In the city of Joppa, Dorcas (or Tabitha), one of the disciples of the Lord, lay dying.
In spite of the diligent care of the other disciples and perhaps physicians, she died. Her 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 9:36-42, the events surrounding her death appear to have happened quickly.
The brethren in Joppa were saddened by this tragic turn of events. 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 he would attend to the funeral. Or perhaps they had heard of the healing he had performed at Lydda and hoped for another such miracle. Whatever their intentions, we read that Peter did come to Joppa. Then, in an amazing miracle, he was the instrument of God's raising of Dorcas from the dead.
This momentous event was early in the history of the Church, sometime shortly after Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus. This miracle-which had great impact on the people of the city of Joppa-"became known throughout Joppa, and many believed on the Lord."
This miracle was important to the early Church. People could see Dorcas and speak with her after her return to life. She was a walking proclamation of the truth and power of God.
Example for Christians
The Bible account of Dorcas stands as a memorial to her and as testimony to the working of the Holy Spirit in the early Church. Her resurrection back to physical life greatly strengthened their faith and caused many to believe in Jesus Christ. However, it is the example she set in her daily life more than this miraculous event that holds greater significance for us.
Acts 9:36 tells us something about Dorcas. She was a faithful disciple, "full of good works and charitable deeds." Her deeds were so widely known that God inspired Luke to include them in the book of Acts.
When Peter arrived at Dorcas's house, the widows of the church there surrounded him and began to show him the garments Dorcas had made for them. This tells us something about Dorcas as a Christian. She was one known for putting her beliefs into practice to help the people around her.
She gave of herself to help others in several ways. Consider how much time she must have spent helping others. Making clothes in the first century must have been time-consuming, to say the least. There were no sewing machines; a garment had to be cut and sewn by hand- if one could buy the material.
We are not given any details of how Dorcas made the many garments and tunics attributed to her. Is it possible she wove the material herself? Did she spin the threads or yarns? Whatever her starting point, Dorcas gave of her time to those for whom she made clothing. She understood what it meant to be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), giving something valuable and precious: her time.
Another obvious talent
What about her talent? Not everyone can sew. Few possess enough patience to become an accomplished seamstress. The widows who were showing Peter the things Dorcas had made seemed proud of them; they were probably beautifully made. She had to be talented, and she used her talent to serve others.
We all have talents. Some can sing or play a musical instrument. Some are artistically endowed and can paint or draw. Some are gifted in what they can create with their hands, as Dorcas with the clothing she made. But she apparently had another talent any of us can cultivate: the ability to pay attention to and listen to others who need to talk about their problems, to share their burdens.
Look more closely at Dorcas's example. It was the widows of the Church who came to Peter, showing him the things Dorcas had made. Widows require special consideration, and Dorcas recognized this, doing "charitable deeds." We do not read that Dorcas sewed to support herself. Perhaps she made garments and gave them 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." Many are the times that a simple phone call, card or visit is just the attention a person may need.
Loss of a friend
The disciples who sent for Peter implored him to come; the widows were weeping when Peter arrived. The people of Joppa obviously loved Dorcas. She had loved them and served them through her kindness, concern and generosity.
One writer 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, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1962, pp. 224-225)
Dorcas gave time, talent and tender care to others. Because of this she is immortalized as someone "full of good works." The apostle James would later write that good works are evidence of faith and that faith without such evidence is empty and worthless, of no benefit to anyone. Dorcas's faith was proven by her good works directed at helping others.
The world is a busy place. Life is complicated. It often seems to take all our energy just to get ourselves through the day. But we need to remember the example of Dorcas. We can find many things we can do for others. They need not be as complicated as making clothing; they can be as simple as telephoning an elderly shut-in or providing a few food items to the needy or to a local charity.
We live in different times and different physical circumstances. But people still need our time, talent and tender care in whatever form we can give it to them. Let's learn from the example of Dorcas; let us also be doers. GN