Our Culture or Our Christ

Studying the Bible can be very challenging—if we let it. Recently, as I was continuing my study of the gospel of John, I came to the story of Mary pouring oil on Jesus’ feet. A well-known story, one I didn’t expect to yield much that was new to me. But I’d overlooked the fact that I’d prayed and had specifically asked God to teach me what I needed to know. Here’s how that went.

It all started quite simply enough as I observed the 6 cues (who, what, where, when, why, and how). I discovered that six days before the Passover a meal was served in Jesus’ honor. It was in Bethany, at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, whom Jesus had recently raised from the dead.

As I was considering the how–how did this dinner come to pass, how did it play out, how did it affect those present . . . I thought of another how: how did this visit of Jesus compare to his visit to their house recorded in Luke 10:38-42?

Here’s what God brought to my mind as I looked over that account:

  • At that time, it was Martha who invited Jesus into the home. Interesting. Yet, once he was in her home, she spent her time in the kitchen instead of with her guest. That is, until she came to complain to him: “Lord, don’t you care…?”
  • Martha was “worried and upset about many things.” She wanted to feed her guest, which in those days was a time-consuming undertaking. No sending out for pizza delivered by a Grubhub or Uber Eats driver. No food to pull out of the fridge or freezer and put in the microwave, ready in minutes. She may have had to send someone to the butcher to buy meat. She may have had to grind grain. She may have had to fetch water and build a fire before she could even begin cooking.
  • I’ve thought about this encounter before (even wrote a song about it). I think that’s something that’s often overlooked as we criticize Martha is that she was only doing what her upbringing and her culture had taught her was important: feeding a guest.
  • Jesus recognized this in her, but then asked her to think counter-culturally: “few things are needed—or indeed only one.”
  • What was that one thing? It was what Mary had chosen, and that was to sit at the feet of Jesus, listening to what He had to say.
  • At that time, it was Martha who invited Jesus into the home. Interesting. Yet, once he was in her home, she spent her time in the kitchen instead of with her guest. That is, until she came to complain to him: “Lord, don’t you care…?”

Martha was being challenged to listen to what Jesus wanted rather than what her culture demanded. Jesus requires that of us too. Set aside the worrying, the fussing over everything on your to-do list, the demands that seem to come at you from all sides. Instead, come sit with Jesus. Listen to Him. Learn from Him. This truly is the better way.

So, what about me? Are there cultural norms I cling to when I should be giving them up in order to honor Jesus?

As I considered this question while writing this blog, God brought to my mind an old advertising slogan: “You deserve a break today.” (Ouch, Lord! You sure know how to get right to the point.) That’s what our culture teaches us, though, isn’t it? And I seem to have bought into that cultural norm. How often have I acted that way, even if I didn’t say those words? I spend time watching TV when I could be reading that book on biblical humility or working on writing my book or visiting a friend in a retirement home? I treat myself to a meal out because I deserve it after a hard week. I’m not saying watching TV or eating a meal out are wrong. I’m saying my attitude in these instances was wrong. It was about what I deserved, not what God wanted.

As I consider other cultural conflicts, I think about how a lot of our American culture focuses on self and the freedom to do what I want, say what I want. But Scripture tells me over and over again that’s not God’s plan. One verse God is teaching me to apply to get over this “me” focus is this: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29, NIV). I shouldn’t just say whatever I want. I need to think ahead. I need to weigh my words, considering the needs of others before I speak. I need to choose Christ’s way over culture’s way.

But a lot of the time it’s about priorities, isn’t it? That’s what it was with Martha. She was putting culture’s priorities ahead of God’s, and that’s easy to do. We’re bombarded with culture from the moment we rise to the moment we turn in for the night, from birth to death. That’s why it’s so easy to let culture shape us: our attitudes, our thoughts, our words, our actions. Paul warned us about this: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

The only way to overcome culture’s pressure to shape us into its image is to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and we do that by making sure we take plenty of time to sit at the Lord’s feet and to listen to what He’s saying to us. We read God’s Word. We meditate on it. We memorize it. We pray over it. We live by it.

So, you can see that what I thought would be a simple review of what I’d read before turned out to be much more. That’s what happens when we ask God to guide our study of His Word. He takes us places we never imagined. He takes us where we need to go. And this time, God definitely had something He wanted to teach me. I’m still working through this, thinking about ways I act and think that conform more to what my culture dictates rather than what my Christ desires.

What about you?

  • Remember that even if you’ve been caught up with all the responsibilities you feel you have, Jesus does not chastise you, just as He didn’t chastise Martha. He simply pointed out the problem and gave her an alternative.
  • Remember that the alternative to being “worried and upset about many things” is to take time to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to what He says. In other words, take time to pray. Take time to thoughtfully read the Bible.
  • Then consider the things you’re requiring of yourself, things you feel your culture and upbringing tell you you must do. Is God asking you to act counter-culturally with regard to any of these?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *