One thing is necessary – Luke 10:38-42

If I said that only one thing is necessary in life, and then asked people to guess what it is, we’d get a lot of answers:

  • Air, water, food. All make sense.
  • Mobile phone, WiFi? For some.
  • Other people, affection, love. Security. All sorts of things.
  • In truth, all really important things. Good things.

In our reading, Jesus said that sitting at his feet and listening to his words is the one thing necessary. But what about all the other things in life? More, what about all the other things he’s told us to do, like go out and make disciples, and love one another?

And if Jesus is the one thing necessary, what does that actually mean in the real world – tomorrow, and the day after?

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube given at Bromborough Evangelical Church Wirral in April 2023. You can find more in the series in our sermon index.

One thing is necessary

Let’s look at the text. Luke promised us an “orderly account”. But this seems to come out of the blue, on the back of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

  • Look closer. Read Luke 10:38.
  • Where were they travelling? To Jerusalem.
  • Did they expect a welcome in this village? Yes, the 72 disciples had gone out ahead, preparing the route.
  • We’re very much still in the context of the 72 disciples sent out by Jesus, and immediately after reminders to love our neighbours as ourselves. In short, serving Jesus.

Martha was a woman who was determined to serve Jesus. But her sister? Read Luke 10:39.

Was she lazy? No, nothing of the sort.

  • She sat at the feet of the Son of God Most High, hearing him speak words of truth.
  • She heard words from the one who was the eternal Word of God, the man who is truth and life. 
  • And she stopped everything and sat to listen. This man spoke the words of life. You would do well to listen to him.

Meanwhile, Martha had all the jobs to do. Food to prepare; a table to set. She had guests and had to rearrange the dining room to get them all in (so to speak).

  • But did her sister lift a finger to help? She did not!!
  • Read Luke 10:40.

Notice the words used.

There’s no suggestion that what she was doing was in any way wrong, except that it was a distraction. She had the Lord of the universe in her living room and she was busy folding napkins next door (as it were).

Mary is listening to what Jesus had to say. Martha wanted to tell Jesus what to say.

A gentle rebuke

Jesus answers with a gentle, loving rebuke. Read Luke 10:41-42.

  • There’s something of a gentle shake of the head in repeating her name: “Martha, Martha.”
  • He recognises her worry and upset. He’s aware she’s working hard but there’s something Martha really needs to grasp:
    • One thing is necessary: To sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his words.

Lots of things seem necessary to us: Food, money, health (“if you’ve got your health, that’s all that matters”), even life itself.

  • But suppose you have all those and more.
  • Imagine you’re on some kind of “rich list” and you’re young and in great health.
  • Jesus says that without him, you don’t have the one thing that’s necessary.

Knowing Jesus is the one thing that necessary for you because knowing him is the only thing you can’t lose. You will lose everything else, everything you can see and touch.

  • Without Jesus, you will never see heaven, never see God.
  • With him, you can have eternal life – forgiveness of all your guilt and sin, adoption by God, bliss beyond imagination (certainly beyond anything this world can ever offer).

But remember, he’s saying this to a woman who has already welcomed him in (Martha). It’s is a message for his own people.

Get the balance right

From what you’ve seen in Luke 10, you can easily get confused.

  • Jesus sent out 72 disciples in a way that is a precursor for all of us to go out in his name, witnessing for him today.
  • Last time we read about a teacher of the law quizzing him about “who is my neighbour?” so that he could keep the law and obtain eternal life.
    • Jesus certainly expects you to love your neighbour – and that’s anyone who needs you to be a neighbour to them.
  • And yet, it’s Mary who sits at Jesus’ feet doing “nothing” who seems to get praised, when the sister who’s doing all the work for Jesus is the one missing the point?

Is service of no value then? In any case, in the real world, we have to go out to work, don’t we?  We have jobs, responsibilities, bins to put out, shopping to do.  We can’t all be monks and nuns sitting round all day! So what’s the balance here? What is Jesus saying?

The 72 sent out

When we looked at the 72 being sent out we realised why we’re also sent out: People are drifting into hell, and we can help.

We ended with four practical things:

  1. Pray – For workers, remembering that you are one!
  2. Go – Trust God, and go.
  3. Guard your heart – It’s not your success or failure.
  4. Praise God and rejoice.

I said that the last one is probably the secret to evangelism.

The more you’re thrilled about Jesus, the less you’ll even think about evangelism – you’ll just radiate him and talk about him.

That was the 72. 

Love your neighbour

Then after that we looked at the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

We realised that we don’t love God or anyone the way we should. But, with some help from Galatians 5, we remembered:

  • You aren’t made right with God by observing any law.
  • Jesus is your “hope of righteousness” – you can only be saved by faith in him.
  • Your faith in him becomes love for him, as he first loved you. And his love in you flows out.

See what we’re getting at?

  • Your evangelism is fuelled by a living excitement of Christ himself.
  • And your love for others is fuelled by a living love for him, and his love for you being channelled through you by the Holy Spirit to others.

Rooted in Jesus

As Jesus later put it to his disciples: “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers.” John 15:5-6.

Martha badly wanted to do well for Jesus. The way to do well for Jesus is to sit at his feet and listen to his words! Apart from him, you can do nothing. If you are a disciple of Jesus and you’d like to do well for him, be sure you spend time at his feet listening to his words.

Then – and only then – you’re equipped and fuelled to go out and serve him in evangelism, loving others, or anything else.

Sit at Christ’s feet

We need to think this through then: How do you remain in Christ? How can you sit at his feet and listen to his word and live in the real world at the same time?

Let me list a bunch of things in no particular order for you to ponder and take up.

It may be that you have others that you can share with someone later on.

Now: Jesus is the communication and representation of the Father to you. And the Bible is the communication of Jesus to you.

  • So spend time with the Bible, but not to become a Bible quiz expert. 
  • Spend time with the Bible to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear him.

How? First, how did they do that in 1823, when no-one owned their own Bible and not many people could even read?

  • They went to church and they listened. Really listened.
  • You could ask someone after the service about the sermon and they’d give you a clear answer. Could you?
  • Don’t waste your time in a church where the Bible is barely read and never preached; you need to hear God speak, not people.

We’re in 2023, and you have a Bible you can read. Lots of them!

  • If it helps concentration to take notes, take notes.
  • If it helps to draw mind-maps of the sermon, do that (that’s what I do when I hear someone preach).

Read the Bible in private, at home. Sit at Jesus’ feet.

Take time (make time)

Where you can, make time to read and meditate about it:

  • Read slowly, thinking and praying. Try underlining or highlighting texts, or jotting down a thought or prayer.
  • Try a devotional commentary – there are plenty at the back.
  • Maybe read one with someone else or in your family.

Some of you will say, “I can’t. Life is too chaotic.”

  • Don’t beat yourself up. No-one is keeping score.
  • Some days, married couples spend a lot of time together; other days, there are all sorts of demands that mean they barely see one another.
    • If that goes on and on, they might set up a date night
    • If they’re only apart occasionally, there’s no problem.
  • The Lord knows what’s in your life.
  • Sometimes, you might need to set up a “date night” – actually plan in a time with him (you’d do it for a new film, or a sports event, or a special event).

So be realistic, and be deliberate. Plan (knowing that plans sometimes go wrong).

What if you can’t remember things?

Some might say, “I read, but then can’t remember what I read!”

  • But it’s not a quiz. You’re not swotting for an exam.
  • You’re sitting at the Lord’s feet, in his presence.
  • If your time with the Lord is a blessing, it’s a blessing. No bother that you can’t remember it later.

Try to be habitual, though not every day has to be the same.

There might be a time in the day that works better for you than for other people; that might not be the same at weekends.

  • There isn’t a “right” way to do this. 
  • There isn’t a right duration. Don’t beat yourself up.

How to spend 30 minutes at Jesus’ feet

But suppose you give yourself half an hour to sit at Jesus’ feet. What might you actually do, so that you don’t just get distracted?

  • Singing is good! Read or sing a hymn, or play one on YouTube. Maybe plan to start and end your time with a song.
  • Read from the Bible something readily understandable.
  • Think about it. What does it mean? What does it say about God? What does it say about you?
  • Pray in response to that. You’re having a conversation with the Lord and letting him speak first.
  • Pray about other things and situations on your heart. It’s always good to have a list.
  • You might want another piece of paper to jot distracting thoughts down for later.

If you can only snatch 5 minutes, snatch them! Pray what’s on your heart and mind. Christ loves you deeply. He knows where you are. Just pause and be with him.

Remember what you’re trying to do:

  • To be an effective witness for Christ, know him. The more you do, the less you’ll think about “evangelism” and you’ll just speak about him.
  • To be someone who loves others as Christ does, love Christ more. His love will flow naturally through you.
  • Above all, take time to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his word, and be in his presence. Live that as a true relationship, not simply a duty, and the rest will follow.