In the city of Joppa, one of the disciples of the Lord lay dying. Despite the diligent care of the other disciples and perhaps the physicians, the disciple died. The body was prepared for burial and laid in an upper room of the house. From the few brief words we have of this account in Acts 9, it all appears to have happened rather quickly.
The brethren in Joppa were greatly saddened by the death. Having heard that the apostle Peter was in Lydda, a city close to Joppa, they sent for him to come to them. Perhaps they hoped that he would attend to any funeral service that would be performed. Perhaps they had heard of the healing he had performed at Lydda and hoped for another such miracle. Whatever their intentions, we are told that Peter did come to Joppa, and he was the instrument God used to raise the disciple Dorcas from the dead.
This event was momentous. It happened early in New Testament church history sometime shortly after Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus. It had great impact on the people in the city of Joppa. Acts 9:42 tells us that it became known throughout Joppa and many believed in the Lord.
This event was important to the early church. People could actually see Dorcas after her resurrection and speak with her. She was a walking advertisement of God's truth and power. The account has been left in the Bible as a memorial to her. But I believe it is the works of her life rather than this resurrection that set the greater example for us.
Dorcas was a doer of the word and not a hearer only.
Acts 9:36 tells us, "At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did." These deeds were so well known that God inspired Luke to include them in the book of Acts.
When Peter arrived at Dorcas' house, the widows of the church there surrounded him and began to show him all the garments Dorcas had made for them. This tells us something about Dorcas as a Christian. Dorcas was a doer of the word and not a hearer only.
She gave of herself to help others in several ways. Let's consider the aspect of time. Making clothes in the first century must have been very time consuming. There were not any sewing machines. Everything was cut and sewn by hand. We are not given any details of how Dorcas made the many garments and tunics that she did. Is it possible she wove the material herself? Did she spin the various threads or yarns also? In any case, Dorcas gave of her time to those she made clothing for. Romans 12:1 admonishes us to become living sacrifices. What is our life but time?
What about her talent? Not everyone can sew. I work at sewing, but I don't do it very well. I don't possess enough patience to become a craftsman. The widows who were showing Peter the things Dorcas had made seemed very proud of them. They were probably beautifully made. She must have been very talented, and she used that talent to serve others.
We all have different talents. Talent is more than singing, dancing or sewing. These are good talents to have and use. Did you realize it was a talent to be able to sit and just listen to someone who needs to talk? That's a talent anyone can cultivate.
Dorcas also shows us an example of tender care. It was the widows of the church that came to Peter and showed him the things Dorcas had made. Widows needed special consideration and Dorcas knew this. Remember Acts 9:36 said that Dorcas did charitable deeds. We are not told that Dorcas sewed for her living. It's possible that these garments were made and just given to whomever was in need.
Proverbs 31:20 says that the virtuous woman "extends her hand to the poor. Yes, she reaches out her hand to the needy." There are many times when a simple phone call, card or visit are just the reaching out or the tender care an individual may need....people still need our time, our talent and our tender care in our 20th century society.
The disciples who sent for Peter implored him to come, and the widows were weeping when Peter arrived. The people of Joppa obviously loved Dorcas very much. She loved them and served them in many ways. One author that I read put it this way. "The works of Dorcas were recognized in the feeling which the Christian community experienced when Dorcas was gone. They remembered her self-consuming service, her compassion, her faithfulness, her charity. They knew that they had lost their dearest friend. The picture of these people gathered about her in her room weeping does not describe people who are sorry for the things and service they have lost but because they had lost one whom they love." (Harold J. Ockenga, Women Who Made Bible History, 1962, pp. 224-225)
Dorcas gave time, talent and tender caring to others. And because of this she is immortalized as someone "full of good works." The apostle James would later write, "what does it profit my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself if it does not have works is dead."
The world is a busy place. Lives have become complicated. It often seems to take all our energy just to get ourselves through the day. But we need to remember this example of Dorcas. There are many things we can do for others.
They need not be as complicated as making clothing. They can be as simple as giving a phone call to an elderly shut-in or a few items of food to a local food pantry. We live in different times and different physical circumstances. But people still need our time, our talent and our tender care in our 20th century society. Let's learn from the example of Dorcas.