Tabitha: A women who lived for Jesus (Acts 9:36-42)
“What do you do for Christ each day?”
a faithful Christian said.
And I replied, “I drive a truck
and fill the stores with bread.”
He said, “I know of your bread route
But that is not the thing.
I mean what do you do each day
For Jesus Christ the King?”
I said, “But I believe a man can
work in such a way
That selling bread is work for Christ
A sacrament each day.”
Once more the man inquired, “But sir,
If this is not unfair
What do you do for Christ each day,
Like witnessing and prayer?”
I said, “Work is my best witness
and selling bread to them
is like a prayer in Jesus’ name.
I drive the truck for Him!”
These Sundays through the Summer we are exploring the relationship between Jesus and Women: Women whose lives were transformed by Jesus. Some are well known by name. Others remain anonymous. Today we come to a lady with two names, Tabitha in Aramaic and Dorcas in Greek. A lady who did not meet Jesus personally but whose life was transformed by Jesus.
I hope you will be inspired and encouraged by her sweet giving spirit. Let’s consider her legacy, her loss and her Lord.
1. The Legacy of Tabitha
“In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor.” (Acts 9:36)
We know little about Tabitha. Her reputation was made from something as simple as sewing clothing for the poor. It could just as easily have been cooking. It seems this was her one talent. Not particularly remarkable you might think and yet, and yet, Tabitha surpasses every other woman in the Bible. She is the only one who is called a disciple. Do you find that surprising? You might never have considered sewing as important a gift as say teaching or prophecy, but the fact is, she is the only one called a disciple. This should teach us not to despise the gift of helps, or undervalue practical serving. Tabitha was a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. She opened her heart to Jesus and that changed everything. The word ‘disciple’ means a learner, a follower, and that became her motivation in sewing clothes. It was out of gratitude for Jesus that she dedicated her one gift to Jesus. Can you do that? This is the reason I am sure Tabitha was “always doing good and helping the poor”. Because she was following the example of Jesus, following the prompting of Jesus, to do good and help those in need.
She could sew and so she sewed to the best of her ability. She was sewing for Jesus. Can you do that? What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? What energises you?
What lights your fire? What are you passionate about? Are you channelling that gifting or passion for Jesus? What are you doing for Jesus? It can be as simple as sewing or baking, fixing or driving.True faith expresses itself in deeds not words. The highest calling in Christian ministry is to care in practical ways for the most vulnerable in society, especially widows and orphans. In previous generations, ports like Joppa, would have had a high proportion of widows, more than other towns. During bad weather, fishermen, merchant and naval seaman were often shipwrecked and drowned. Their wives and children lost not only their husbands and fathers but also their income. That is why the Lord instructs his people:
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)
I am pleased that our Mission Partner this month is Umthombo – caring for orphans and street children in South Africa.
That is the same reason some of us are going to help extend a school and dig a well in Uganda next month. We will also be training the local church leaders how to use Christianity Explored. You can be part of the project by coming to Stanlake Park Wine Estate next Saturday…. We rightly place an emphasis on evangelism in mission but we rightly also place an equal emphasis on supporting compassion and mercy projects. This is because people do not care how much you know unless they know how much you care.
If we want to influence people for Christ, as Tabitha clearly did, then use your gift to serve them, willingly and joyfully. Many of the widows of Joppa were walking around in clothes made by Tabitha. She became a person of importance in the church because she found fulfilment in, and focussed her serving in doing what she was good at. She realised her potential. Are you? The Legacy of Tabitha – sewing for Jesus. What will your legacy be? The legacy of Tabitha.
2. The Loss of Tabitha
“About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. “Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. (Acts 9:36-39)
This was a sudden blow. Someone remembered Peter was working in Lydda, only ten miles away and hastily sent two men to fetch him. They clearly believed Peter might be able to help.
There is one ability God covets most among us. Any idea what that ability is? Peter displayed it here. It is not sociability, or compatibility, or accountability, or adaptability, or even reliability? The greatest ability is availability. If we don’t make ourselves available to God, no matter what kind of ability we have, it is of no value. Ability without availability is a liability to God. What does availability mean? It means placing one’s self totally, absolutely, completely at God’s disposal for Him to do anything and everything He wants to do in us, through us, with us, for us, when He chooses. In this story Peter was available, and God used him mightily. Peter was able and available. Peter came right away and when he entered the room where they had laid her, the weeping widows surrounded him.
They showed him the clothes that she had made for them.
Tabitha was irreplaceable. She was one of a kind and they deeply missed her. But don’t confuse being irreplaceable with being indispensible. They are not the same. When I became a minister, 30 years ago my motivation was to make myself redundant. My goal was to win, to build and then send – that means to disciple and train others to be disciples who could make disciples. That is because we were all born to reproduce. This is the strategy the Apostle Paul taught,
“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2)
This is how the Apostles obeyed Jesus instruction to make disciples “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20). This is why he promised them and us to be with us until he returns. In that sense none of us should be indispensible. If you are more dependent on Francis or Colin or Suzanne or Paul or Tim than you were a year ago, then we are not following Jesus. Being indispensible is not the same thing as being irreplaceable. We are each unique. There will never be another you, or me (thankfully you may say). In that sense the lesson from these verses is that we should value one another, just as the church in Joppa valued Tabitha.
And we should not wait until someone has died to express our appreciation. Tabitha was irreplaceable but she was not indispensible. She is described as a faithful disciple.
I believe that means she motivated other women to sew and make clothes for the poor. So when she died, the ministry did not cease but flourished and expanded. That was the greatest legacy of Tabitha despite the loss of Tabitha. But that was not going to happen, at least not yet, because thirdly, we see here:
3. The Lord of Tabitha
Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet.
Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.” (Acts 9:40-43)
A good disciple follows their master and that is what Peter did. Jesus said “everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” (Luke 6:40). Peter simply copied what he saw the Lord do in a similar situation. In Mark 5 Jesus raised a little girl back to life. Like Jesus, Peter therefore asked everyone to leave the room. Like Jesus he took her by the hand and said “Tabitha koum” (“Tabitha, I say to you, get up.”). And like Jesus, the Lord answered Peter’s prayer and raised Tabitha from the dead. The Bible mentions only seven people who were raised from the dead. And Tabitha is the only adult woman among them. Notice the effect – many came to believe in the Lord as a result. The life, death and resurrection of Tabitha helped spread the good news of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Gien Karrsen writes, “What is that in your hand?” the Lord had asked Moses long ago. He answered “A rod.” “Go and work with that rod,” God said, “and you will be My servant.” If God had asked Tabitha the same question she would have replied, “A needle and thread, Lord.” Then he would have shown her [how] these were precisely the instruments with which she could serve him.”
What do you have in your hands this morning? If God could use Moses with something as simple as a staff and Tabitha with something as basic as a needle, what might he use in your hands? What gifts has the Lord entrusted to you? What is he calling you to do with them?
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)
Tabitha began a movement that spread well beyond her community. She has inspired literally millions of women and men to use whatever gift they have received to serve others. May God inspire you to use your gifts for his glory today.
With grateful thanks to Gien Karssen “Her Name is Woman” (Navpress).