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by Jacob Ninan

The incident which took place when Jesus was in the house of Mary and Martha is familiar to all of us (Lk.10:38-42). Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to Him, while Martha was busy serving, perhaps preparing a meal. Martha then complained to Jesus that Mary was not helping her, and wanted Him to speak to Mary about this. But Jesus replied, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

Humanly speaking, it seems right that Mary should have helped Martha and not have been selfishly sitting in comfort, listening to a spiritual talk. If Martha had taken this matter to one of her friends and spoken about how she was struggling in the kitchen and how it would have lightened her burden if her sister also had lent her a helping hand, that friend would have agreed with her that Mary was selfish.

Suppose Martha had also explained to her friend how she herself would have loved to sit listening to Jesus, and how instead of doing that, she was denying herself for the sake of the others, Mary would have certainly appeared to be in the wrong. Yet we see that Jesus found fault with Martha and not with Mary. How easy it is for us to feel justified in our complaints, when we are in a situation similar to Martha's! How easy it is also for us to come to the wrong conclusion when we listen to someone complaining about another (Pr.18:17)!

How could Jesus possibly justify Mary? Was He saying that it was not so important to help others, or that it was only necessary to sit and read the Bible and pray and talk about spiritual things? Can we see the folly of human reasoning here, in trying to understand Jesus' wisdom?

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit in His thinking. He knew how to look at things the way God looks at them, and not the way man looks at them. We know that God looks at the heart, and not at the way things appear on the outside (1Sam.16:7). This is what made the difference.

Jesus understood that Martha was agitated over the fact that Mary was not helping her. She had an inward demand that it was the duty of others (like Mary) to help her. Such a demand was wrong, however right or wrong Mary's behaviour may have been. Even if Martha herself was convinced and could convince her friends that Mary's behaviour was wrong, the fact is still that, in God's eyes it was Martha who was wrong - because she had a demand on her sister. And Mary was right in the sight of God - because she made no demands on her sister.

Maybe Mary should have helped her sister. But because she was so engrossed with the Lord, perhaps the thought of helping Martha had not even occurred to her. So she was not being deliberately selfish. She just had not thought about the matter at all. So she was innocent! But she was still accused by Martha. How like Martha we all are, when we begin to judge others and to accuse them of being selfish and unconcerned!

How many problems in our life can be avoided in our lives if we learn not to judge by outward appearances! Jesus exhorts us to judge righteously (Jn.7:24). We can understand from this incident that to judge righteously is to judge according to the heart. We should be able to sense that even when a person's words may be right, his spirit could still be wrong, as Martha's was wrong. This is what Jesus saw - and that is what we should see also. However, since it is impossible to understand the hidden motives and intentions of another person's heart, we are also exhorted to leave all judgment to God alone for the final day (1Co.4:5).

We are told clearly that we are not to judge others (Mt.7;1). This means that we do not seat ourselves on the judgment seat and pass a judgment on others to condemn them - for that involves exalting ourselves above them and despising them. Only God has the right to judge man, because He alone has given man the Law.

However, we also read that a spiritual man judges all things (1Co.2:15). Among other things, he knows how to sense the spirit in others (v.14). He must exercise this discernment, if he himself is to avoid being polluted by wrong attitudes of others who talk to him (1Jn.4:1). This is especially important in our day when accusations, arguments and explanations abound on every hand.

All that we have said thus far can be quite confusing if we depend on our human reasoning. But we can judge ourselves. If we become 'agitated' or 'come out of rest' or 'lose our peace of heart', we can be certain that we are wrong - even when what we are saying or doing is 100% right. It does not help at all even if we are able to convince everyone around us about the rightness of our action, or about how good a reason we have for whatever we have done or said. What is the use of convincing men, when God who looks at our heart sees that it is bad inside?

Peace and rest in our heart is a clear indicator of our spiritual condition. Col.3:15 can be translated as: "Let the peace of Christ act as umpire in your heart". When we lose peace and rest in our hearts, it is similar to the referee in a football game blowing his whistle. Then the game has to stop until the foul is dealt with. So unrest is an indication that something is wrong.

We must also remember that this peace from God is not the same as that human calmness of personality that a strong, self-confident man has, who is capable of handling anything that comes his way. Such a person may appear to be unruffled when trouble comes. But this unruffled human temperament is as different from divine peace as black is from white. God's peace ruling in our hearts is based on the knowledge of our own helplessness and on our leaning completely on God alone for His help (Is.26:3). If we are honest, we can easily know in ourselves which peace it is that we have - the divine or the human.

May we all seek God in these days for a 'spirit of wisdom and revelation', not so that we might speak great and profound things, but that we might know Him and His ways more thoroughly (Ep.1:17).

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