Fall 1989

Reformed Quarterly Volume 8, Issue 3

Dr. Glenn Knecht is the senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina.  A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, he has also pastored churches in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and Maryland.


But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10: 41-42).

Jesus’ arrival at the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany must have been unexpected because, at His appearance, Martha very quickly undertook preparations for showing hospitality. Her sister Mary, however, sat at the feet of Jesus, listening to the Lord’s word, leaving Martha alone, distracted with the service she felt obligated to provide for Him as their guest. His coming, though welcome, was almost an intrusion, disrupting the daily schedule.

It is like that with the Sabbath day. It is welcome, but in some ways it is also an intrusion. We are not quite ready for it. It disrupts the daily schedule. But that is God’s way, continually breaking into our lives with His Sabbath Day. He comes into the midst of our schedules and agendas, our pursuits and our pleasures, and “hinders” our work. Why? Why does He punctuate our weeks in this way, with seemingly no regard for our plans, our responsibilities, and our duties?

He wants us to see that the main goal of life is not our activity during the other six days of the week. He wants us to discover our real being. That cannot happen as long as we think of ourselves in terms of what we do in the six days, when we become so absorbed in our work and other affairs. Rather, he would have us to define ourselves by who we are on the Sabbath Day — children of God who sit at His feet and listen to His Word.

That discovery cannot be made as long as we permit ourselves to be distracted “by much service.” Mary shows us how we can prevent this; she sees that the Lord Jesus is entering her home, and she makes a conscious choice as to how she is going to receive Him. “She has chosen the good part.” She made the choice to renounce her own schedule, her own activity, her own pleasures and desires. She renounced all that and surrendered her heart to the entrance of Jesus into the home.

In this, Mary pictures the Sabbath attitude –a frame of heart which surrenders itself to the Lord Jesus Christ. A person having this attitude puts himself at Christ’s disposal and utterly surrenders his heart to Him, renouncing his own interests, pleasures, delights, and agenda. The Sabbath attitude is not a matter of drawing up a list of rules; it is the surrender of the heart to the coming of Christ into the world in such a deep way that a whole new attitude toward the Sabbath dwells in us, and we begin to love it and surrender to Him afresh each week, casting aside our own plans and pleasures and delights.


Having set the picture before us, let us now look at some of its details. “She sat at His feet.” Now there is an important point. She was enrapt in His speech, focusing upon Him. It was not a thing of idleness. She sat at His feet; she was at His disposal. She ceased working so that God could work in her. It was a conscious withdrawal from the workaday world and the usual activities of life into that depth of serenity and peace where she could gaze upon the face of her beloved Master.

When you do this an amazing thing happens: a new humility comes over your life because you are lower than He is; you are looking into His face. You are not trying to control Him, and you are not so caught up in your own things that you forget Him. You have given up personal control, and you have placed yourself at His disposal. You then see God for Who He is and yourself for who you are. Then you begin to esteem others as you should. You see everything in its proper light because you see it through the eyes of the Lord Jesus.

Looking yet closer at this picture, we discover that “She was listening to His word.” The Greek verb here is the continuous present tense, meaning that she went on, she kept on, listening to His words. It is durational in nature. She could have been listening to Him for hours, perhaps a whole day. He was sharing the mysteries of life and of heaven with her, and her attention was riveted to His words. That is beautiful! That is the Sabbath attitude.

The key thing about the Lord’s Day is the Word of God. It is the day when He speaks to us especially. He speaks through His Word on other days, too, but the Sabbath Day is like market day. You can buy fresh vegetables, I suppose, on any day, but there are also market days when the farmers’ tables are heaped up with their produce. The Sabbath Day is the market day of the soul! Then the tables are overflowing with the good, luxurious food of the Christian life, and one can come and feed upon the Word of the living God. That is what Mary was doing. She was occupied with the Word of God. We should be, too. The Word of God must be central to our Sabbath — in private reading, family reading, study in classes with the church, listening to the preaching of the Word of God in worship, memorization, and meditation upon the Word of life.

Certainly it is not a day for sloth and indulgence of the body. It is the day for gaining perspective for the soul. If we put on special clothes for Sunday, our garments show the beauty of the day. Then let us clothe our souls with the Word of God as Mary was doing here — being enriched with the truths of the Word of God, enjoying them, and exemplifying the Sabbath attitude.


As we look intently at this picture of the Sabbath attitude, we are amazed at its beauty. But stepping back a bit, now we notice that Martha did not appreciate it. She said to the Lord, “Don’t you see that I am working alone? Send my sister in to help me.”

Thus was Mary criticized. So shall you be criticized also, my friend! When you set out to keep God’s Sabbath Day out of a heart that is surrendered to Him, some of your friends will not understand, and they may react against you. “Why didn’t he come to that rehearsal?” “Why wasn’t he there at that meeting?” You will be criticized. But Mary endured it, and so must you. She did not answer. She let Christ answer for her. So must you. Let God vindicate! Eric Liddell came under great criticism when, in preparation for the 1924 Olympics, he had to change events because he refused to run on the Lord’s Day. But sixty years later, whom else do you know, whom else do you celebrate from that Olympiad? “…those who honor Me I will honor…” ( 1 Sam.2:30).

Mary’s Sabbath attitude stands in sharp contrast to that of Martha. Martha was troubled about many things, and she lost a lot in her distraction and busyness. Look what happened to her, too, as a result: She ended up telling Christ what to do! “Tell her to help me.” Could she even have imagined it would come to that? But in the distraction of many things, and in the neglect of the one thing that was needed, she had lost all perspective — perspective on herself, on others, and even on the Lord himself.

Mary, however, is quite a different story. “What she has will not be taken from her.” For her, the Sabbath attitude would continue. What she gained in that day would continue with her all week long. And so shall it be with us.

The Sabbath Day is like climbing a watch tower and looking over the landscape of your whole week, surveying what has become of it–what use you have made of hospitality, of your resources, of your time. It gives us the perspective we need to approach God in prayer as we seek to improve our discipleship and stewardship. It is like living in the quiet eye of the hurricane for one day after being out in the fierce winds the rest of the week. It gives us peace in the midst of the storm.

We must not let the devil deceive us into thinking that if we keep the Sabbath Day holy, reserved unto God, with our hearts and lives surrendered unto Him, that we are going to be deprived. No, we shall not be deprived. We shall be deprived if we fail to keep the Sabbath. We shall lose the luster and the beauty and the radiance of the Sabbath attitude.

Christ has entered our world. Our attitude toward Him will be reflected in our attitude toward the Sabbath. Surrender to Christ and ask Him to give you a whole new attitude toward the day that He has made and calls His own.

How Can I Keep the Sabbath Holy?

by Dr. Douglas Kelly, Professor of Theology

  1. Rise early enough on Sunday to spend some time in the presence of the Lord so that you may leave for church in a calm and worshipful frame of mind (even when you have several children to get ready for Sunday School!). This will not always be possible, but make it a goal. Don’t feel guilty if you fail; instead, keep working toward it.
  2. On Sunday morning, read a Psalm or perhaps one of the brief chapters in Andrew Murray’s Waiting on God. Sing through a hymn of praise or a metrical psalm.
  3. Attend morning and evening worship services. In preparation for attending worship, read Question and Answer 160 of the Westminster Larger Catechism to your family at the breakfast table.
  4. Set aside time in the afternoon for personal Scripture reading. Don’t just read books about the Scriptures (although that is fine); read the Scriptures themselves.
  5. After you have read the Word, take time for prayer. Keep a regular prayer list, including such elements as praise, confession, intercession, etc. In addition, turn uninvited thoughts –anxieties, responsibilities, or plans for other days of the week which keep popping into your mind — into immediate prayer. This may be a way the Holy Spirit is preparing you to wage successful battle during the next week. As Spurgeon frequently said, “No care, but all prayer.”
  6. Meditate. Dr. Samuel Johnson, British literary giant, has been quoted as saying, “Wear off by meditation any worldly soil contracted in the week.” Have close dealings with God. Talk to Him about what your life has been like and rest afresh upon His gracious promises. Above all else, think on Christ, who is the sum and substance of the promises (2 Cor. 1:20). Ask the Holy Spirit to lift your heart to Christ (Col. 3:1) and to strengthen His indwelling presence within you (Gal. 2:20).
  7. Spend some time with your children. Let them know you are glad to be with them, and, in a gentle and happy way, encourage them to open up to you spiritually. Let part of your time together involve some instruction. Some Sundays you could teach them informally (as in Deuteronomy 6:7b), and on other Sundays, depending on the children’s ages, you could read them Bible stories or Christian biographies.
  8. Consider the value of having your children recite some Catechism questions after they get home from morning worship before the midday meal is served. Since they will be hungry, reward them with candy for correct answers. Why not let nature help you in this way? (If you think this is too worldly or modern, I got the idea from Cotton Mather’sCares About the Nursery, written in the early 1700’s!)
  9. Avoid unnecessary travel. Avoid buying and selling except in emergencies (“for necessity or mercy”). Your children will be very aware of your real priorities.
  10. Invite single people or those who may be lonely, hungry, or needy to eat with you and spend the afternoon in your home.
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