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But One Thing is Needful

by Robert H Boll

(From a 1902 Gospel Advocate)

Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and heard his word; but Martha, distracted with much serving, bustled busily to and fro. Martha owned the house and the household, and she felt that much revolved upon her. So much work, so much care, so much responsibility! What woman having the care of a household has not felt thus cumbered? · Martha was doing a good thing. She worked and cleaned and served, as all good housewives should; and I would not say that God was not pleased with the work of her hands, for his own ideal of a woman was a diligent, busy worker. (Prov. 31: 10-31.)

Many a woman toils and suffers bravely, burdened with cares and servings, with the bringing up of children, in household duties, and no one fully understands or appreciates all she does and bears, except God alone; he appreciates it. Among those of whom it is written, ” Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth; Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors,” will be good women who shouldered their work and their burdens and troubles and did their daily task as unto the Lord.

Yet Jesus did not altogether commend Martha. While it is right and good that a woman should see to her housework and be intent upon serving, especially under such circumstances, let it not be forgotten that serving is not the object of her life. Certainly, neither men nor women that shirk their work are pleasing to God. Each in his sphere-let them be diligent and faithful. But I repeat: that is not the object of their lives. There is a higher thing, without which all their labor is useless and meaningless. What that great thing is you may gather from Jesus’ answer.

Martha, weary and worried, said to him: ” Lord, dost thou not care that my sister did leave me to serve alone’? bid her therefore that she help me.” The Lord answered: ” 1\Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: for Mary hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” There is much useless trouble and anxiety, even useless work and useless serving. There is many a poor woman, too, who, being inordinately cumbered with her work and her household affairs, loses sight of the ” one thing ” needful; and much the same can be said of men.

Some think that to make a living and get on in the world is the exalted aim of our existence, and accordingly absorb themselves altogether in that lofty pursuit. On such men the cares of this life weigh heavier than on those who have another hope and a higher interest. It is right to work for a living. Every Christian will do with his might what his hands find to do and be diligent in whatever work may be his or hers.

Bunyan shows us a man who was so busy with his rake that he failed to see the angel who, hovering above him, offered him a golden crown. It is right to rake and to plow and to gather; it is right to sweep and to dust and to cook. But the day will come when all the gathered crops shall have disappeared and all the work of the woodcutter shall have been consumed into smoke long ago; the day will come when all the meals the busy housewife has cooked shall have been forgotten and the floor she swept shall be. decayed and the house she kept be tumbled into ruins; and of all their labors no trace shall seem to be left. What will then remain’? Only that ” good part ” of which Jesus spoke, ”which shall not be taken away from her;” the knowledge of God’s word, with all the fruit of faith and the blessing it carries that alone shall remain. It is great to be able to rate things according to their value and importance. A child will prefer a red-cheeked apple to a ten-dollar bill, and a savage will trade a lump of gold for a scarlet rag, and a profane person, like Esau, will sell his birthright for a morsel of meat. Have you ever considered that the knowledge of a verse of God’s word can be of more value to you than a barn filled with the land’s rich harvest; that even for today you get more comfort and happiness from a page in God’s book than from all the plans and enterprises and worries that fill your heart?

As for eternity, man’s mind cannot measure the blessing the word of God will mean there. No wonder that David thought the precepts of God “more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold;” for he had some insight into the true scale of value. How many cumbering Marth’s let their toils and cares crowd out that “good part” -women who in the turmoil of household duty forget the one thing really needful!  With all such would I plead: Do not let this world despoil you of the next. You have a God-given right to spend a part of your time every day at the feet of Jesus, drinking in the words of life eternal.

Let nothing come between you and him to cheat you out of that daily privilege; and let Sunday dinners take care of themselves and go worship God. Or the poor Esau’s that are bartering away their hope of glory for a bank account, or even for a passable living-have they considered that their excess of work and worry is needless, and but one thing is needful! The cares of this world choke out the good seed as effectually as the pleasures and riches. Lift up your eyes and see that there are higher things, greater aims, nobler hopes. Take a while each day and sit at Jesus’ feet and learn of him, and he will give you rest. Then work as unto him faithfully in the sphere he has appointed you, and his love will make your burden lighter; his rod and his staff will comfort you. Neither will blessing and sustenance fail; for, as the Holy Spirit spoke of the man that delights himself in the law of God and meditates in it day and night, ” he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and what so ever he doeth shall prosper.”



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If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Romans 14:8