DORCAS THE DOER
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Grace Synder was born in 1885 and grew up on a lonely prairie in Nebraska. She lived in a sod house that cost about twelve dollars to build. Water was scarce, and so they used their Saturday night bath water to water the flowers. There was not much to do, and so Grace took up quilting. She started with a quilt for her doll. As a teenager she accepted Christ, and was baptized in a pond where the ice had been cleared away. She went on to become a teacher, and marry a cowboy, but she was always quilting. In fact, she became the Queen of the Quilters in her state, and one of the most skilled in all the world. Her quilts are featured in leading quilt magazines, and are flown to quilt fairs all over the country. A museum in Lincoln, Nebraska has a Grace Synder room where her handiwork is on display. She was a godly woman who became famous by means of her creative skill.
When it comes t winning prizes for creativity with thread and needle, women have it sewed up, and we want to focus our attention on a woman who sewed herself right into the fabric of biblical history. Dorcas is her name, and her needle was her fame. Here is a biblical woman who is so unusual because there is nothing unusual about her. Most of the women of the Bible got into its sacred pages because they were married to famous men, or because they had famous sons, or because they did some great an unusual deed. Dorcas is one of the few women who became famous for simply doing a womanly thing, which was sewing. She is also famous for being the only adult woman in the Bible who was raised from the dead, but this never would have happened had she not been so faithful in using her needle to meet the basic human need for clothing.
She was not a multi-talented female. She was just a simple loving woman who used the gift she had to be a blessing to others. There are three things that stand out in our text that I want to focus on. The first is-
I. THE GOOD WORKS OF HER LIFE.
She is not portrayed as a brilliant and learned woman who could speak before groups, and lead the women's Bible study. She is portrayed simply as one who is always doing good and helping the poor. "I was naked and you clothed me," is the testimony of the poor about Dorcas. Those who otherwise would have been cold were kept warm because of her labor and generosity. The poor got a taste of God's grace through her, for none had any claim on her. She freely gave of her time and talent to meet their need for clothing. God was the first to provide clothing for sinners in the Garden of Eden. Dorcas was carrying on this ministry of grace.
Because of her example Dorcas societies are now world wide, and women by the thousands have provided clothing for the needy. Only in eternity will we ever begin to know the full impact of this one woman's good works. She is an outstanding example to both men and women of the importance of good works in the Christian life. For millions of Christians this is the only way they can make their lives count for the kingdom of God.
Everyone who knows the Gospel knows that we are saved, not by our own works, but by the work of Christ on the cross. Salvation comes by faith in His finished work for us. Good works are not a means for our salvation, but they are an expression of our salvation. If we truly trust in Christ, and love Him as Lord, then we will obey His command to love our neighbor as our self. This can only be obeyed in a meaningful way by good works. That is why Paul writes in Titus 3:8, "Affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works." Paul implies that it is easy for Christians to forget the importance of good works. We need to be constantly reminded not to become weary in well doing.
Arthur W. Pink, the famous Bible expositor, said, "This expression 'good works' is found in the New Testament in the singular or plural number no less than 30 times; yet from the rarity with which many preachers use, emphasize, and enlarge upon them, many of the hearers would conclude that these words occur but once or twice in all the Bible." The reason for this neglect is that they don't want people to think they can be saved by doing good. To avoid this the church has produced millions of Christians who feel they can be good Christians and not a thing. The poet rightly questions this emphasis.
If a man would be a soldier
He'd expect of course to fight;
And he couldn't be an author
If he didn't try to write.
So it isn't common logic,-
Doesn't have the right true ring-
That a man, to be a Christian,
Doesn't have to do a thing.
The lack of emphasis on good works is what leads Christianity to become a spectator religion. Jesus meant for all believers to be involved in the ministry of meeting human need. The good news about good works is that everybody can do them. Those who feel ungifted can still do many works of kindness. Vance Havner, the great American evangelist, wrote, "We ought not to belittle the do-gooders. Our Lord went about doing good. Good works are not enough, but any faith that is without good works is not enough either. Some of our ultra-conservative Bible students could mix in a little do-gooding to great profit. A cup of cold water in His name sometimes means more than a gallon of theology."
A college student who is late for class said, "I am sorry I am late, but my watch was wrong. I guess I should not have faith in this watch." The professor replied, "What you need in that watch is not faith, but good works." That is what we need in the Christian life as well. Someone said that faith without works is about as powerful as a butterfly's hiccup. James went even further and said, "Faith without works is dead." It is true that we must warn the self-righteous who hope to pull themselves into heaven by their own works, that salvation is in trusting, and not in trying. But let's not keep telling this to those who are already saved by trusting, for to them good works and trying are the key to the growing Christian life and eternal reward.
The choice is not to either trust or to try, but rather, there is the third choice which is the uniting of the other two, and both trust and try. Depending on God to guide and the Holy Spirit to produce fruit, you'd give your life to deeds and actions that are beneficial to others. As Meg Woodson says in her attempt to get Christians back to the stream of good works, "Paul did not say I can't, but Christ can. He said, I can through Christ. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
She warns Christians to get away from the defeatism of constantly teaching Christians they can't do anything. This leaves them with the excuse when nothing is done that Christ must not have willed it. This is a cop out of our responsibility. Good works happen because we choose to obey Christ. They don't happen because we choose to wait and see if Christ will do them without our efforts. All we will learn is that He won't.
We are always in danger of taking the exception and making it the rule. In the Old Testament the Jews fought many battles. In one against Moab God said in II Chron. 20:17, "You will not need to fight in this battle; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf." God won that battle for them. Had they taken this as the pattern for all their battles, and just came to watch, they would have been destroyed. God in His sovereignty does much without us, but His basic pattern never changes. He expects us to put forth energy, and use all our gifts and talents to be channels of His grace in the world.
Without women who did good works the world would be without so much that has been the salt of the earth. Examples are near endless of widows who have devoted their lives to Christian service. Henrietta Feller lost her husband and child to death. She decided to leave Switzerland and go to Canada to be a missionary. She was robbed and persecuted, and suffered greatly, but she persisted in love. She started a school in 1836. A Baptist pastor in Montreal helped her raise funds for a building. It grew to over 300 people, and its graduates have gone into all the world as missionaries. Thank God for the Dorcas's of history who have been doers, and by their good works have made it a world with much good news to balance out the bad. Next let's consider-
II. THE GRIM WASTE OF HER DEATH.
We are obviously in early church history here, for no one on the scene, and not ever Peter, came up with the modern thought that the Lord must have taken her because her work was done. This is a popular idea based on human feelings and speculation, and not on the revelation of God. The work of Darcas is never done, and even when she died the second time and entered the eternal world for good, her work was not done. The work of doing good and helping the poor is a never ending task.
When Dorcas got so sick death came as an enemy, and not a friend. She still had so much potential for service. This is what makes death an enemy. It robs us of life and the potential to do good. You cannot help but feel that it is such a waste when a young person, who is full of life and enthusiasm, is suddenly removed by death. It is a terrible waste, and the lost of Dorcas was just such an event. Her life was such a blessing to others, and now she is gone and the blessing of her hand will cease. Not everyone leaves a gap when they die. Some are ready to die, and their work really is done. They have given all they can give, and they are ready to depart and be with Christ. If this was the only role of death in life, to remove us when we are through with our tasks, then death would be a friend and servant, and not a negative thing at all. But death does not limit its role to those who are ready. It is constantly touching the unready as well, and taking those who have only begun to serve.
I knew a young 33 year old pilot for Mission Aviation Fellowship who died along with two other missionaries in a plane crash in Indonesia. He was a very talented and dedicated young man. He had many years of service for the kingdom in him yet, but he crashed and died. I thought of what a waste it was. Some might say the Lord called him home because his work was done, but this is superficial to me, for now they need another pilot to do what he was doing. There was nothing finished about his work at all. This type of thing has happened to many missionaries, and those in other kinds of Christian service.
Dorcas is dead, but she was not done with her task. Joppa was a seaport from which many sailors left never to return. Their ships would go down in storms, or be dashed to pieces on the rocks. The result was a city with many widows and children without support. Dorcas loved to serve them, and the need for this was endless. You don't hear Peter coming on the scene and saying her work was done. Instead, he does what he has never done before, and will never do again, as far as we have any record. He will pray that Dorcas be allowed to live again and continue her unfinished work. Peter must have said what a waste as he listened to the widows sharing how much Dorcas meant to them as they wept and showed him the garments she had made for them and their children. Peter was moved by this, like Jesus was moved by the scene at the tomb of Lazarus, and he vowed in his heart he would seek with all his might to reverse this tragic waste.
The lesson for us is not to pray for the dead to be raised. As we noted, that prayer has only been answered for a couple of deaths in all of biblical history. To call it a long shot is an understatement. The value I see in being honest about the wastefulness of death is that it makes us take the battles of good and evil more serious. Christians have a tendency to try and incorporate death into the family of God's servants. They try to pretend it is really no robber, but only a mysterious friend. This kind of thinking makes the enemies of the kingdom to be children of light. Those who killed James and Stephen were really doing the will of God then, for their work was supposedly over, and God was calling them home. If this was so, then there is no such thing as evil, for everything then is of God, and is good.
Such thinking as this makes the Christian very superficial and unrealistic about life, and about the real battle of good and evil. It is far better to face reality and recognize that death is an enemy, and that it is an enemy that sometimes wins a battle even if it cannot win the war. Christians are cut down before they have finished their work, and it is a tragic waste. Had Dorcas not been selected to be the one woman of history to illustrate the resurrection power of Jesus, there would have been blessings lost that never would have been. But the good news is that though her work for Christ was not finished, the work of Christ for her was finished.
She was ready to die anytime, however, untimely and wasteful it may seem from the human perspective. She would walk with Christ in a beautiful white garment provided by His finished work on the cross. She would not lose by her untimely death, but the world would. That is why the Christians were weeping. It was not for her, but for themselves, for they lost one so precious and helpful to them. Peter does not rebuke their tears, nor is there any hint that they are out of line, for the fact is, the death of one whose life is a blessing to others is a waste of what is good and valuable, and we have a right to mourn such loss. The consolation is in the fact that the dead in Christ are with Christ, and as Paul says, that is far better.
Every Christian needs to be like Dorcas, and regardless of there is to do, and all of the unfinished service to perform, we must be ever ready to depart and be with Christ. You can only be ready by trusting in Christ as Savior. Dorcas was a woman of faith that worked. That must be our faith as well. We must ask Christ to come into our lives and be our Savior, and then be doers of His will to be ready for death. Then the worst that death can do is waste time, for eternity is safe in the Savior. Next let's consider-
III. THE GLORIOUS WITNESS OF HER RESURRECTION.
Dorcas belongs to that very exclusive group of people that God has permitted to come back from the dead. There are only 7 of them besides Christ in all of the Bible. Some think there are possibly 8. The majority of them were young people. Elijah and Elisha each raised up a young boy in the Old Testament. Jesus raised up the 12 year old daughter of Jairus, and the young man who was the only son of the widow of Nain. Paul raised up the young man Eutychus who fell from the window. That makes 5 out of the 7 as teenagers or less. That means Lazarus and Dorcas were the only two adults in all of Bible history to be raised from the dead. One man and one woman, and both of them noted for one thing, and that was their loving relationship to others.
The fact that there is only one adult of each sex to have been raised speaks loud and clear that nobody has any basis to expect such an experience. All of the great men and women of biblical history died and were not brought back to life. Just before Dorcas died James and Stephen, who were outstanding leaders of the church, were martyred, and nobody even prayed for their resurrection. Death was accepted as the end of earthly service. My point is, Dorcas like Lazarus, was a very unique individual. God used these two people to bear a special witness to the world. He both cases there were many who believed in Christ because of their resurrection. Great fruit came into the kingdom because of their unique experience.
People were deeply impressed by the fact that God would give Dorcas new life. It was a confirmation of the Gospel. It not only showed that Christ can conquer death, but also that God does love people. What could be greater proof than the restoring to life one who could go on ministering to those who so desperately needed her help. The skeptics and the doubters were overwhelmed. They said, the God who gives back a Dorcas is indeed a God of love, and they submitted to the Lord whom she loved and served. It was the witness of her life before she died that made the witness of her resurrection so powerful. Had she not been a loving person who reached out to touch the lives of those around her, her resurrection would just be a spectacular event like magic. People would talk about it, but it would have made no difference to anyone's life.
There is no escaping the conclusion. The miracle of resurrection only had the power to move people to Christ because the good works of Dorcus had already pointed them in His direction. Good works evangelism is a biblical reality, and many people come to Christ because of the good works of believers. Believers found joy, and unbelievers found Jesus because Dorcus the Doer was alive and well again. The sickness that killed her was healed, and she was back to work meeting the needs of people. The witness of her resurrection goes on to this day, and every May 25th there is a festive celebration of the anniversary of Dorcus by the Christians in that part of the world.
Dorcus was her Greek name, and it, like Tabitha her Aramaic name, means gazelle-a beautiful animal. Joppa, the city she lived in, means beautiful in the Hebrew. God chose a beautiful place to do a beautiful miracle for a beautiful woman who had devoted her life to doing beautiful deeds. This tells us something about what God loves, and about what true beauty really is. Edgar Guest portrays for us in poetry the message of the life of Dorcus.
The beauty of a lily and the beauty of a face
Make bright a gloomy corner and exalt the common place;
But there's nothing shines so brightly in this world of human need,
As the beauty and glory of a kind and thoughtful deed.
There are lovely things to look at-there's the blue shy and the sun And the hilltops in the distance, and the works that men have done
And the best of God's creations, in this world of joy and smart,
And the helping hand of service and the big and generous heart.
There is beauty in a lily, and there's beauty in the hills,
There is beauty in the blossoms wet with dew the morning spills;
But the richer, lasting beauty which this world forever needs,
Through its days of tribulation, is the beauty of our deeds.
Dorcus was single, and we do not know if she ever was married. Her only family was the family she formed for herself by her labors of love. No single person ever needs to feel secondary in God's plan, for the job of doing good works is open to all equally. History would be emptied of so much of its joy without single women like Dorcus, Jane Addams, Fransis Willard, Florence Nightingale, and numerous others that we may not recognize, but who are known to God, and to the millions of individuals who have been richly blessed by their good works. May God motivate all of us to meet needs by good deeds like Dorcus the Doer.