(Fourth in a Series)
This edifying series of chapel talks comes from the archives of our
Spokesman Assistant Editor, Prof. Em. Paul R. Koch • Eau Claire, Wis.
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. But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord. So it was that he
stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner. (Acts 9:36-43)
When two of God’s children are properly matched in Christian marriage, they balance and fulfill one another; we appreciate God’s wisdom in this arrangement. That’s also the way God intends His Church to function, that each member performs his/her special function and helps build up the whole organism into the blessed entity that God would have it be. God has blessings for His Church through its members that are female, including the obvious blessings of wifehood and motherhood. Yet some of you may never have a spouse, and since in every generation there is a higher percentage of females than males, this will affect women more than men; those who never achieve marriage with a life’s partner will miss the blessings that come with a Christian spouse.
That having been said, what of the Christian woman who has no man to be her earthly complement? What is her role in the communion of saints? Today we have before us one such example—it’s Dorcas (Greek for Aramaic Tabitha), who lived in the seaport of Joppa back in the good old days. She was content with her place in God’s scheme of things, and she functioned as the spirit in her urged and directed. She served with the same attitude that was in Christ, who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. Here is her story, recorded in Acts 9, verses 36 to 43.
Since no mention is made of a husband or children, we may deduce that this lady was single, and if she had also renounced other familial ties in order to follow Jesus, she had gained much and lost little, for she knew Jesus received her as His sister, and into His family she was adopted. Having thus known the love of God for her, that love spilled over to others in a generous stream of compassion for anyone and everyone in need. She was “always doing good and helping the poor” (NIV), for her heart activated every channel of her intellect, and she sparkled with pleasure to find ways to serve both her Savior and the homeless, hungry poor. She had the equipment, you see—the love, the compassion, the sympathy; doing good comes second nature when a heart is full.
Then, with no explanation given, she became ill and died. She departed from her body—but not from the hearts of those who loved her, appreciated her, and missed her presence in their lives.
Then it came time for the funeral, so they sent a messenger over to the next town, asking Peter to conduct the funeral service and to help them recover from the empty spot she had left. Such a fine Christian lady deserved special honor also in her funeral and burial.
They reviewed for Peter how she had weaved, spun, and sewed garments for others; her talent as a seamstress made her a living, and her friends treasured each cloak, shawl, or tunic that was a memento of Dorcas’ interest in them and love for them.
We can understand their sense of loss; perhaps they had not appreciated her enough during her life, for such a gentle, soft-spoken non-self-assertive person can be taken for granted. When the lid on the casket closes, it’s too late to say “Thank you” to a friend. “Gone but not forgotten” is one of life’s sad sayings.
As Peter listened to their lament, he may have wondered if the Lord had removed Dorcas from her friends to teach a lesson—and if the lesson had now been learned, would the Lord see fit to recover Dorcas from her grave for their sakes? That might be beneficial to Dorcas and to her friends, and it would bring glory to the Lord Jesus.
So Peter prayed all these factors into Jesus’ hands. Then Lord Jesus gave His answer, for when Peter said “Tabitha, arise! And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive.”
What a testimonial to the power of Jesus at the right hand of the Father! What a demonstration of the love of God the Father! “And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord.”
Is there a lesson God would have us learn from this short history of one of His obscure saints?
Perhaps it is this: God has a place for the unmarried woman in the Christian family, for she can exercise her love for God and fellowman as an individual child of God. If she has the kind of heart Dorcas had, she can be blessed with many loving Christian friends, besides bringing blessings to others through the life she leads.
This is not above or beyond our reach, for it is God who works in each child of God both to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Perhaps you know someone in your home congregation who is a saint such as Tabitha was, and if so, give her the respect and love she deserves. Put it into words that she can hear before she is placed into her casket!
May God grant that each Dorcas and Tabitha of our generation may have what she had and live as she lived, for she was favored by Jesus and loved by her friends—and she still lives in our hearts as one of God’s obscure saints and our sister in Christ. We thank You, Lord Jesus!