Part 5: Work Like Mary

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This is the fifth and final post in a series on rest. If you need to catch up, you can jump straight to the first post here.

Work Like Mary

This idea of rest doesn’t settle well with most people, 21st century American or otherwise. It certainly didn’t settle well with Martha when her sister, Mary, just sat at Jesus’s feet listening to him while she toiled in the kitchen.

Our contemporary interpretations of this passage aren’t much different than Martha’s, really. I even heard one pastor say, “Worship like Mary, work like Martha.” Yes, we are to work and work hard; applying our full selves to the task at hand, shunning laziness, and striving to accomplish our best work every time. Living with a strong work ethic in the Kingdom of God requires a stronger sense of Identity in the Rest of Christ – resting in his victory, and taking his call to Sabbath rest seriously. Quite simply put, we cannot “do [our] work from the soul, as for the Lord rather than for men,” unless our identity is first in Christ, which means we begin in a posture of rest.

I heard another pastor say, “Worship like Mary; serve like Mary.” (Josh Kehler, Reality Stockton) It rings more true. Sitting at the feet of Jesus doesn’t include sloth or laziness, because to know Jesus is to obey Jesus – which means we act out the Truth that has transformed our hearts – a labor of love that will stretch us far beyond what we ever imagined we were capable of accomplishing! We see this result in John 12, when Mary invades a cultural space she isn’t meant to fill and serves Jesus in deep intimacy. She pours costly perfume over Jesus’ feet and washes them with her hair. The reality of living out the Rhythm of Rest is this: sitting at Jesus’ feel produces radical service.

Mary’s act of serving Jesus required her full self: physically, emotionally, spiritually. Yet it wasn’t depleting. It didn’t leave her exhausted, though it left her reputation out in the cold. It didn’t leave her drained, though it left her ridiculed. In another address on this passage it was said, “When Mary broke the perfume bottle over Jesus, she was saying, ‘Here is everything I have.’ When she let down her hair, she was saying, ‘Here is everything I am.’” (Halim Suh, Austin Stone)

Building a strong work ethic from a strong rest ethic

Nowhere in Scripture are the unmotivated rewarded. Nowhere are the lazy congratulated. Rather, a fierce work ethic is highly aligned with a Kingdom ethos. Paul says it this way:

Nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.

2 Thessalonians 3:8-13

From this we can extract a few quick notes on the Kingdom importance of work. We will only give “work” a cursory look because (1) we live in an era where busyness is a cultural default and therefore often confused with a virtue, and (2) because there is a very real thread of work and mission throughout this entire blog.

  1. Our work is to serve as an example. In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul says that his work is an outward sign of God’s grace toward him, and that his work ethic is to be of higher standards than anyone else. This example of grace and hard work combine to glorify God. As we rest well, we are able to outwork our secular peers in diligence, ethic, and excellence for the glory of God.
  2. Our work is to provide for physical needs with a Kingdom mindset. It is taken a step further in 1 Timothy 5:8 when Paul says, “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” And in the book of Ephesians, work is tied to generosity (4:28).
  3. Being busy is not the same as a strong work ethic. “Busybodies” have no place in Kingdom work. Proverbs 13:4 says it this way: “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” And through the prophet Isaiah God says, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (55:2) In Peter’s second letter diligence is tied to holiness, not busyness (vv. 1:5-10, 3:11-15).
  4. Our work is to be directly linked to “doing good.” Jesus gives us perhaps the best examples of this in the way he continually “worked” on the Sabbath day by healing people. He used this Sabbath work as a good work to point people back to God and not the Law (Mark 3:1-6, Luke 13:13-16, Luke 14:1-6).

The work of the ministry

Mary’s “work of the ministry” is to pour perfume over Jesus and wash him with her hair – this is worship as much as it is work. This is the result of a right perspective: that our work will be worship; rather than tiring, it will be exalting. When we begin and end from a place of rest at Jesus’ feet, our work will be nothing more than extravagant worship with our whole selves – the full application of every talent and passion for the glory of God.

This is true whether you wake at 4 am to work retail, drive a truck, mill steel; if you are a stay-at-home mom working 24-hours a day; or if you are a ministry “professional”. This principle holds fast whether you are blue collar, white collar, no collar, choke collar, or any other collar – Christ and his Kingdom preside over our context, and as his ambassadors we invite our context to be subject to his kingship, for his glory and our good.

Whether Mary was resting at the feet of Jesus, or overwhelming her environment with a fragrant aroma of humble service, she was worshipping Jesus. In everything we are to worship – remembering that it is all about Jesus, for Jesus, and by Jesus. We remember by speaking out loud; we remember in the quiet of our hearts. We remember when we’re alone, and when we’re in community – we constantly worship Jesus by remembering our orientation around him and reflecting on the beauty of his majesty.

Having a right view of your rest/work lifestyle will profoundly shape your capacity to utilize your time and space as a City of Refuge for your neighborhood. It will transfer the feeling of being overwhelmed into a feeling of great generosity. It will shift your view of opening your home to strangers (soon to be brothers and sisters) from a to-do list to a can’t-wait-to lifestyle.


K Livingston
K Livingston
I believe in dreaming big, working hard, cheering loud, standing tall, bowing deep. All of it because I believe Jesus = life.
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