07-07-2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
[Here’s a story I first heard from Chuck Swindoll] Once upon a time, the animals decided they should do something meaningful about the problems of the world. So they organized a school. They adopted an activity curriculum of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.
The duck was excellent at swimming—better, in fact, than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor at running. Since he was slow in running, he had to drop swimming and stay after school to practice running. This caused his web feet to be badly worn, so that he was only average in swimming. But average was quite acceptable so nobody worried about that—except the duck.
The rabbit started at the top of his class in running, but developed a nervous twitch in his leg muscles because of so much make-up work in swimming.
The squirrel was excellent in climbing, but he encountered constant frustration in flying class because his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of from the treetop down. He developed cramps from overexertion and got only a C in climbing and a D in running.
The eagle was a problem child and was severely disciplined for being a non-conformist. In climbing he beat all the others to the top of the tree, but insisted on using his way to get there.
A duck is a duck—and only a duck. It is built to swim, not to run or fly and certainly not to climb. A squirrel is a squirrel—and only that. To move it out of its forte, climbing, and expect it to swim or fly will drive a squirrel nuts. Eagles are beautiful creatures in the air but not in a foot race. The rabbit will win every time unless, of course, the eagle gets hungry.
What is true of creatures in the forest is true of Christians in the family; both the family of believers and the family under your roof. God has not made us all the same. He never intended to. It was He who planned and designed the differences, unique capabilities, and variations.
If God made you a “duck” saint—you’re a duck. Swim like mad, but don’t get bent out of shape because you wobble when you run or flap instead of fly. If you’re an “eagle” saint, stop expecting “squirrel” saints to soar like you, or “rabbit” saints to build the same kind of nests you do.
So relax. Enjoy your spiritual species. Cultivate your own capabilities. Your own style. Appreciate the members of your fellowship for who they are, even though their outlook or style may be miles apart from yours. Rabbits don’t fly. Eagles don’t swim. Ducks look funny trying to climb. Squirrels don’t have feathers. That’s the way it should be. [Chuck Swindoll, Standing Out, Multnomah Press, 1983, pp 51-52]
The last couple of weeks we’ve been talking about growing—specifically, growing in the area of our spiritual gifts: G.R.O.W. (Gifts Revitalize Our Work). Spiritual gifts have been a recurring theme this year; we realize how vital it is for us as a church to base our ministries on the spiritual gifts given to us by God.
Paul said, “I don’t want you to be ignorant (uninformed, clueless) about spiritual gifts!” (1 Cor 12:1)
So why is it important to understand spiritual gifts? There are several key reasons:
- Human limitations. Our own best efforts to serve are always going to fall short. Trying hard is good, but it’s not good enough. Human strength only goes so far. “…After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Gal 3:3, NLT).
- God’s unlimited power. God provides supernatural resources for us to do his work—he is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph 3:20).
- God’s purpose. We each need God’s direction and enabling to fulfill the purpose and plan for our lives. “…it is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve his purpose” (Phil 2:13, Phillips).
- Healthy church. The proper (balanced) use of spiritual gifts will make for a healthier church—functional, not dysfunctional. 11 All these [gifts] are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines… 24 God has put the body together… 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Cor 12:11,24-25).
We need to know about spiritual gifts we can do our best with God’s help as individuals and as a church
We need to understand how gifts work so we are comfortable with each one being different—and doing different things.
Bottom line: We need each other. You need others to use their gifts—gifts which you don’t haveAnd they need you to provide gifts they don’t have.
We’ve been looking at examples from the Bible—people with different kinds of ministries, personality types, and abilities—to show how each one can contribute to the church.
We started this series by looking at Thomas, the so-called “doubting” Thomas. Last week, Pastor Jeff talked about Martha, who was so committed to serve that she criticized Mary who didn’t.
Thomas and Martha each had weaknesses—but they each had strengths as well. In fact, we need “Thomases” and “Marthas” in the church today.
We need each other because we all have strengths and weaknesses. Your God-given strengths can balance my human weaknesses—and vice versa. So together, we grow in our gifts—overcoming our weaknesses and developing our strengths further.
Today we’ll look at Martha’s sister, Mary, the one whom Jesus described as having chosen the better thing. In fact, we’ll read again the text that Jeff read last week:
(Luke 10:38-42) 38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made [CEV: worried about all that had to be done]. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care [CEV: doesn’t it bother you] that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things [MSG: getting yourself worked up over nothing], 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one [VOICE: only one thing matters]. Mary has chosen what is better [MSG: essential], and it will not be taken away from her.”
Martha and Mary were definitely two different personality types. Martha was a “task” person (get things done), but Mary…
- was sensitive to spiritual things—and Jesus supported her choice.
- Mary had her priorities straight
- she cared more about seeking God than meeting the expectations of others;
- she valued eternal truths more than short-term daily duties;
- she desired a relationship with Jesus, (apparently) risking her relationship with her sister.
There is no question that Mary chose the better way on this day. As Jeff pointed out last week, however, you can’t always live this way. There is a time to sit; there is also a time to go.
Christian Schwarz: “It is…difficult to criticize Mary’s behavior, since Jesus clearly justified it… [In fact] There is nothing wrong with Mary’s behavior in this story; the specific situation clearly warranted it. However, there is a problem when [some] believers make this sort of behavior a general pattern in their lives. They are always among those who sit around absorbing ‘spiritual things,’ while leaving the practical implications of ministry…to others” (Three Colors of Ministry, p 27)
The Mary-type of personality faces a couple of challenges…possible areas of weakness.
- Some might say Mary’s weakness was “tunnel vision”—she didn’t see the needs around her. Martha was trying to help Jesus by serving his followers: Martha needed help, the disciples needed food. In this situation, Mary had the right priority…but there would be other times when practical concerns take priority.
One time Jesus said to pray for workers for the harvest (Matt 9:37); another time he said open your eyes to see the harvest need (John 4:35); another time we are told to be the workers—the angel said reap (Rev 14:15).
- Another possible weakness for a Mary-type is never taking action. If someone always sits at the feet of Jesus, then they never serve. Even if they see the need, they may never take responsibility; they never go and do.
- Another potential weakness for Mary is over-spiritualizing matters—sometimes we don’t have to pray for guidance because God has already told us. If you always want to pray when you should obey, that could be an issue.
Wait on the Lord, yes! But don’t wait forever. Sit at Jesus’ feet, yes! But don’t sit forever. Eventually, you have to go. Nike says, “Just do it!”
Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they had been clothed with power from on high (Lk 24:49). But then they were to go out and do something. If they had continued to sit in the upper room, enjoying the ecstatic feelings, the spiritual high, the blessings, they would have been out of God’s will.
I once made the mistake of using the Bible as my excuse for not doing my chores. “Why didn’t you do what you were told?” Well, I was going to, but I wanted to read my Bible first. When he heard that, my father warned me: “Be careful that you don’t become so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.”
The eternal and the spiritual are most important, but the reality is that we also live in the world—where people need food, clothing, and shelter. In this particular situation at this particular time, it was good for Mary (and it would have been good for Martha) to sit at Jesus’ feet. The meal could wait until later.
But that would not always be true. There are other factors to take into consideration. Maybe later—after Jesus was done teaching—both Mary and Martha could serve the meal.
(James 2:15-17) 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Our faith is often expressed through specific, concrete, practical works. Being (believing) inevitably must become doing.
When John Wesley was six years old, his family home caught fire. The alarm was given and the parents thought everyone was out of the house safely. But when they started counting, they discovered that one of the children was missing. And then, to their horror, they saw young John Wesley at an upper story window, caught in the burning building.
The father, a devout, scholarly Anglican minister, immediately dropped to his knees, praying that God would save the boy. His mother, Susannah, who not only was a person of great faith but also a very practical woman, immediately ran next door, got a neighbor with a ladder and, working with the neighbor, rescued her son from the flaming house.
There are times when the best way to express your faith is to get off your knees and go get a ladder—take action, do what has to be done. Serve.
Last week, Jeff made a great distinction between Martha and Mary—recognizing in their relationship a tension that we all face within our own lives: the tension between being and doing, which seem at opposite ends of the spectrum.
As Trishia said to me after Jeff’s message, “I want to be a human being…not a human doing.”
I like that! It’s the direction we need to go if we want to gain control over the endless responsibilities and obligations that trap us in our daily routines. If we want to escape the mindless duties that drain our spiritual being.
At the same time, these two qualities (being and doing) really are linked. They’re on a continuum. If we go exclusively to one end of the spectrum (whether on Mary’s end or on Martha’s end), we will only create more tension.
We need both sides of the tension. Tension stretches us; it helps us grow.
Tension and stress can be a good thing! The guitar cannot make music if its strings are not pulled tight. If there is not stress on the strings, then you’ll get random noise, not beautiful music.
We think that Mary was the spiritual one and Martha was the practical one. But really, both were doing spiritual things. Serving is a very spiritual thing to do! Martha was doing what church leaders are called to do—serve (diakoneō, like deacons). It is a very spiritual thing to serve! We just need to find the balance.
Martha’s problem was not that she served; in fact, we all are called to serve. What you do is like a light that reveals God to others. Like the song: “This little light of mine.” Jesus said, “… let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).
Martha’s had several weaknesses—issues that Mary did not have:
- 1. Martha allowed her service to consume her. Focusing on DOING more than BEING. Getting caught up in the daily obligations and routines!
- 2. The more Martha worked and the harder she worked, the more she began to forget why she was serving and whom she was serving.
- 3. As Martha’s attitude shifted, she began to compare herself to others—and eventually to criticize her sister.
If serving becomes a worry or a distraction when it should be a joy—we have a problem. If serving consumes our spirit when it should nourish us—we have a problem.
- 4. Another problem with the Martha-type of personality is that serving became her primary (maybe exclusive) expression of love for God. Result: worship becomes a duty and a chore; worship becomes less about a relationship and more about a measuring stick.
That’s why those who are task-oriented, OCD, Martha-type of people need to slow down and “give it a rest.”
If you find yourself obsessing over responsibilities or the need to perform…if you find your sense of worth and self-esteem in all your accomplishments, then you’re slipping toward the extremes of a Martha personality.
If you cannot sit still for five minutes without your mind beginning to race about all the things you have to do, or if you wake up in the night consumed by your unfinished responsibilities, then you need a good dose of Mary’s personality.
Martha’s problems are balanced by Mary’s perspective. Martha needed Mary—and Mary needed Martha! So let’s see how things changed for Martha and Mary:
(John 12:1-3) 1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
There are several similarities between this story and the one in Luke 10. (1) Martha still served the dinner; (2) Mary still lavished her attention on Jesus. (3) Both were still operating in their strengths, in their area of gifting. In this story, however, there are a couple of differences:
- Martha doesn’t complain. Perhaps she had learned her lesson from before:
○ Serving is good (and can even be spiritual).
○ Being consumed with tasks is not good—being upset by demands of serving.
○ Complaining and comparing are not good—questioning others’ spiritual worth.
○ Forgetting the reason for serving is not good—it’s really about Jesus.
- Mary wasn’t merely listening. She was still focused on Jesus, totally devoted to him. That was her personality and an expression of her gifts. But she was also
○ Serving. In her own way, she was serving Jesus—pouring an expensive perfume on him: anointing him for “burial.”
In those days it was the custom to help your guests “freshen up” by taking care of their feet. But washing dusty, dirty, smelly feet (on the same road as the donkeys, horses, sheep, and cattle) was not a desirable task. Only lower-ranking servants served this way.
○ Giving. She didn’t just sit at his feet; she poured sweet perfume on his feet. Typically perfume was provided for your guest’s head—and water was for dirty feet. Matthew and Mark say Jesus’ head was anointed with perfume, but John says Mary went even further and poured it on his feet.
○ Sacrificing. What Mary gave came at a premium. It was an extravagant gift that cost her a great deal. Some complained it was too much—wasteful, about 300 denarii (or nearly a year’s wages…even at minimum wage, over $15,000 today or about three times as much for an average worker.)
- Both blessed others. Martha served the meal; but Mary offered an extravagant gift—pouring out her love on Jesus.
Mary’s gift not only ministered to Jesus; her gift touched everyone in the room. They all benefited because Martha served the dinner, but they also were affected by what Mary did. The pleasant aroma of her perfume filled the whole room.
Judas and others complained about it. Their attitude stunk. But Mary’s perfume counteracted their stinky attitude. The scent of her perfume wafted through the whole room. It was a wonderful fragrance that sweetened the air; Mary’s gift for Jesus became a gift for all.
We know we’re to be like “salt in the earth” or “light in the world,” but fragrance is another powerful image describing what our lives should be.
In 2 Cor 2:14-16 we read, 14 …God uses us to spread his knowledge everywhere like a sweet-smelling perfume,[EXB] like a fragrance that fills the air.[GW] 15 We Christians have the unmistakeable “scent” of Christ[PHP], the pleasing aroma of Christ[NIV]…
What smells do you enjoy? Taking in the aroma while walking through a pine forest…breathing the salty, misty smell on an ocean beach… When they make those little deodorizers to hang in your car, they don’t make them smell like an Iowa hog farm!
What is the fragrance of your life? Mary’s perfume spread through the whole room. Everyone there smelled it…and was affected by it.
Does your devotion to Jesus affect the atmosphere around you? Do people notice? Are they encouraged and uplifted because of your gifts? Do they see the light of your love and service to the Lord?
If you’re like Mary, they will.