jesus at Her Home
The first mention of Martha in the Bible is found in Luke 10. She is in her home and hosting a meal for Jesus and the disciples.
Jesus was a close friend of Martha and her siblings. Scripture says that “…Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5).
On this day, Martha was bustling about preparing the meal and trying to be the “hostess with the mostest” for her honored guests. Her sister, Mary, however, sat down to listen to Jesus, which irked Martha to no end.
Scripture says that Martha “was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” (Luke 10:40), and she, in her anger and possibly, stress, snapped at Jesus saying “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”.
Oooh boy! Can you imagine talking to the King of Kings in this way???
She tells the Lord that a) He doesn’t care about her and actually gave Him a command to make Mary help her! Woah!
Getting wrapped up in her to-do list, she turned her focus away from the our Savior.
Jesus, so kind, so compassionate, knew her heart and that she was worried and troubled. He calmly told her that she needn’t worry about all of the preparations and that spending time with Him was all that was needed, as Mary had chosen to do.
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:41-42
Mourning the Death of Lazarus
The next time we see Martha in scripture, it is just after the death of her brother, Lazarus (John 11).
The sisters had sent word for Jesus when Lazarus became sick. They said ““Lord, the one you love is sick.” (John 11:3), but Jesus arrived after Lazarus had already died.
When Jesus approached the town of Bethany, Martha ran out to meet Him and said, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (John 11:21–22).
Two things stand out to me here: First, she has complete faith in Him that He will heal her brother. Second, is her statement “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” a bit accusatory? Martha seems to speak before she thinks, sometimes.
Martha’s faith, however, was rewarded as, four days after the death of Lazarus, Jesus resurrected him.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; – John 11:25
Serving Jesus and Another Faux Pas
The last time we come across Martha in the Bible, she is back in the role of hostess at a dinner in Jesus’ honor. (John 12:2).
This was the dinner where Mary, Martha’s sister, anoints Jesus’ feet with the expensive perfume. One of the disciples questioned this act and insinuated that this was wasteful and that the poor might have benefited from the money if the perfume were sold. This disciple, Judas, (the same one who would later betray Jesus) wasn’t concerned about the poor. Oh, no, he was greedy and saw dollar signs in his eyes when he saw the perfume.
“But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.:
Anyway. I digress.
When we read about three three stories about Mary and Martha in the Bible, we learn so many lessons. Lessons about trusting God, using our resources wisely and keeping our eyes focused on what is important – Jesus.
Read below for nine important lessons we can learn from Martha in the Bible.
Key Bible Verses About Martha in the Bible
Nine Important Lessons We Can Learn From Martha in the Bible
1. Be Humble
Martha wanted recognition for her good deeds and her hard work. She said to Jesus “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
She wanted Jesus to brag on her and praise her for cooking and preparing the meal. She was probably more than a little taken back when He, instead, gently corrected her, telling her that she is focused on the wrong thing.
Can you relate to Martha here? I’m sure, if we are being honest, most of us can. At least a time or two. We want someone to notice our hard work, the delicious meal we prepared, the blog post we wrote (insert your own answer here). It’s always nice to get a pat on the back, but if we are doing something for that recognition instead of as a service to the Lord or to show God’s love to other people, we have the wrong motivation.
Are you so bogged down in doing that you are neglecting those you are doing it for?
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, – Colossians 3:23
2. Ditch Comparisonitis
In the first story of Martha in the Bible, Martha compares herself to her sister. Martha is doing all the work and her sister is lounging about chit chatting away. She laments on the unfairness of it all.
As women, we tend to do this a lot. We compare ourselves to the lady in Bible study with the perfect hair or the neighbor with the brand new car. We use others as a measuring stick for our self-worth.
I know I’m convicted of this, myself.
When we look at others and feel like they have it all and we were stuck with the short end of the stick, resentment starts to build. “Why does so and so get to stay home with her kids while I have to work two jobs?” or “Man, Jane’s house could be on the cover of a magazine and I use throw pillows to hide stains on the couch”.
Here’s the thing about comparing yourself to others. You never see the whole picture.
The neighbor who gets to stay home? She may have been searching for a job for two years or might want to work and can’t due to an illness you can’t see.
Jane, with the Pinterest-worthy house? Her husband might be alcoholic who abuses her.
We see smiling faces of clean, well-behaved children and marriages on Facebook and think they have it all, don’t they? But, we don’t see their hearts.
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:10
Instead of comparing yourself and your lot to others, keep others in your prayers. They may, too, be struggling. But, most importantly, examine your own heart. Are you trying to win the approval of God or others? What’s most important?
3. Jesus is the Kind of Friend We Should All Be
When Martha demanded that Jesus make Mary help her, He didn’t reprimand her for talking to Him that way. (Let’s be honest here, I probably would have). Instead, he gently, corrected her, telling her that she was focused on the wrong thing.
Jesus accepted Martha for who she was. He let her rant and listened but responded with love.
Isn’t that what a true friend should do?
Jesus is that kind of friend. We can come to Him screaming and crying and carrying on and be honest with Him. He doesn’t mind. In fact, He loves you so much that He just wants to know what’s troubling you.
4. Rest is Not Lazy
Martha was in a frenzy cooking and preparing for her guests. She couldn’t imagine sitting down to enjoy their company. There was too much to do!
Serving others and meeting their needs is a great thing, but so is taking a break to recognize what’s important.
Martha was accusing Mary of being lazy, but Mary was focusing on being in the presence of God.
God wants us to be productive, but He always wants us to rest and enjoy fellowship with Him.
That’s not being lazy. It is refreshing our spirits. It is healthy.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”. – Matthew 11:28
5. Keep Your Priorities Straight
When Martha goes off on Jesus, He pretty much tells her to chill and that she is focused on the wrong thing (as I’ve shared above). Her priorities are completely out of whack.
Can you relate to this?
What is important? Our relationship with God. Our relationship with people. Loving God. Loving people. Serving God. Serving people.
And while we’re at it, our priorities in the home should be straight, too: God, Husband, Kids, then everything else.
There have been times in my life that I was so busy serving in ministry, that I neglected my fellowship with Him and my family, my first mission field.
Limit distractions. Remove everything from your calendar and add things back, according to your priorities, starting with Bible study and prayer time and church. Not small group, not the meetings for the seven different ministries that you serve on. Start with Him.
Then add time with your husband. Yep. Put it on the calendar. Commit to making your marriage a priority.
Next, your children’s activities.
Limit distractions from your life. Simplify and focus on what He says is important, starting with the most important of all: God.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:33
6. Mind Your Own Business
This one goes hand-in-hand with “comparisonitis”, but yet, it’s different.
Martha was resentful because she was working away and Mary was having fun. Ya know what? It wasn’t her business.
Focus on what you are doing and how you are pleasing the Lord. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing.
That’s between them and God. Not you and them.
A side note on this: Resentment can cause us to develop a hardened heart and get easily distracted. It can cause us to take our eyes off of the prize (Jesus).
“and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you,” – 1 Thessalonians 4:11
7. Give it to God
In two of the above stories about Martha in the Bible, she was experiencing a difficulty and brought it straight to God.
When she was angry with her sister, she told Jesus about it.
When she was hurting over the death of her brother, she went to Jesus about it.
Whatever you are facing, no matter how big or small, give it to God.
He wants to hear your prayers. He wants to comfort you. He wants to rejoice with you.
Good or bad. Sad or happy. Nervous or joyous. He wants all of you.
When you give your burdens to the Lord, he takes the yoke upon himself. You no longer have to worry. He’s got it covered.
Martha knew this and because of her deep faith in the Father, He blessed her. He wants to bless you, too.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
8. Hospitality is For Everyone
Family room a disaster? Stains on the living room carpet? Microwave threatening to boycott because of the splatters?
It’s totally fine. Yep. I said it. (If my husband is reading this, remind me that I said this, OK?)
Opening our homes and our heart to others is always a good thing.
Hospitality isn’t about cloth napkins folded into flowers. It’s about making your guests feel welcome by extending grace and love.
You can be just as hospitable offering ham sandwiches as you can a gourmet meal.
Biblical hospitality is about extending a hand in friendship to another of God’s children
9. Stop Worrying
Medical experts have told us for years that worrying affects our health. Jesus noticed that Martha was troubled. She was frantic and angry. What kind of affect does that have on our bodies? Ulcers, headaches, depression and so many more.
God tell us not to “be anxious about anything”. I clung to that verse when I was diagnosed with cancer.
Worry doesn’t change anything. It only makes it worse.
Why worry when our Heavenly Father has promised everything we need? (Yep, husband, remind me that I said this one, too).
When you are worried about something, give it to God. By giving it to Him, you are demonstrating that you have complete faith in Him and are completely dependent on him.
By releasing that worry, you are also giving yourself and your loved one a gift. We are much better people when we aren’t burdened with worry, aren’t we?
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7
The stories of Mary and Martha in the Bible are rich in lessons. I pray that these lessons will bless you. What else would you add to this list? What else can we learn from Martha of Bethany?
I’d love to hear from you.
Because of Him,