The One Thing
by Timothy Don Binion
Luke 10:42 “But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Mary and Martha lived in the town of Bethany about two miles from Jerusalem on the road that led to Jericho and Trans-Jordan. Jesus must have visited there frequently as he traveled between Galilee and Jerusalem. Martha seems to have been the older sister, who took the responsibility for the household. A striking comparison is made between Martha and her younger sister Mary.
Notice first that Christ made a comparison and not a contrast. One of them made the best or better choice. A comparison of absolutely bad and positively good would overstate Christ’s teaching. However a comparison of good that was insufficient and a good that was sufficient, better describes this teaching. There are the positively bad, unlawful, and ungodly choices that Christ condemned in other places. However, here He condemns the too-absorbing pursuit of that which is not supreme or that which is good only up to a certain point and beyond that powerless.
Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. This was the ancient posture of disciples or learners. They sat at the feet of their teachers. So, Mary listened attentively to his instructions, and was anxious to learn. The Bible says she “Heard his word”. The Greek word (ekouen) means that she was continually listening to the Master, or that it was her custom to do so. “One who always used to listen to his teaching” would be a good paraphrase.
Jesus invites all of us to listen and learn. [Matthew 11:29] Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
Martha on the other had was cumbered. The Greek word (periespato) means to be pulled away or to be pulled apart, hence “distracted,” and “overburdened.” For Martha, and many times for us it is not the serving; it is the being “cumbered by the serving, or the things that imped heavenly matters that cause us problems. It’s easy for a good kind soul to become distracted by a multitude of concerns. When these concerns become a spiritual distraction we loose sight of the more important issues. [Proverbs 24:33] Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: Oh how quickly these little pressures become large. It may not be one big thing that distracts, but the combination of many little things.
[Proverbs 15:16] Better is little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble therewith.
There is no evidence that Martha had a worldly or covetous disposition. Her anxiety was to provide suitable means for the household which is a very noble and good cause. Upon perceiving Martha’s dismay with Mary’s lack of concern for our Lord’s comfort. Jesus said: “Martha, Martha”. On several occasions, according to Luke’s account, Jesus repeated a name when he wanted to make some unusually impressive statement. His important statement rings loud and clear to us today “one thing is needful”.
Observe the antithesis of the phrase “one thing” found in verse 41 which is the “Many things”. In her anxiety about many things, she had lost the one thing needful. Are we doing this today?
Notice closely the inference he was drawing. Many, however many they may be, they may constitute many good things like health, home, comfort, worldly possessions, literary delights and art but all of them combined together do not compare to the one thing. These will not last and they do not satisfy. Sooner or later they break down and leave us portionless and hopeless. Martha thought “many things” were necessary for the Lord’s comfort, and was wearing herself out to prepare them.
Christ stresses the one good thing, the one thing that is surpassingly excellent. Was this “one thing” one dish of food? Everyone knows preachers re inundated or bombarded with food during revivals. Let us notice what one thing David desire [Psalms 27:4] One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.
Other things are of little importance. We are encouraged to secure this first and other things will be added to us (Mat 6:33). I believe Martha’s company meant more to Christ than Martha’s cooking. So, what principles do we learn from this lesson. First, cares of this life are dangerous, even when they seem to be lawful and commendable. Nothing of a worldly nature could have been more proper than what Martha was doing.
Why did Christ refer to believers as sheep? Is it because they are cute? No, Sheep are dumb domestic animals that are prone to stay, not able to defend themselves, clean themselves, nor find water for themselves. They have to be led to green pastures because they can’t find it on their own. SHEEP NEED THE ONE GOOD THING.
Satan has invented innumerable schemes to occupy our minds and keep us busy with the non-essentials of life. Even proper things can engross the mind and distract us from the Primary. The care of our family may be the means of our neglecting religious matters.
[Luke 21:34] And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.
[Mark 4:19] And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.
Satan is consuming us with the cares of this life. These good and acceptable causes and events crowd our lives. [Revelation 12:12] . . . Woe to the inhabiter of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
What is the solution? Suspend worldly entanglements and attend to the affairs of the soul. It was proper for Mary, it would have been proper for Martha, it is proper for you. Suspending worldly affairs.
[Colossians 3:2] Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
If you are to busy for Christ, you are just to busy.
Godliness and Holiness, are the chief things needed. Jim Elliot, a young missionary who was martyred for his faith, encouraged others to serve when he said: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
The one thing we all need most is an intimate, abiding relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you have the One thing?