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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.
An image of a woman praying with an overlay of text that says, “9 Important Lessons We Can Learn from Martha in The Bible.”
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.
Bethany, where Martha in the Bible lived
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.
Key Bible Stories About Martha
We find Martha mentioned in three places in the Bible.
Serving Jesus at Her Home
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 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.
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.
Serving Jesus and Another Faux Pas
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 the 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
(Click on the below image to get the downloadable/printable version of Key Bible Verses about Martha in the Bible and the lessons we can learn from her. Use them for deeper study, in your Bible journaling or War Binder)
Martha in the Bible: Heroine or “Villain”?
Few biblical women cause as much controversy as Martha does.
For some (maybe the majority), Martha is a warning of who not to be. Her story reminds us to be better people and put our priorities in order.
For others, they see Martha as a thankless heroine, a bastion of biblical womanhood, and someone who isn’t afraid to dive in and do the work that needs to be done.
Most conversations about Martha in the Bible focus on her shortcomings, rarely her strengths, but both sides fail to reflect with accuracy what Scripture tells us about her.
As discussed above, there are two main accounts of Martha in the Bible, and each one gives us a different insight into who she was. Let’s revisit some of the above scripture to take a closer look, shall we?
Many refer to this story as an example of the Proverbs 31 woman, diligently caring for her home and focusing on hospitality. Be like Mary, they encourage; don’t be like Martha.
I mean, really, who wants to be scolded by Jesus for not having her priorities in order?
We need to be cautious to remember that Jesus, not Martha is the main character in this story of the Bible. Mary’s focus and her reaction are her downfalls. Her focus should have been on Jesus. Her reaction should not have been to ask Jesus to get Mary off the chair and start helping her!
Truly, we need not look at Martha in the Bible by looking at her weakness but at Jesus’ strength.
Jesus answers Martha’s complaints with love, offering her the same saving grace that he offered to Mary and his disciples.
All of Scripture points to Jesus as living water, the only answer to be set free from sin, pain, and death.
This brief account shows us Jesus offering Himself as the only thing we need. The only thing necessary, who, to us, is “the strength of my (our) heart and my (our) portion forever.”
It is only because Jesus has forgiven our sins that we are able to approach the Father through Him. In other words, reconciliation with God does not come from an earthly calm or cessation of life’s busy things but rather as a result of being in His light and being empowered to approach Him.
This account of Martha in the Bible starts very differently:
Another request, this time healing for a sick brother. Biblical scholars note that, once again, Martha is appealing to the only one who can truly help. Her petitioning showed just how much she trusts in Jesus as her help and salvation.
Interestingly, Jesus does not go immediately to Bethany. He waits for some time, and when He decided to go, we learn in verse 17 that:
Death, Blame, and the Leveler
The focus has shifted from preparing food and serving guests.
Let’s read that again:
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
She was placing blame on the King of Kings for his utter disregard for her previous pleas for help. If only He had been there, her brother would not have died.
Have you thought that? If only God were there, this or that would not have happened. The suffering, the pain, the loss. It can feel, at times, as if the Lord is ignoring our prayers.
When we point to Martha in the Bible as either a heroine or a villain, we are missing the point in scripture.
The deaths of those we love the most can be a great leveler. They remind us that life is short and unpredictable, which in turn, makes death all too inevitable. It forces us to face our own mortality and experience earthly pain when someone we love dies.
The accounts of Martha can cause us to feel conflicted. We are either reminded of what we should be doing (focusing solely on God as our refuge and strength) or what we shouldn’t be doing (permitting the troubles of this world to get in the way of our relationship with Jesus.
When we feel oppressed by the weight of death and sin in our life, we need God.
Let’s read on:
Read that verse again “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Read it again, if you desire. KNOW that Martha had, and we have the promise of resurrection! Martha knows that she will see her brother again. We know that we will see our loved ones again.
Martha’s pain is not met by an admonishment from Jesus for blaming Him for her brother’s death. Instead, we read,
Do YOU believe this? Do you KNOW the hope and salvation you have in Jesus Christ?
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 about her and praise her for cooking and preparing the meal. She was probably more than a little taken aback 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, and 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?
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 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 an 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.
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?
Lessons from Martha in the Bible
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.
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 when 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 a 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.
6. Mind Your Own Business
This one goes hand-in-hand with “comparisonitis,” 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 the prize (Jesus).
7. Give it to God
In two of the above stories about Martha in the Bible, she was experiencing 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.
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 by 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 effect does that have on our bodies? Ulcers, headaches, depression, and so many more.
God tells us not to “be anxious about anything.” I clung to that verse when I was diagnosed with cancer.
Worrying 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?
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?
You may enjoy this video teaching about Martha in the Bible:
Or one of these recommended resources for further study:
Made Like Martha: Good News for the Woman Who Gets Things Done by Katie M. Reid and Lisa-Jo Baker
Face-to-Face with Mary and Martha: Sisters in Christ (New Hope Bible Studies for Women) by Janet Thompson
ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”