Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42 ESV
In the Gospel of Luke, the visit of Jesus to the home of Mary, Martha & Lazarus brings about this brief but precious conversation — and an arresting statement. What is this “one thing necessary” that Jesus speaks about?
In directing Martha (and all of us) to turn to “the one thing necessary” our Lord points to a contrast here, that Mary had chosen better — a superior use of her time, a more important focus for her energies and cares. Jesus told Martha that she was anxious and troubled about many things. Granted, Martha was not doing anything inherently wrong; in fact she was doing much that was good! Yet, Jesus implies that her heart was tangled up, her busyness was not right. She was distracted and worried and upset in a worldly way. Our hearts can be pulled away from the Lord by busyness in respectable activities. God does not want our busyness — religious or otherwise. God wants our hearts. Indeed the greatest commandment of all of Scripture is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. (Matthew 22:37-38). This is what Mary appears to be doing — learning at the feet of Jesus, even worshipping as she took in His words of truth and life. She put first things first and Jesus was so very pleased!
Jesus points to Mary and tells Martha (and us): that’s the better thing, that is the one thing necessary! Oh how the world misunderstands what God requires — and how much those who are merely religious miss the most important thing. Many people think they know what Jesus wants, but will not listen to His very words here to Martha! As a famous preacher once said, it should be our first and sole business to attend to our soul’s business!
The ox bellows, the ass brayeth, goats and sheep may be known by their bleat; and so is a man by the tenor of his discourse. As the constitution of the mind is, so are the words. …. Still the tap runs according to the liquor with which the vessel is filled; and a man’s speech betrays him of what kind he is….
Commenting further on Psalm 119:11 — I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you — puritan Thomas Manton lists practical helps to the believer who has memorize Scripture:
HIDE GOD’S WORD IN YOUR HEART
1. It will prevent vain thoughts.
2. A source of comfort, when you are alone, and without outward helps
3. It will help supply your prayers
4. It will be a great help in all your daily business [Prov. 6:21-22]
5. Relief (and a ‘sword’) when you face temptations.
6. Relief when you are afflicted and faint.
7. Making your conversation with others more gracious. [Mt. 12:34]
Psalm 119 has the perfect verse to direct us to memorize Scripture:
119:11, I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Thomas Manton tells us several good reasons to do this, including that we may have it ready for our use:
When it is hid in the heart, it will be ready to break out in the tongue and practice, and be forthcoming to direct us in every duty and exigency. When persons run to the market for every penny-worth, it doth not become good housekeepers.
In our day as a plethora of words fly through airwaves, TV cables, the internet and emails, we do well to hear and heed the following warning from Puritan Thomas Manton.
Idle words weigh heavy in God’s balance. God, that hath given a law to the heart, hath also given a law to the lips: “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Mt 12:36). Words will come to be judged; either we are to give an account of them here, or hereafter; either to condemn ourselves for them, and seek pardon, or to be condemned hereafter before GOD. A loose and ungoverned tongue will be one evidence brought against men, as a sign of their unrenewed hearts, in the day of judgment.
PSALM 19:14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (esv)
Puritan pastor Thomas Manton reminds us that at conversion a Christian is given a new heart designed to battle sin, and grow in Christ-like-ness….
“There is a form of grace introduced into the soul, that suits with every point of the law. The heart is framed to resist every sin, to observe all that God hath commanded. A new born infant has all the parts of a man, though not the strength and bulk; so every Christian in regeneration. Men may be born without hands or feet, but the new creature never comes out maimed or imperfect. It is small and weak at first, but it grows and gathers strength.”
Every Tuesday I hope to post a delicious morsel from my favorite Puritan, Thomas Manton (c.1620–1677). Emphasis is my own.
“To convince us of sin, to humble the heart, to reduce and bring us back to God, there is no rule for this but the law of God. Men make laws as tailors do garments, to fit the crooked bodies they serve for, to suit the humours of the people to be governed by these laws; surely they are not a sufficient rule to convince us of sin, and to guide us to true happiness. A civil, orderly man is one thing, and a godly, renewed man, another. It is God’s prerogative to give a law to the conscience, and the renewed motions of the heart. Human laws are good to establish converse with men, but too short to establish communion with God; and therefore we must consult with the rule, which is “the law of the Lord,” that we many not come short of true blessedness.”
— Sermon on Psalm 119:1
(Page 6, Volume 1 of 3, Psalm 119, Banner of Truth Trust, 1990)