38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”
41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”
The story of Martha and Mary reminds us that for a very long time, people have been distorting what worship and serving the Lord should look like. We have Mary, who is fixated at Jesus’ feet and is unmoved by anything else in the world. She sits attentively before Jesus listening to every word. Mary looks naïve and unproductive to Martha, but in Jesus’ eyes she is wise and doing exactly what she should be doing. Martha on the other hand, is busy working away to prepare dinner for Jesus and all the other guests traveling with Him. Martha seems pragmatic and productive in Mary’s eyes, though she is clearly distracted. Typically, when we read this story we are prone to decide that Jesus was correcting Martha because what she was doing was wrong, and what Mary was doing was right. I disagree with that line of thinking. I believe that both women were worshipping Jesus. Though their individual worship differed from each other, each was pleasing to the Lord in their unique gifts and acts that honored His presence. Mary was obviously listening and learning His Word; a beautiful act of worship. Martha operated in the gift of hospitality and serving Jesus and His disciples; another beautiful form of worship. The problem only begins when Martha demands that Jesus make Mary serve and worship in the same way or form that she is. It’s at this point that Jesus corrects Martha, and then reminds her that Mary has discovered the ONE thing worth worrying about (Himself). Until that point, Jesus was perfectly fine with Mary worshipping and serving in her own unique way, and Martha worshipping and serving in her own unique way. The gift of hospitality that Martha demonstrated was just as honoring and life-giving as what Mary was demonstrating, until Martha made it about herself and the others around her instead of Jesus.
If you think this is an isolated event in Scripture then you haven't been around church people for very long. We church folk have always struggled with demanding attention to our own forms of worship/service from other people, so that we can feel validated by God. The obvious problem that Jesus points out is, when we worship or serve, we are not to be concerned with what other people are doing, as that perverts our focus. Instead, we are to be consumed by Jesus. Like Martha, when we are focused on how other people are responding to how we are serving or worshipping, we are revealing that we are actually worshipping SELF and what WE can do. Martha's problem was not what she was doing, rather what she was focusing on. I firmly believe if Mary would have interrupted Jesus to point out what Martha was doing, she would have received the same tender rebuke from Jesus. The point of worship and serving is never the activity, but the focus of your heart. Any time we become offended at how someone else worships or serves Jesus, it is revealing to us the focus of what we are actually worshipping. Of course, there are times where people are clearly mocking worship and service, in obscene and destructive ways. That is a different situation that needs to be addressed, and should be. Though, if someone else is responding to God’s grace in their life with radical zeal and you become offended at their response, there is most likely something that needs to be examined in your own heart. Since my salvation, I have always been a part of a contemporary, charismatic church. Flag waving, dancing, shouting have always been a normal part of worship in my mind. Of course there will always be people who abuse these practices for self glorification, but by large, charismatics are genuine God loving people who worship to their best ability in ways that they feel is honoring to God. Upon moving to the Bible belt, I have learned people worshipped more commonly with hymns, kneeling rails, and heads bowed. I struggled with this at first because it was foreign to me. Though I quickly learned that people who worship in a more traditional manner are still genuine God loving people who, as I stated earlier, worship to their best ability in ways that they feel is honoring to God . Of course, just like charismatics, there are traditionalists who use their hymnals and pews as a form of self glorification. I tend to personally get ostracized more frequently by those people. I've learned through God's grace, that both forms of worship express different reflections of God’s presence being poured out on people who genuinely love Him in return. If I am making Jesus the focus of my heart, I can worship and serve Him in ways I feel Him calling me to, without putting an unhealthy burden on others to respond to His Presence the same way I do.
This is true unity, diverse people making allowance for each other. Responding corporately to worship freely in the presence of Jesus, without expectation for how their neighbor does. People who can serve without drawing attention, or having to politic others to serve as they do, I believe, is how we become a pure and spotless Bride – ready to receive a fresh visitation from our King.