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For Better or Best

September 22, 2019 Speaker: Dr. Rick Gregory Series:

Topic: Authority of Christ Verse: Luke 10:38–10:42

 “For Better or Best”

Luke 10:38-42

Theme: Be impressed by the Lord instead of attempting to impress Him.


Introduction: The idea of summum bonum – is Latin for “the highest or chief good.” The principle is applied to a diversity of things – and one’s answer will determine what one values and ultimate pursues in life. What is the most important thing in this life. Ultimately, we understand that bringing glory to God is the ultimate purpose for which we have been created. Yet, how can we best pursue the glory of God?

Serving Christ is a noble and honorable thing – John 12:26. In a sense, we have been saved to serve – cp. 1 Thessalonians 1:9. We are to serve one another in love – Galatians 5:13. Yet, when serving is the essence of our faith, we could be mere religionists.

If we had to reduce our life’s ambition to one thing, what would it be? In the Old Testament, David declared “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek” – Psalm 27:4. The Apostle Paul stated in Philippians 3:13: “One thing I do ….” Both of these men are referring to gaining a knowledge of the Lord. Allowing oneself to delight in the worship of Jesus Christ by pondering His worthiness, His works, and His Word, and then being transformed in our conduct to conform is the “summum bonum” of the believer’s life. Being completely consumed with Christ and His Word means that we are impressed by Him. Yet, so many people scurry about seeking to impress God with themselves. They think that their good deeds, severity of self-denial, degree of religious zeal, or achievements in the name of Jesus will bring God’s favor. 

Jesus in our story clarifies what can be confusing. The point is NOT that serving Him is unimportant, Nevertheless, there is something even greater – the willingness of a believer to hear the revealed Word of God. The neglect of God’s Word – the reading, the meditating, the memorizing, the preaching, and the applying of Scripture – produces believers who are unhealthy, emaciated, and corrupt. The robust, healthy, pure believer is one who sits at the feet of Jesus and listens with focused attention to His Word.  


I. There Is Delight in Devotion to the Word – 10:38-39, 42

A. The Acceptance of the Word – v. 38

  • Our text advances the account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and His Passion – “Now as they were traveling along …”
  • Jesus was doing exactly what He had commissioned His disciples to do – travel from village to village and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom – cp. Luke 9:2; 10:8-9.
  • Luke gives us a glimpse of the conversion of a family that would play a significant role in Jesus’ months leading up to the crucifixion – “… and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.”
  1. This phrase fits the same description used by Jesus to describe the responsiveness of those who believe – cp. Luke 10:5-9.
  2. “Martha” [Μάρθα] – a Greek phonetic transliteration from Hebrew and literally means “mistress” or the “female head of a household.”
  3. It suggests that she was the owner of the home that she shared with her sister Mary – cp. John 11:1.
  • It seems that Martha together with her sister Mary both believed the Gospel and were converted and entered into a relationship of faith and love with Jesus – cp. John 11:2, 5, 21-22, 27.

B. The Attentiveness to the Word – v. 39

  • We are immediately introduced to Martha’s sister – “She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.”
  • The idea of being “seated at the Lord’s feet” is a description of the position of a disciple – as close as she could get in a sustained desire to receive to what He had to offer - cp. Luke 8:35; Acts 22:3.
  • We are told that the reason that she was “seated at the Lord’s feet” was so that she could engage in sustained listening to Him – “… listening to His word.” 
  • “listening” [ἤκουεν] – is an “imperfect” tense, emphasizing a sustained, repetitive action – she was unwilling to be distracted from absorbing the significance of what Jesus was saying.
  • “The moment Jesus indicated that he had something to impart Mary turned from everything else to sit and to be absorbed in what he said. This natural, devoted, devout, complete attention to Jesus’ Word stands through all the ages of the church as the true mark of discipleship.”
  • This “listening” indeed is what is needed in the life of believers whose lives are crowded by a cacophony of sounds, voices, and other distractions that cause us to neglect the Word of the Lord – cp. Luke 6:46-47; 11:28; cp. 1 Thessalonians 2:13.

C. The Authority of the Word – v. 42

  • Jesus commends Mary and her interest in and submission to His Word – “but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
  • When given the choice between listening to the Word of the Lord and doing good things in service of the Lord, “the good part” or, “what is best” of our options is always going to be to give heed to the Word.
  • Hence “only one thing is necessary” – the hearing and heeding of God’s Word – Acts 20:32; 1 Peter 2:2.
  • As a result of the regenerating, sanctifying, edifying power of God’s Word, the benefit and transformation that occurs through its influence “… shall not be taken away from her.”.


  1. Initial responses to the Gospel do not always transfer to devotion to the Lord - What has made the difference in your life? 
  2. In what ways does your life demonstrate attentiveness to the Word?
  3. For what eternal progress in your life are you the most grateful?

II. There is Danger in Distraction by the Work – 10:40-42

A. The Preoccupation with Dutifulness – v.40a

  • In contrast to Mary stands her older sister Martha who was a “doer” – someone who was more interested in making Jesus comfortable than in Jesus’ impact upon her.
  • We are told that “Martha was distracted with all her preparations” – [περιεσπᾶτο] a term that refers to her constantly being pulled away from a focus – seeing constant “squirrels” distracting her attention away from Jesus.
  • She clearly wanted everything to be “just right” for this most important visitor – a noble and hospitable desire.
  • Yet, instead of yearning to have her own heart impressed with His Word, she desired to impress Him with her actions.
  • “her preparations” [διακονίαν] – literally refers to “much serving” – meal preparation, table setting, sleeping arrangements, decorations, water bowls for foot washing, appetizers, wine selections and supply, cushions for reclining at the tables, and a multitude of other arrangement that would show the Master how important He was to her.
  • The impact of all of this was that she had no time to sit down and listen to the soul cleansing, transforming Word that He was speaking.
  • This is too often the mode into which we can slip – fretting and fussing in all the ways that we are able to serve Christ but we neglect the simple, humble willingness to forego some of our “busyness” to humbly listen to what He has to say.

B. The Perplexity in Dutifulness – v. 40b

  • As a result of all of her efforts, she looks at Mary’s “leisure” and is frustrated – even questioning Jesus’ compassion for her given all that she is having to do “by herself” – “… and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Tell her to help me.’”
  • Not only is she critical of Mary, she is critical of the Lord for being insensitive to all that she was having to do.
  • This woman was a real case - she had just met the Messiah and is already criticizing Him as One who was failing her and telling Him what He needed to do to make it right.
  • She was perplexed as to how He could possibly be okay with Mary “just” sitting there.
  • She was apparently doing all of this in order to impress Christ, but she demonstrated how one can so quickly sour when we are cut off from the Word of God.
  • She had presumed that physical bread and the feeding of the body was a superior priority to the Bread of Life that feeds the soul.

C. The Predicament in Dutifulness – v. 41 

  • Jesus’ reply was tender in light of her arrogance – “Martha, Martha, …” – an indication of intense emotion.
  • He said to her: “you are worried and bothered about so many things.”
  • These two descriptions complement one another:
  1. “worried” [μεριμνᾷς] – to have anxiety or to be unduly concerned about something.
  2. “bothered” [θορυβάζῃ] – troubled or disturbed, upset
  • When we allow our activities to be of greater priority to God’s Word, we create a shallow state of being that cannot endure the trials, emotions, and attitudes that our flesh generates.
  • She failed to realize that Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45.
  • When He declares: “… but only one thing is necessary …” – as a reference to focusing upon Him, He places Himself above the Torah which was identified by Judaism as the “one thing that is necessary.”
  • Ultimately this becomes an appropriate response to the Lawyer (in the previous section) indicating that to love God will be to love Christ Jesus and heed His Word. 


  1. How does one balance the avoidance of distraction while being attentive to duties?
  2. Have you ever been frustrated because you seem to be doing all the work in a ministry? How can you avoid this?
  3. What are some ways that one might transition from attempting to “impress” the Lord and being impressed by the Lord?