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Two Halves That Make a Perfect Whole

Photo of Debbra StephensDebbra Stephens | Bio

Debbra Stephens

Transplanted in the South from her home state of Michigan, this suburban mom-of-two loves her Lord Jesus and His wonderful Word. A dedicated student of the Word, she loves to share what she learns in the classroom, at events, and on the page—dependent upon the ever-faithful Holy Spirit to turn thoughts to text. Debbra has authored four Bible studies, all published by 21st Century Christian Publishers in Nashville, Tennessee. She launched the series Advent Living Books for her seasonal daily devotionals in 2018. Debbra blogs at her website and has been published in Christian Woman Magazine.

“What happens in Small Group, stays in Small Group.”

Agreed, but maybe that statement requires a qualifier.

The group I met with on Sunday evenings for over 18 years fed both body and soul, mind and spirit—because after our group discussion we always shared a meal.

We would talk Jesus . . . Scripture . . . life. It was positively exhilarating! And the food was always fabulous. In essence, discipleship took center stage—as we were both served and fed. It was a great combination!

We served one another. And we discipled one another.

Those two verbs make great bookends. Actually, they’re the perfect pair—they are two halves that perfect the whole.

A gospel occasion comes to mind where both verbs are seen in action: the account of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-41). Here we see where those in attendance were served by Martha and discipled by Jesus.

In this intimate setting of disciples gathered around their Rabboni, I imagine everyone had something to learn from Jesus. However, there are two valuable—and necessary—lessons Jesus taught Martha, in particular, to inform His modern-day disciples even today. The first is focus. And the second is attitude.

The Focus of the Disciple

The account opens with what she got right: “Martha opened her home to” Jesus (vs 38). It is a hospitality that is seriously lacking in our culture today, by comparison.

However, Luke was careful to mention that Martha was distracted (vs 40). The Greek, periespato, is defined as “to draw away, over-occupied, too busy.”[1]  She was drawn away from Jesus “by all the preparations.” Or, as the ESV translates, “with much serving.” She was caught up in the details.

Did she strive to impress? Please? Was it because she craved approval? Or demanded perfection? She may have felt a fear of being shamed—judged by others that her hospitality was substandard by cultural norms. Or maybe she felt she was the only one doing all the work—this causing resentment toward her lounging sister.  That was her complaint to Jesus. (As one that’s gotten caught up in riveting conversations about Jesus in our small group, I can imagine how mesmerized Mary must have been, sitting at the feet of Jesus!)

Martha got lost in the details—at the expense of social graces. She took her eyes off Jesus and locked in on Mary and the work. The lesson? In the midst of service, the disciple shouldn’t overlook his or her Master.

The Attitude of the Disciple

Martha’s lament, “Lord, my sister has left me to do the work by myself” (vs 40), is gilded in complaint. Jesus’ response spotlights her attitude. He points out that she is “worried and upset” (vs 41). The ESV uses “anxious and troubled.” No translation alludes that these are commendable attitudes for a disciple serving their Lord. Distraction and worry rob us of His peace and casts shadow across the light of service.

Could it be that Martha, or any working disciple, feels her busyness is a greater demonstration of commitment to Jesus than basking in His presence? Such comparisons often spring to envy. Devotion is found in the heart, not the externals. Only Jesus can see internally, to know the motivation and commitment of service.

The Servant Disciple

The Son of Man came to serve (Mt 20:28) — doing so with His very life (Lk 22:27). And to His disciples He declared, “Whoever serves me must follow me” (Jn 12:26a). To follow Him is to do as He has done. True discipleship is to closely follow Master Jesus, walking with Him and imitating Him. Serving Him. And we serve Him by serving others in His name and for His glory. Rather than overlooking Him, His disciples are to serve with Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and bearing His Fruit as they do so.

In the home of Martha, she served and Jesus discipled. Martha held only half the equation. His followers now, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are to possess both halves as disciples who disciple with servant hearts.

To be a disciple is to be a servant—the two are inseparable. They are the two halves that make a perfect whole. As such, the New Testament further instructs us in the way of attitude: “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (2 Tm 2:24).

Disciples should welcome Jesus, listen closely to His teaching, and serve with a focus on Him. He must be held as first priority in all we do. And, as we serve in communion with him, He disciples us—teaching us the better way.

[1] Thayer’s Greek Lexicon