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Grace Notes

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“ONE THING”
by Philip Owen

            It has become popular in recent years to tout one’s ability to multitask. It seems that people like me, who sometimes have difficulty doing one thing at a time, much less two or more, are ill-equipped to function in the electronic age. Keeping multiple balls in the air at the same time is too much for me. It comes as a great encouragement, then, that though the life of a believer can be complex and demanding, the Word of God has a way of whittling things down to the essentials so that believers can keep their heads on straight and keep their focus on what is important to God. Singleness of focus (on the right object) is essential if a believer is to steer clear of sin and please His Lord. The believer must keep before himself “one thing.”

            The Lord illustrated this truth in The Sermon on the Mount. He explained: “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body is full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matt. 6:22, 23a). What a believer focuses on—what he views, what he thinks about—has a direct bearing on his spiritual state. The Lord continued: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (v. 24). As surely as it is impossible to focus on two different objects at the same time, so it is impossible to be faithful to two masters. A believer will either submit to and be controlled by the Lord and His Word or he will yield to the flesh and its enticements. And there can be no compromise between the two, nor any place of intersection.

            “One thing is necessary.” Industrious Martha busied herself with preparing for her Lord’s visit—perhaps cleaning the house and cooking a savory meal. Admirable, commendable activities—duties, it would seem, that would be essential were the Messiah to announce that He would be paying you a visit. By contrast, some might have accused her sister Mary of indolence (as Martha herself seemed to imply: “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me” (Lk. 10:40b). After all, Mary “was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word” (v. 39b). The Lord’s reply must have shocked Martha: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (vv. 41, 42). One thing is necessary, the Lord explained, namely, allowing Him to speak to the heart through His Word. Oh, yes, many other activities will follow, but one is necessary. Just as there is no value in building a roof without walls to support it, and no point in building walls without the one necessary thing—a firm foundation—so religious activity, however critical and however impressive it may appear to be, is  worthless unless it is built on the Word of God.

            “One thing I do.” “One thing I do,” Paul wrote to the Philippians (3:13b). (Actually, the words “I do” are editorial additions. Paul wrote just “one thing,” a stark, emphatic attention-getter. He does continue to explain that the “one thing” involves action. For, like Mary, having sat at the Lord’s feet and learned of Him, Paul understood that some positive response was required of him.) “Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (vv. 13c, 14). The Lord had promised that He would return and take His church to heaven. Paul kept His eye on that goal: “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” He refused to be distracted by past sins and failures or by past victories and triumphs. He kept His eye on the prize; He “pressed on,” words that conjure up the idea of a runner straining his every muscle to cross the finish line.

            Certainly, Mary did many other things than sit as Jesus’ feet; and we know that Paul was among the busiest of men ever to have lived. So when the Word speaks of these “one things,” it is not speaking in terms of exclusivity (that would require even the cancelling of one or the other items above), but of fundamentals and priorities. Like Mary, first learn who the Lord is and what His will is; then, like Paul, give every effort to obtain the prize.

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