The One Needful Thing
The two sisters were different! Martha was the perfectionist about her home while Mary was the slower moving
finding joy in meditation. The differences between them sometimes became the occasion of conflict.
The two sisters lived with their brother in the village of Bethany. Their village was on the road that ran from
Jerusalem toward the Jordan Valley. Jesus was a frequent visitor in their home. Martha seems to have been the
older and the mistress of the home. When news came that Jesus was coming for a visit, she began to make sure
that everything was clean and to plan to cook his favorite dish. Mary was just as excited about the visit but for a
different reason. She looked forward to listening to Him and having fellowship with Him. Mary was increasingly
coming to an understanding of His mission in the world. It was a special thrill to hear Him speak of the heavenly
During this particular visit in the home, the differences in the sisters were soon quickly evident. Martha hurriedly
prepared the meal trying to listen to Jesus. Mary sat down at His feet as a disciple and began to receive the
Word. That Jesus would allow Mary this privilege indicates something about His attitude toward women. Otter
rabbis did not teach women.
Martha approached Jesus very upset over what she perceived as a wrong. She accused Mary of neglecting a
very needful responsibility. Jesus responded, "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
but one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good thing, which shall be taken away from her." In that
statement Jesus puts the priority upon what Martha had chosen, which is communion with Him. Letís look at this
passage to see what we can learn about this thing that is moot needful for our lives. If it reflects a priority that
our Lord would place on life, then we must be concerned
I. THE ONE NEEDFUL THING IS COMMUNION WITH CHRIST.
Luke's description of Mary's activity is so simple. "And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet,
and heard the Word." Mary took the position of a disciple as Jesus sat and taught in the home. Mary joined the
disciples listening to learn of His ways. Her heart was open to His word, a special experience of communion with
the Lord Jesus. This is the thing that Jesus called the one needful thing and the best portion. A little
consideration will make it clear that this is the most needful of all activities.
A. Because of Who He is.
Mary did not know Who He was fully, but some ideas had been forming in her mind. She had begun to perceive
that He enjoyed a special relationship with the Father. She had begun to understand that His mission in the
world was redemptive. Nothing could be more important than learning all that she could from Him while He was in
her home. She had begun to understand that His time with them would be limited. She did not know how many
more opportunities life would afford her to do this, so she took advantage of it. She would not take this action
toward any otter. If the Person had been anyone else, she would have been helping Martha. He was special.
This is still true. If Jesus Christ is who we profess Him to be, and can do all that we claim He can do, surely it is
appropriate that priority be given to spending some time in His presence daily. When we neglect His presence, it
must make others wonder if we really mean what we say about Him.
B. Because of what it does.
This one needful thing chosen by Mary is so important because of what it does in our lives. This time of
communion with the Lord clarifies reality for us. The world about us never looks the same after we have spent a
little time in His presence. We begin to see that there is a Hand at work making something beautiful out of the
things that are happening to us daily. Without the time with the Lord, you soon begin to miss out on reality.
The communion with Christ will also purify our motives. If you neglect communion with Him, you are in danger of
forgetting why you are doing the things you are doing. You will become a Martha who is still very busy about
some good things but for some wrong reasons. The pastor who neglects communion with Christ will become a
preacher for pay. The musician will become a professional. The teacher will forget who and what he is teaching.
He will begin to approach his task in a dutiful way. Nothing will purify the motives of your life like time spent in
communion with the Lord. As you listen to His voice in the quiet time, you will find Him making many changes in
your life for good.
The communion with Christ will also intensify your devotion. It will not result in less being done for the Lord, but
rather in more being done. It was this same Mary who would later do a most remarkable deed of sacrifice for the
Lord. This is the same Mary who broke the alabaster box and poured the oint¨ment on the body of the Jesus as
an expression of her devotion for Him. She did that because of the devotion that had been developed in the time
she spent at His feet. This was the very best preparation for service to the Lord.
So we can confidently say that communion with Christ is the one needed thing. It is the thing that should receive
a priority in our lives.
II. THE ONE NEEDFUL THING 1S HINDERED BY GOOD THINGS.
This is the lesson to be learned from the experience of Martha. She became so encumbered with the good
things that she did not have time for the best. What she did was needful, but it was not the most needful. She
gave herself to caring for the home and providing for the physical in such a way that she did not have time for
the spiritual and the eternal. The "many things" took their toll on the "one thing".
Is Martha here tonight? I fear that many of us are more familiar with the worries of Martha than we are with the
joys of Mary. Good things have crowded out the one thing.
The "many things" of a vocation can do this. Obviously it is good to have a place of employment, a place where
you can earn a living for yourself and your family, but there is one thing more needful than your job. Jesus said,
"Man stall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God." Yet same of us
approach vocation in such a way that there is no time to sit at the feet of Jesus. We need to check our pri¨orities
in light of this word from Jesus.
The "good thing" of family can also hinder the "one thing". The family is an important thing, but it is not the most
important! The most important responsibility of your life is not to your family but is to your Lord. Have you been
careful to arrange time with your family but negligent of time spent at the feet of Jesus?
The "good thing" of community involvement can also hinder the "one thing". There are so many "good things" to
do in a community like this. For those who are willing to do some of the good things, there is never a shortage of
opportunities. They will abound on every side. There are clubs to lead, money to raise, causes to push, charities
to assist, and on and on it could go. Some become so loaded with these good things, that they are like Martha.
They became bothered and worried because they have neglected the one needful thing. In your life the first
involvement needs to be with the Lord of life!
Even the "good things" of church work can become a hindrance to the one thing. We can become so busy doing
things for the Lord that we neglect meeting with the Lord. This does not satisfy the Lord nor the needs of lives.
A certain father and daughter had the very closest of relationships. Each evening would find them walking
together, an event to which the father looked forward throughout the day. One evening the daughter excused
herself from the evening walk mysteriously. She did the same thing each evening for several weeks. On the
birthday of the father, the reason for the absences be¨came clear. The daughter presented to her dad a pair of
gloves that she had knitted for him during the time that they normally would walk together. The dad held the
gloves in his hands and looked into the eyes of the daughter to thank her for the loving gift, but then he said,
"But my dear I would rather have the joy of walking with you in the cool of the day than to have all of the gloves
in the whole world." So it can be with our relationship with the Lord. He delights in our fellowship. We must not
allow the "good things" of life to crowd out this one most needful thing.
This passage calls for a commitment. If this is the way that our Lord evaluates the activities of life, then surely we
must give priority to a daily time of sitting at His feet. This would involve at least these essentials. We need a
definite time and a definite place. This should be established. Make an appointment with the Lord. During this
time you should commune with Him by listening to His word and expressing yourself to Him in praise and prayer.
Let me appeal to you to make such a definite commitment to Him tonight.